Friday, July 1, 2011

Curé d'Ars: Model Priest.

The perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,--->
<---June Month of the Sacred Heart.

The Holy Cure of Ars.

Less than two centuries ago a tiny village of provincial France was for many years the hub of the religious life of the whole country. Between 18I8 and 1859 its name was upon the lips of countless thousands and so great was the affluence of pilgrims that the railway company serving the district had to open a special booking office at Lyons to deal with the traffic between that great city and the little hamlet of Ars.
The cause of all this stir was the lowly yet incomparable priest whose story revolutionized the Catholic priesthood.

Early Childhood

Like so many other Saints, Jean Baptiste Vianney enjoyed the priceless advantage of being born of truly Christian parents. His father was one of those sturdy farmer-owners who constitute the backbone of a nation.
His mother was a native of the small village of Ecully, which, like Dardilly, the Saint's birthplace, lies within a few miles of the ancient city of Lyons. It would be a huge mistake were we to look upon the Vianneys as rough and ignorant country yokels.
Kindness to the poor and the needy was an outstanding virtue of the Vianneys. No beggar or tramp was ever driven from their doorstep. Thus it came about that they were privileged, one day, to give hospitality to St Benedict Labre when that patron Saint of tramps passed through Dardilly on one of his pilgrimages to Rome

John Mary Vianney, He whom the whole world was to know and revere under the touching appellation of "The Cure of Ars," a title than which none could be dearer to himself, was born on May 8th, 1786, and baptized on the same day.
Jean Marie Baptiste was the fourth of a family of six children. His pious mother refused to yield to another what is a mother's highest duty and sweetest privilege, viz., that of teaching her children to know and love God.
Without exception all responded to her loving solicitude, but the keenest of them all was little Jean Baptiste. As a matter of fact, though an elder sister taught him to read and write, even then his mind was particularly responsive to religious knowledge and his memory, always his weakest point, was more retentive of such teaching than of secular learning.

His early faith formation took place within the context of the French Revolution, which pushed the practice of the Catholic faith underground.
Later in his ministry, he would deal with the consequences of the revolution, which led many of the faithful to leave the Church.

The road to the priesthood wasn't an easy path for Vianney. After finally getting his father's permission to pursue his calling, he still needed to get caught up on his studies, as the revolution had interrupted his education. If he wanted to be a priest, he'd have to go back to school with children half his age to learn the basics of reading, writing, and Latin.

Almost as soon as he was able to walk, the child accompanied his parents into the fields where he tended the sheep and the cows. Great is the charm of that part of rural France. Years later, when he had become the prisoner of the confessional, the holy cure spoke with gentle wistfulness of the verdant valley of the alive, as its delightful name suggests, with the music of the blackbirds and the murmur of the babbling brook meandering through the meadows, its banks fringed with wild rose bushes and overhung with the branches of ash and elder trees.

Here the youthful shepherd would often seek the shelter of some fragrant thicket and, having placed a little statue of Our Lady, which never left him, in a hollow of a big tree, he would kneel on the greensward and pray his little heart out.
At other times he would gather other little shepherds and teach them what he had himself learnt at his mother's knee, thus anticipating the wonderful "catechism" which was to be one of the daily, as it was one of the most fruitful, features of his apostolate at Ars. Even at that early age he was wont to cross himself when the clock struck the hour.

Jean Baptiste made his first Communion at Ecully, his mother's home. The all-important event took place in the early hours of a summer's day, in a room carefully shuttered for fear of prying eyes. The boy was thirteen years old. Even in his old age tears streamed down his cheeks whenever he spoke of that unforgettable day and all his life he treasured the plain rosary beads his mother gave him on the occasion.

An enlightened student by the Holy Ghost.

