St. John Vianney grew up during the French Revolution. He could not go to Mass, but received First Communion illicitly from a non-juring priest (one who would not swear allegiance to the anti-Catholic National Constitution of 1790). As a young boy, raised by devout Catholic parents, St. John Vianney made a statue of Our Lady out of clay, and hid it for fear of persecution. Yet, despite the obstacles, he developed a rich and lively faith.
He asked a priest about a vocation. After extensive questioning, about all fields of the Tridium (theology, mathematics, science), John was found sorely lacking in education, yet his knowledge of the Catechism proved thorough. The priest saw a call in him, but John failed seminary studies because of Latin. He hired a private tutor, and eventually succeeded in his studies. However, he always struggled with Latin, and was known as a priest of poor education.
He established his priesthood in Ars, known as the Cure de Ars, where he preached for 42 years, spending extraordinarily long hours hearing confessions. He did more than preach to those who came to Mass; he went out into the streets to bring the message of Salvation to all those he could reach. People of all classes came to hear him preach, and to confess their sins.
He grew up amidst the travails and persecution of the Catholic Church in France, due to revolutionary excesses and an Enlightenment faith that proved hateful to faith. He was part of the effort to rebuild solid faith among a confused French populace. How relevant for our times!
We too live in an era when our Church is under assault, both from the government and from within. We are forced to live in tiers of society where the principles violate our faith principles:
- We live in states where the sanctity of marriage is violated by approved legal statutes.
- We live in a country that enables the murder of the holy innocents through legal abortion.
- We live in towns where nativities cannot be displayed at Christmas time.
- We send our children to public schools or universities which promote principles that violate our faith.
- Our children live in an electronic age that saturates us — nano-second-by-nano-second — with faith-destroying opportunities.
- Being a Catholic, and upholding our principles publically, may ensure a storm of resistance, and will ensure disapprobation and prejudice.
And if the challenges the culture war poses for regular folks like us were not challenging enough, look at the attacks on the priesthood. We live in the Diocese of Boston, and the wounds are many. We look to the Church in Ireland, and weep, with knowing empathy.
St. John Vianney struggled with the devil regularly. He practiced austere mortifications, because he knew that some demons can only be defeated by prayer and fasting.
This is the era for prayer and fasting, to contend with the faith challenges that assault us continuously amidst the culture wars. St. John Vianney is a saint whose intercession can provide powerful aid to our prayers for our own families and for our priests.
There is a beautiful novena to St. John Vianney, usually prayed nine days culminating in his feast day on August 8th. But, this novena can be prayed in any season. See the Novena to St. John Vianney.
Here is a prayer for St. John Vianney’s intercession for priests:
Dear Saint John Vianney,
your childhood dream was to be a Priest,
to win souls for God.
You endured years of toil and humiliation
to attain the Priesthood.
You became a priest truly after God’s own heart,
outstanding in humulity and poverty;
prayer and mortification.
Totally devoted to the service of God’s people.
The Church has exalted you as model
and patron saint of all Parish priests,
trusting that your example and prayers
will help them to live up
to the high dignity of their vocation
to be faithful servants of God’s people,
to be perfect imitators of Christ the Saviour
Who came not to be served but to serve,
to give His Life in ransom for many.
Pray that God may give to His Church today
many more priests after His own Heart.
Pray for all the priests under your patronage,
that they may be worthy representatives
of Christ the Good Shepherd.
May they wholeheartedly devote themselves
to prayer and penance;
be examples of humility and poverty;
shining modelss of holiness;
tireless and powerful preachers of the Word of God;
zealous dispensers of God’s Grace in the Sacraments.
May their loving devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist
and to Mary His Mother
be the Twin Fountains of fruitfulness for their ministry. Amen.
See also: excerpts from sermons by St. John Vianney.