Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta counseled, “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” St. John Vianney embodies this statement. He is an amazing example of what God can do with one simple soul who says, “Yes,” to the love of God in service to His people. We celebrate his feast today.
Consider the backdrop of this man’s life. He was 3 years old when the French Revolution broke out. The revolution and the Reign of Terror which followed decimated the church with the imprisonment and massacre of priests, destruction of churches and the general de-Christianization of the country. Civil strife continued for years as the battle for power and control of the government raged on through the restoration of the monarchy (and its subsequent revenge), the rise and fall and rise again of Napoleon and his wars, and a whole bunch of different constitutions.
Yet, through it all, God is sovereign, raising up a holy, humble priest to call His children to Him. What loving father doesn’t call His children through the chaos of life to the security and love of His presence?
Born in Dardilly, France, near Lyons, on May 8, 1786, John Marie-Baptiste Vianney was deemed unfit for the priesthood because he wasn’t smart enough. He struggled in his schooling, and in particular, Latin, which was essential for the priesthood. He initially failed the entrance exam into the seminary, but passed it 3 months later. An unlikely candidate for the priesthood, his holiness elevated him to sainthood and to ultimately being deemed the patron of parish priests!
In 1818, he was assigned as a parish priest in the village of Ars, a small and rather stale parish. Upon assigning John Vianney to the parish, his bishop said, “There is little love of God in that parish; you will have to be the one to put it there.” In turn, John Vianney prayed, “Lord, grant me the conversion of my parish. I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!” It was in his role as a parish priest that his holiness became known throughout France and beyond, assuming the title “Curé of Ars”.
He visited the sick and the poor of his parish and did penance for his parishioners, saying “I give sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place.” His virtue and holiness led others to follow his example.
Devoting many hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, he encouraged his parishioners to do the same:
One need not say much to pray well. We know that Jesus is there in the Tabernacle. Let us open our hearts to him, let us rejoice in his sacred presence. That is the best prayer. Come to communion, my brothers and sisters, come to Jesus. Come to live from him in order to live with him… Of course you are not worthy of him, but you need him!
Mortification and self-sacrifice were hallmarks of his preaching, “We must practice mortification. For this is the path which all the Saints have followed.” He slept maybe 2-3 hours a night on a wooden surface without a mattress, ate little food, and wore a very uncomfortable shirt under his garments. He exhorted :
“My friend, the devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one’s food, drink and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God. Oh! How often have I experienced it! Whilst I was alone – and I was alone during eight or nine years, and therefore quite free to yield to my attraction – it happened at times that I refrained from food for entire days. On those occasions I obtained, both for myself and for others, whatsoever I asked of Almighty God.”
I think one of the most paradoxical aspects of St. John Vianney is that he was considered not smart enough to be a priest, but he had tremendous spiritual gifts. He had great wisdom and understanding of deep theological principles written by St. Thomas Aquinas, yet never read the Summa. Miracles were associated with him – the multiplication of flour & the miracle of the wine ; he was known to have healed many people, especially children. He also had great spiritual awareness of those placed in from of him with ability to read souls. His body is incorrupt. How true the scripture: “I praise you Father for what you have hidden from the wise and the learned you have revealed to the merest children.” (Mt 11:25)
Spending up to 16 hours in the confessional daily, people from all over France and other countries came to Ars to make their confession. In 1835, the bishops forbade him to travel to other parts of France because of the throngs of people who sought him out. By 1855, four years before his death at age 73, it was estimated that 20,000 pilgrims journeyed annually to Ars to see this holy priest.
One simple man changed his corner of the world.
So what can we learn from his example?
- Faithfulness to what God places in front of us is our own individual path to sanctity. God’s will and plan for us is individual and unique. We must seek it daily.
- God does not judge by man’s standards. If He had, would we have this incredible gift to the Church?
- Prayer and fasting are the paths to holiness. All else stems from it.
So today, let us imitate St. John Vianney with prayer and fasting and faithfulness to our daily duty. Embrace it with joy and hope in the promises of Christ. Believe that “all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13).
PRAYER OF ST. JOHN VIANNEY
I love You, O my God, and my only desire
is to love You until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God,
and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask
is to love You eternally…
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You,
I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.
St. John Vianney, pray for us! Anne
For your added enjoyment:
Never underestimate the power of your example! About his mother he said, “I owe a debt to my mother. Virtues go easily from mothers into the hearts of their children, who willingly do what they see being done.”
Saint John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life. It was from his example that they learned to pray, halting frequently before the tabernacle for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. “One need not say much to pray well” – the Curé explained to them “One need not say much to pray well” – the Curé explained to them – “We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to him, let us rejoice in his sacred presence. That is the best prayer”. And he would urge them: “Come to communion, my brothers and sisters, come to Jesus. Come to live from him in order to live with him… “Of course you are not worthy of him, but you need him!”. This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Those present said that “it was not possible to find a finer example of worship… He gazed upon the Host with immense love”. “All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass” – he would say – “since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God”. He was convinced that the fervour of a priest’s life depended entirely upon the Mass: “The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!”. He was accustomed, when celebrating, also to offer his own life in sacrifice: “What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!”. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090616_anno-sacerdotale_en.html
Finally, St. John Vianney’s teaching in The Little Catechism of St. John Vianney