It was during those long hours of toil that the conviction grew in his mind that he must be a priest: "If I were a priest I could win many souls for God," he said to himself and to his fond mother. In her he found a ready ally, but the rugged father was not to be won over so easily—the lad could ill be spared.
Two years had to go by before the head of the family fell in with his son's aspirations. The new archbishop of Lyons, no less a person than Bonaparte's uncle, realised only too well that his first care must be the training of recruits for the priesthood. Parish priests were instructed to look out for suitable candidates. M. Balley, now parish priest of Ecully, opened a small school for such boys in his presbytery. Here was young Vianney's chance. He could go to M. Balley for lessons whilst receiving board and lodging at the house of his aunt. Even Matthieu Vianney saw the advantages of such a scheme. So to Ecully the lad went.

A Deserter.

In 1806 the to which young Vianney belonged was summoned to the colours before its time. Two years went by, but in the autumn of 1809 Jean Baptiste was summoned to join up, though as a Seminarist he was in reality exempt from conscription. It would seem that the Saint's name was not on the official list of Church students supplied by the diocesan authorities.
Someone had blundered. The recruiting officer would listen neither to expostulation nor to entreaty. Young Vianney was destined for the armies in Spain. His parents tried to find a substitute. For the sum of 3,000 francs and a gratuity, a certain young man agreed to go in his stead but he withdrew at the last moment. On October 26th Jean Baptiste entered the barracks at Lyons only to fall ill. From Lyons they sent him to a hospital at Roanne where the Nuns in charge nursed him back to a semblance of health. When, on January 6th, 1810, infantryman Vianney left the hospital, he found that his draft had set out long ago.

There was nothing for it but to try and catch up with it. His only equipment was a heavy bag. An icy wind chilled him to the bone, and a violent fever shook his emaciated frame. Soon he could go no further. Entering a coppice which provided some shelter from the wintry blast he sat down on his bag and began to say his rosary: "Never, perhaps, have I said it with such trust," he used to say later on. Suddenly a stranger stood before him: "What are you doing here?" he asked.

Poor Vianney explained his sorry plight. Thereupon the stranger shouldered the recruit's bag, at the same time bidding him follow him. By devious paths, through thickets and bushes, the two made their way to the hut of a sabot-maker.
Here Vianney lay low for a few days whilst recovering from his fever. As he tossed on his sick bed it suddenly flashed across his mind that, through no fault of his, he was a deserter.
In 1810 an imperial decree granted an amnesty to all deserters of the years 1806 to 1810.

On August 13th, 1815, Jean Baptiste Vianney was raised to the priesthood—to that ineffable dignity of which he spoke so frequently and with so much feeling:
"Oh! how great is the priest!" he used to say.
"The priest will only be understood in Heaven. Were he understood on earth people would die, not of fear, but of love." He was twenty-nine years old when, on the morrow of his ordination, he said his first Mass in the chapel of the Seminary of Grenoble where the ceremony had taken place, for Cardinal Fesch had had to flee from Lyons on the fall of his imperial nephew. Two Austrian chaplains of the armies that had invaded France were saying Mass at the same hour at side altars.

Parish Priest Of Ars: 1818-1859.

Less than three years later, in 1818, the young priest was assigned as the assistant pastor of the church in Ars, a small country village located about 25 miles from Lyon in eastern France. This is where he would spend the rest of his priestly life.
The diocesan authorities had decided that for the time being he who was to spend the greater part of his life in the confessional should not have faculties to hear confessions.
Vianney was appointed to Ars—a tiny village sleeping among the ponds and monotonous fields of which he was destined to make famous for all time.

Arriving in Ars, the young priest noticed the loss of Christian faith and morals around him, a lingering by-product of the French Revolution. Father Vianney soon began to awaken the faith of his parishioners through his preaching, but most of all by his prayer and his way of life. His notoriety as a holy priest grew slowly, and Father Vianney soon became known as, simply, the Curé d'Ars (priest of Ars).

Above all he prayed, and to prayer he joined the most awe-inspiring austerities. He made his own instruments of penance, or at least " improved " them by weighting them with bits of metal or iron hooks. His bed was the bare floor, for he gave away almost at once the mattress he had brought from Ecully.
Happy they who have none other to be sorry for or ashamed of!
He would go without food for several days at a stretch. There was no housekeeper at the presbytery. Until 1827 the staple of his food was potatoes, an occasional boiled egg and a kind of tough, indigestible, flat cake made of flour, salt, and water which the people called .

The holy Cure was gifted with a noble imagination and a keen sense of the beautiful. He enjoyed the beauty of fields and woods, but he loved even more the beauty of God's house and the solemnities of the Church. He began by buying a new altar, with his own money, and he himself painted the woodwork with which the walls were faced.
The vestments were worn to shreds. He set himself the task of replenishing what he called, in a touching phrase, "the household furniture of the good God."
Thus it came about that the goldsmiths and embroiderers of Lyons had the amazing experience of seeing a country priest, wearing a shabby cassock, rough shoes, and a battered old hat and who seemingly had not a sou in his pocket.

The most disastrous sequel of the Revolution was the people's religious ignorance. The holy Cure resolved to do his utmost to remedy so deplorable a state of affairs. However, his sermons and instructions cost him enormous pain: his memory was so unretentive! Whole nights were spent by him in the little sacristy, in the laborious composition, and in the even more toilsome memorizing of his Sunday discourse. Sometimes he worked thus for seven hours on end.

In those days profanation of the Sunday was rampant in rural France. In the morning the country folk worked in the fields; the afternoon and evening were spent at the dance or in the far too numerous taverns. The holy man inveighed against these evils with astonishing vehemence.

At that time inns and taverns were definitely looked upon as places of evil resort. "The tavern," the Saint declared in one of his sermons. "is the devil's own shop, the market where souls are bartered, where the harmony of families is broken up, where quarrels start and murders are done."
As for the men who own or run a tavern, "the devil does not greatly trouble them; he despises them and spits on them!" So great did his influence eventually become that the time came when every tavern of Ars had to close its doors for lack of patrons.
At a subsequent date modest hostels were opened for the accommodation of strangers, and to these the holy Cure did not object.

Even more strenuous, if possible, were his efforts in bringing about a suppression of dancing—an amusement to which the people were passionately addicted but which the Saint knew only too well to be a very hotbed of sin. Here he met with the most obstinate resistance, and his victory was very slow in coming.

He wished to have good schools in the village. To start with he opened a free school for girls, which he called "Providence." It soon became a boarding school as well as a day school. From 1827 he received none but destitute children as boarders.
For them he had to find both food and raiment. More than once God intervened miraculously, multiplying a few grains of wheat in the presbytery attic, or the dough in the kneading trough of the bake-house.
The Saint loved the "Providence" above all his undertakings because it existed for the good of destitute children. For the space of twenty years he himself daily came to the establishment to receive the pittance which he dignified with the name of dinner.

His tender love for Our Lady moved him to consecrate his parish to the blessed Queen of Heaven. Over the main entrance of the little church he placed a statue of Our Lady which is still in position. On the occasion of the definition by Pius IX of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he asked his people to illuminate their houses at night and the church bells were rung for hours on end.

Concerning the Mass.

During a sermon the priest saint spoke of purgatory and the terrible suffering there is in this place of pain.
There is a quote a beautiful example given by the Cure of Ars to his parishioners.
He told them:

"My children, a good priest had the unhappiness to lose a friend he cherished tenderly, and so he prayed very much for the repose of his soul.
One day, God made known to him that his friend was in Purgatory and suffered terribly.
The holy priest believed that he could not do better than to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for his dear friend who had died.

At the moment of the consecration, he took the host between his fingers and said :
"Holy Eternal Father, let us make an exchange. You hold the soul of my friend who is in Purgatory, and I hold the Body of Your Son in my hands.
Well good and merciful Father; deliver my friend and I offer you your Son with all the merits of his death and Passion".

The request was answered. In fact, at the moment of the elevation, he saw the soul of his friend, shining in glory, rising to Heaven; God had accepted the deal.

"My children, when we want to deliver from Purgatory a soul dear to us, let us do the same; let us offer to God, through the Holy Sacrifice, His Beloved Son with all the merits of His death and Passion. He will not be able to refuse us anything."

The Saint Attacked By The Powers Of Darkness.

It was to be expected that so signal a triumph of religion, as well as the personal holiness of him who was instrumental in bringing it about, would rouse the fury of hell. The Scriptures tell us that Satan at times disguises himself as an angel of light. In our days he is even more cunning: he persuades people, all too successfully, that he does not exist at all.
One of the most amazing features of the life of the Cure of Ars is that during a period of about thirty-five years he was frequently molested,(abused sexually) in a physical and tangible way, by the evil one.

It should be borne in mind that all men are subject to temptation—for to tempt to sin is the devil's occupation, so to speak—and temptation is permitted by God for our good. is an of the devil, when he seeks to terrify by horrible apparitions or noises.
goes further: it is either , when the devil acts on the external senses of the body; or , when he influences the imagination or the memory. occurs when the devil seizes on and uses the whole organism. But even then mind and will remain out of his reach.
Most of the Cure of Ars' experiences belong to the first category, viz., .

The powers of darkness opened the attack in the winter of 1824. In the stillness of a frosty night terrific blows were struck against the presbytery door and wild shouting could be heard coming, so it seemed, from the little yard in front of the house. For a moment the Cure suspected the presence of burglars so that he asked the village wheelwright, one Andre Verchere, to spend the following night at the presbytery. It proved an exciting night for that worthy.
Shortly after midnight there suddenly came a fearful rattling and battering of the front door whilst within the house a noise was heard as if several heavy carts were being driven through the rooms. Andre seized his gun, looked out of the window but saw nothing except the pale light of the moon. The would-be defender subsequently confessed:
"For a whole quarter of an hour the house shook—and so did my legs".
The following evening he received another invitation to spend the night at the presbytery but Andre had had enough.

These and similar disturbances were of almost nightly occurrence. They happened even when the Saint was away from home—in the early years when he was still able to lend a hand to his clerical neighbours. Thus on a certain night during a mission at St Trivier, the presbytery shook and a dreadful noise seemed to proceed from M. Vianney's bedroom.
Everybody was alarmed, and rushing to the Saint's room the priests found him in his bed which invisible hands had dragged into the middle of the room. M. Vianney soon perceived that these displays of satanic humour were fiercest when some great conversion was about to take place, or, as he playfully put it, when he was about to "land a big fish."

One morning the devil set fire to his bed. The Saint had just left his Confessional to vest for Mass when the cry, "Fire! fire!" was raised. He merely handed the key of his room to those who were to put out the flames: "The villainous !" (it was his nickname for the devil) "unable to catch the bird, he sets fire to the cage!" was the only comment he made. To this day the pilgrim may see, hard by the head of the bed, a picture with its glass splintered by the heat of the flames. It must be remembered that at no time was a fire lit in the hearth and there were no matches in the presbytery.

These molestations were both terrifying and ludicrous. The holy man ended by getting inured to them, so much so that he often poked fun at their author who showed himself in a very poor light indeed. With a smile the Saint once remarked: "Oh! the and myself—we are almost chums." As a sample of Satan's sense of humour the following is characteristic of one whom somebody called "God's ape."

The purpose of these horrible or grotesque performances was to prevent the servant of God from getting that minimum of rest which his poor body required and thus to render him physically unfit to go on with his astonishing work in the confessional by which he snatched so many souls from the clutches of the fiend. But from 1845 these external attacks ceased almost entirely.

The Saint's constancy amid such trials was rewarded by the extraordinary power God gave him to cast out devils from the possessed. Nevertheless, horrible as may be the condition of one whose body is possessed by the devil, it is as nothing by comparison with the wretched plight of a soul which, by mortal sin, sells itself, as it were, to Satan.

The holy priest may be said to have spent the best part of his priestly career in a direct contest with sin through his unparalleled work in the confessional. The Cure's confessional was the real miracle of Ars, one that was not merely a passing wonder, or the sensation of a few weeks. Great as were his penances, assuredly the greatest of them all was the endless hours spent by him within the narrow confinement of a rugged, comfortless, unventilated confessional. This miracle went on for forty years.
The astonishing thing about M. Vianney is that he himself personally became the object of a pilgrimage, people flocking to Ars in hundreds of thousands just to get a glimpse of him, to hear him, to exchange but a few words with him, above all, to go to confession to him.

By the 1830s, his popularity swelled to the extent that the holy priest became somewhat of a prisoner in the confessional, held there by the hundreds of faithful arriving daily to the village to see the holy curé. Between 1830 and 1845, sometimes as many as 300 people a day would pass through Ars for a chance to confess with Father Vianney.

By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year, and some 100,000 in 1858. There are reports that during the last 10 years of his life, he spent as many as 18 hours a day in the confessional, and that toward the end of his life, he confessed up to 80,000 penitents a year.

It may be said that the confessional was M. Vianney's habitual abode. Even in the depth of winter he daily spent from eleven to twelve hours in that penitential box.
In the last year of the Cure's life the number of pilgrims to see him reached the amazing total of 100 to 120 thousand persons, people all over France come to see him. Parties of pilgrims often camped in the open, for there were only five hostelries in the village and these self-styled hotels could only accommodate some 150 guests between them.

This arduous duty M. Vianney discharged for many hours, day by day, year in, year out, when chilled to the bone by the hard winters of central France or when all but overcome by the stifling heat of the long summer days. Even his hard-working parishioners had their days of rest—for him alone there was no repose, no respite, no holiday. At all seasons his working day consisted of twenty hours out of twenty-four. In summer he spent as much as fifteen and even sixteen hours in the confessional.

God alone knows the miracles of grace wrought within that rough confessional.
It was there that his prophetic intuitions and illuminations were most in evidence.
In dealing with souls he was infinitely kind. His exhortations were brief and to the point. He said little, only a word or two—but coming from him it meant so much: "To Heaven!" was all he said to a certain priest and when his bishop knelt at his feet he merely said: "Be kind to your priests."
At times he came out of the confessional and summoned certain persons from among the crowd and those so selected declared that only a divine instinct could have told him of their peculiar and pressing need.

Of his gift of prophecy one instance must suffice—it awaked an enormous interest in England. On May 14th, 1854, Bishop Ullathorne called on the holy man and asked him to pray for England. The bishop of Birmingham relates that the man of God said with an accent of extraordinary conviction: "Monseigneur, I believe that the Church in England will be restored to its splendour."May this prophecy receive a full and speedy fulfilment—not least through the prayers of him who made it!

The cure of Ars loved the purity of soul and always said: Oh, how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory ! for the memory thereof is immortal, because it is known both with God and with men! when it is present they imitate it, and they desire it when it hath withdrawn itself" (Wisdom iv. 1, 2).

The cure of Ars died.

Forty-one years had gone by since the blessed day on which M. Vianney had come to Ars. They had been years of indescribable activity. The lowly priest had become famous not only throughout France—his name had reached the ends of the earth.
Eternity alone will reveal the extent of the achievement of those years, so fruitful and blessed for others, but so laborious and exhausting for himself. The end was now in sight. After 1858 he often said: "We are going; we must die; and that soon!"
There can be no doubt that he knew the end was at hand.
In July, 1859, a devout lady of St Etienne came to confession to him. When she bade the Saint farewell he said: "We shall meet again within three weeks." Both died within that time and thus met in a happier world.

The month of July of the year 1859 was extraordinarily hot, pilgrims fainted in great numbers, but the Saint remained in his confessional. Friday, July 29th, was the last day on which he appeared in his church. That morning he had entered his confessional about 1 a.m. but after several fainting fits he was compelled to rest.
At 11 he gave his catechism—for the last time.
That night he could scarcely crawl up to his room. One of the Christian Brothers helped him into bed but, at his request, left him alone. About an hour after midnight he summoned help: "It is my poor end," he said; "call my confessor." The illness progressed rapidly. In the afternoon of August 2nd he received the Last Sacraments: "How good God is," he said; "when we can no longer go to Him, He comes to us."

Twenty priests with lighted candles escorted the Blessed Sacrament—but the heat was so suffocating that they put them out. Tears were trickling down the Saint's cheeks: "Oh! it is sad to receive Holy Communion for the last time!" he said. On the evening of August 3rd, his bishop arrived. The Saint recognized him though he was unable to utter a word. Towards midnight the end was obviously at hand.
At 2 o'clock in the morning of August 4th, 1859, whilst a fearful thunderstorm burst over Ars, and whilst M. Monnin read these words of the "Commendation of a Soul": (May the holy angels of God come to meet him and conduct him into the heavenly Jerusalem),
Father Vianney spent the last five days of his life hearing his confessions from his deathbed. Exhausted, the Curé d'Ars died Aug. 4, 1859. He was 73.
The Cure of Ars gave up his soul to God.

The funeral of the servant of God was a triumph. Miracles soon confirmed the reputation for sanctity the man of God had enjoyed during his lifetime.
On January 8th, 1905, Pius X, that other lowly yet incomparably great priest, beatified the Cure of Ars.
It was reserved for another Pope who bore the name Pius to set the seal upon the heroic virtues of the most wonderful parish priest the world has ever seen.
On the feast of Pentecost, May 31st, 1925, amid unparalleled splendour and in the presence of an immense multitude representative of all mankind—for it was the year of Jubilee—surrounded by thirty-two Cardinals and two hundred Bishops, Pius XI pronounced the solemn sentence which amplifiers carried to the furthermost corners of the great basilica: "We declare Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney to be a Saint and inscribe him in the catalogue of the Saints."

It was reserved for another Pope who bore the name Pius to set the seal upon the heroic virtues of the most wonderful parish priest the world has ever seen. On the feast of Pentecost, May 31st, 1925, amid unparalleled splendour and in the presence of an immense multitude representative of all mankind—for it was the year of Jubilee—surrounded by thirty-two Cardinals and two hundred Bishops, Pius XI pronounced the solemn sentence which amplifiers carried to the furthermost corners of the great basilica: "We declare Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney to be a Saint and inscribe him in the catalogue of the Saints."

The parish priest was declared the patron of the priests of France in 1905.
He was canonized 20 years later in 1925, and declared the patron saint of all parish priests in 1929.

A hero

In 1959, Pope John XXIII wrote a 13,000-word encyclical on St. John Mary Vianney on the centenary of the saint's death. He hailed the holy priest an "outstanding model of priestly asceticism, of piety, especially in the form of devotion to the Eucharist, and, finally, of pastoral zeal."

He was a "tireless worker for God," the Holy Father continued, and "a hero."

"His only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of the souls of his neighbors," the Pontiff affirmed.

John XIII offered St. Vianney as a model for other priests because the saint was a man of God. This, he said, was the secret to the priesthood: "A man who is filled with Christ will not find it hard to discover ways and means of bringing others to Christ."

The Curé d'Ars is also a model for priests because he, like few others, knew what being a priest was all about.

"Holy Orders," he wrote in his Catechism on the Priesthood, "is a sacrament which seems to relate to no one among you, and which yet relates to everyone."

A priest, he continued, is "a man who holds the place of God -- a man who is invested with all the powers of God."

"Everything has come to us through the priest; yes, all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts," St. Vianney affirmed. "If we had not the sacrament of orders, we should not have Our Lord.

"Who placed him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest -- always the priest."

St. Vianney spoke of the priest as the doorway to the treasures of heaven, "He is the steward of the good God, the distributor of his wealth."

"Oh, how great is a priest," he exclaimed. So great, he noted, that it would be impossible for a priest to "understand the greatness of his office till he is in heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love."

And a priest, he continued, "is not a priest for himself."

It's often overlooked that a priest does not confess himself or administer the sacraments for himself. All of his priestly duties and functions are done for others. "He is not for himself," the holy Curé reminds us. "He is for you."

When you see a priest, you should say, "There is he who made me a child of God, and opened heaven to me by holy baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul."

"The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus," he added. "When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

This year, we have the opportunity to just do that.

The Cure of Ars devotee of the Blessed Virgin, and relief of the needy, received extraordinary gifts of God to save souls from the confessional.

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