As we begin to prepare ourselves for the coming school year, busying ourselves with all the tasks that come with it, let us pause as we remember that today is First Friday and that we should be spending some quiet prayerful time at Mass and in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And since it is the 4th of August let us also remember a humble man who devoted his life to serving and loving God in such a way that he is recognized by the Holy Mother Church as a saint now in heaven. That man is Saint John (Jean) Vianney.
Jean Baptiste Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, into a peasant family in the village of Dardilly near Lyons in southeastern France. He was the fourth of their six children. Though his family was poor, they were very devout and raised their children with the same devoutness.
When Jean was three years old, the French Revolution began, and by the time he was four years old, many of the Churches in France were being served by apostate priests who had sworn an allegiance to the state church. Many holy priests of this time who refused to sign the Civil Constitution of the Clergy were either deported or imprisoned. Devout families like the Vianneys, traveled to distant farms where Masses were being celebrated clandestinely by loyal priests who risked their lives to serve the faithful. During this time, John Vianney was studying his catechism in secret, and at one of these hidden Masses, Jean Marie celebrated his First Communion when he was 13 years old.
In 1802, the Catholic Church was re-established in France, and in 1806, John Marie was allowed to leave his family home and study at a nearby school in the village of Ecully. John struggled with his studies, particularly with Latin, but he continued on, never giving up. Then in 1809 he was drafted into Napoleon’s army. Normally, he would have been exempt, since he was an ecclesiastical student, but Napoleon had removed the exemption because he needed soldiers. Then just two days before he was to report for duty, he became so ill that he required hospitalization. After he recovered, he was then sent to join another group of soldiers, but when he stopped at a Church to pray, the group went on without him. Because of his nature, John and a companion ran to a nearby village, living in the mountains for fourteen months, not wanting to serve in the army that was working to destroy the Church.
In March of 1810, an imperial decree was proclaimed, which granted amnesty to all deserters and enabled Vianney to return to Ecully where he resumed his studies. In 1811 he entered the seminary. But John continued to struggle with his studies, and it appeared that he was unable to grasp many of the theological subtleties he was required to learn. Thankfully, John’s teacher and mentor was able to successfully persuade the Vicars General that John Marie’s piety and firm character were great enough to compensate for his ignorance. In August 1815, John Marie Vianney was ordained a priest.
In 1818, John was appointed to Ars, a small town that was known for its taverns, dances and drunkenness. Soon after arriving there, John realized that the Revolution’s aftermath had resulted in religious ignorance and a religious indifference had settled over the people. And even though the Church was reestablishing Itself in France, the small outer town was still suffering…it appeared that the saint had his work cut out for him….and immediately he began to pray…relying on spiritual guidance from God.
Saint John dealt with the towns people with a mixture of kindness and understanding. Guiding the people of Ars with his sermons, and personal strength, he began to preach to people against drinking, swearing and dancing. He showed his parishioners the value of resting from work on Sunday and the value of going to Church on Sunday. He prayed and fasted rigorously, often long into the night. Proving to the people that he was more strict with himself than with them. With his patience and guidance, the spirit of Ars changed. No more a town of drunken rowdiness, it became a model of Christian behavior. Word spread about the humble priest, and more and more people from nearby villages traveled to ask the Cure’ d’ Ars to hear their confessions. His spiritual vision had grown to the point where his insights into their problems were very helpful. By 1845 Vianney was spending more than 12 hours a day in the little confessional box of the parish church, while people who had come to Ars from all over France waited in long lines seeking his advice. It was here that he became widely known as the Cure ‘d’ Ars, or Pastor of Ars.
As St. John Vianney’s success as a confessor grew, so did his personal difficulties. Since most of his day was spent administering to the faithful, there were only a few hours in which he allowed himself for sleep each night. But these hours were often interrupted by strange noises and disturbances. Sometimes he felt like he was being physically beaten…one time his bed even caught on fire….St. John Vianney knew this was the work of the devil and just intensified his prayers and penances. The long hours and fasting took a toll on the priest, and on August 4, 1859, he passed into his eternal reward. He was 73 years old. The curé of Ars was canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 and declared heavenly patron for all parish priests in 1929.
If you have the time, click on the following link to read what St. John Vianney wrote in his Catechism on Sin, here.
Prayer for Priest
But above all, I recommend to You the priests dearest to me; the priest who baptized me; the priests who absolved me from my sins; the priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion; the priests who taught and instructed me; all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way [especially …]. O Jesus, keep them all close to Your heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.
St. John Vianney, pray for us; obtain for us many and holy priests.