If you’ve ever had a child suffer with difficulties at school then St John Vianney is the Saint for you.
Born in Dardilly, near Lyon in France on 8th May 1786, John was a child who struggled and suffered with his studies. Not receiving much formal education he was sent at the age of fourteen to a school for “ecclesiastical students.” And though none of his masters ever doubted his vocation he found the study extremely challenging, especially the Latin.
Just when John thought things couldn’t get much worse another obstacle came upon him. He was conscripted into the army because France was at war with Spain and Napoleon needed recruits. However, just before he was to leave to go with his regiment St John decided to nip into the chapel to pray. On his return he discovered that his comrades had already left. This got him into some pretty hot water with his recruiting officer who wanted to arrest him for desertion. Once he had explained what had happened the officer decided to send him to catch up with the troops. At nightfall he met a young man who volunteered to guide him to his fellow soldiers, but instead led him to Noes, where a number of deserters had gathered. The Mayor of Noes persuaded him to remain there, under an assumed name, as a school teacher.
After fourteen months he was able to communicate with his family. His Father was extremely angry to hear that his son was a deserter and ordered him to surrender. St John’s younger brother stepped into the breech and offered to serve in his place.
Jean-Baptiste was now able to resume his studies. Again he failed his Latin exams to enter into Seminary. Three months later when he re-sat them he managed to pass. On the 13th of August 1815 he was finally ordained a priest.
He was sent to Ars – a little backwater of a village in France where there was very little interest in religion. From the moment he arrived he began to pray and fast for the people of Ars and slowly the village was transformed. People began to come from further and further afield to seek out his advice and to receive the sacraments from him.
He founded a sort of orphanage for young girls called the “The Providence”. He instructed the girls in the catechism, and these teachings became so popular that he ended up giving them every day in the Church.
During the last ten years of his life he spent up to sixteen hours a day hearing people’s confession. His advice was sought after by bishops, priests and religious. Young men and women in doubt of their vocation sought him out. Those who were sick came to be prayed over by him. In fact by 1855 the number of pilgrims coming to see him had reached twenty thousand a year. People loved his ability to use simple language, full of imagery drawn from daily life to speak about the faith and the love of God for his children.
He died in Ars on the 4th of August 1859.
Maybe on this great feast day we could do something special for our priests. So often we forget all that they do for us. In his letter to priests Pope Benedict included some of the Cure of Ars thoughts on the priesthood. I give them here for you to reflect on
He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…” Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest… After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”.