The beautiful Curé d' Ars
Alone with God
By Fr. J. Heyrman S.J.
ST JOHN MARY VIANNEY
1. The great pilgrimages to Ars began in the year 1817. Ars is a small village, situated not far from Lyons. At first hundreds, very soon thousands of people came from every corner of France, abroad, even from distant America, merely to make their confession to a pour country parish priest, obscure and with little learning. To that source of grace, which God’s wand caused to flow in a wonderful manner, thousands came to cleanse their souls, to quench their spiritual thirst, and to strengthen themselves, ready to wait long hours that they might get close to that fountain.
2. Petition: The grace to admire and thank the Lord, who made St. John Vianney a perfect instrument to distribute the gifts of His mercy to men.
I. “A Spiritually Gifted Man”
A modern writer said that a Saint is a spiritually gifted man. He intended to stress the truth that sanctity at its best is a gift, which is not bestowed on all, nor within the reach of all.
Every gift or talent comes from God, also intellectual and artistic talents: most of all supernatural gifts. All saints were highly gifted in the spiritual sphere: this appears all the more strikingly in St. John Vianney because, though he was by no means a simpleton, his talents seemed to belong exclusively to the spiritual order, and these gifts made of him a most fascinating person.
He himself never failed to pay homage to two persons, whom God had used to develop the spiritual gifts, of which God had laid the germs in his soul: they were his own mother, and his parish priest, whose persistent devotion enabled him to overcome every obstacle that stood between him and the priesthood. One day a friend said to him, “It was a great blessing that from your childhood you felt such an attraction for prayer.” He replied with tears in his eyes, “After God, that was the work of my mother. She was so good! Virtue flows from a mother’s heart into the hearts of her children.”
The Bishop, who finally agreed to promote him to the priesthood, had understood that this thirty-two year old son of peasants, so pious and so humble, had discovered other sources of knowledge than books and learned treaties. When one day some of his colleagues in the ministry expressed their doubts about his abilities, and felt ill at ease about his “follies”, the Bishop replied, “I do not know whether he is learned, but I know that he is enlightened. And as to his “follies”, would to God we all had a share of them; they would not hurt our wisdom.”
God is wonderful in his Saints. We all can, and should, learn from those men on whom God has conferred such wonderful gifts.
II. The Indefatigable Labourer
Like St. Paul, St. John Vianney might have said of himself: “By the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void, but I have laboured more abundantly than all they. Yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
As a student in the seminary he made heroic efforts to draw fruit from lectures and from books, and to store a few abstract notions in his unretentive memory. His ardent prayers did not enable him to pass examinations, brilliantly but they obtained for him the courage to persevere: love of God, whose call he had heard, and love of souls, whom he hoped to save, encouraged and comforted him.
Ars, a rural parish of a little above 200 souls, which was entrusted to him, had sunk to a lamentably low moral and spiritual level. God alone knows how much prayer and penance, how much zeal and patience it cost this devoted shepherd to bring back to the Church, and to a truly Christian life this long-neglected and material-minded little flock. During five years he preached against drinking houses; during eight years against breaches of the Sunday observance; ten years against their excessive addiction to dancing. His warnings, and his threats would never have won the victory, had the sinners not been aware how many hours he devoted to prayer, how austerely he lived, how he gave to the poor whatever he had, and, when he called on them in their houses, how gentle he was and kind, and how pleasant to talk to.
Especially during his first six years at Ars, faced with the deep-seated religious indifference of his flock, he practiced fearful austerities, “the follies of my youth” as he said later. But when a change had come and “Ars was no longer Ars” when his fame had spread far and wide, he became the most reputed confessor of the century. He would sit in his narrow and dark confessional sixteen hours a day, not seldom through out the whole night, dispensing God’s grace, bestowing pardon, light and encouragement on repentant souls who were in search of peace. In that labour he spent every ounce of the strength he had, impelled and sustained by his love for God and for souls.
III. The Humble Saint
A spiritually gifted man is also a modest and a truly humble man. John Vianney was humble, not because he possessed little learning, but because he had great wisdom. God did work miracles through him in the souls of men: but that made hi even more conscious of his own unworthiness. His letters to his Bishop were signed, “the poor cure of Ars”. To a fellow priest, who had written to him a deeply offensive letter, he replied: “Dear and venerated Confrere: I have many reasons to love you. You are the only person that knows me as I am”.
We feel small in the presence of such an abyss of humility and pray:
Prayer: O Almighty and merciful God, who hast deigned to make Blessed John Mary a source of wonder to us by his zeal for souls and his ardour in prayer and mortification: grant, we beseech Thee, that by his example and intercession we may win the souls of our brethren to Christ and with them attain the glory of life everlasting. Through our Lord … (Collect of the Mass of today).
Something suddenly reminds me of my convent school days (even though school was somewhat secular and not as religious as the days of old when Blessed Nicholas Barre founded the schools) and our school motto: