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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saint Jean-Marie Vianney / Saint John Mary Vianney

Feast Day: August 4
Patron of Parish Priests
Year of the Priest (2009 -2010)

Father Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney arrived in the church around 2 in the morning, carrying a lighted candle in his hand. Thousands of pilgrims from all over France all wanted to confess to the Curé of Ars. Day in and day out, Fr. Vianney started very early and end late in the night to accommodate the continual flow of pilgrims willing to hear confessions.

Early Years

Jean-Marie was born in 1786 in the village of Dardilly, France and grew up in a peasant family.
His family would attend mass in secret as the churches were closed during the French Revolution.

At 16, Jean-Marie Vianney told his family his desire to become a priest. To this, his father objected. And not until 3 years after, that his father finally relented and Jean-Marie left for the neighboring town, Ecully. Though the young lad had little formal schooling, had known no Latin and had struggled academically, Father Balley saw his potential.  He accepted and trained Vianney himself.

Ordained a Priest

By the time he reached 29, John Vianney was ordained a priest.

His first assignment was to serve as Father Balley’s assistant in Ecully. Fr. Vianney’s sermon caused the church to be filled as simple people identified themselves with him. After the death of Father Balley, the young priest was sent to the little town of Ars, an obscure place known for its taverns and the villager’s indifference to religion.

Father Vianney’s first mass was attended only by a handful of old ladies. “There is not much love for God in the parish” was the vicar general’s warning and this echoed as he saw the almost empty church. Thus, his mission of bringing the people to repentance and leading his flock to holiness began. He intensified his prayers and penance. Vianney maintained the habit of reading & studying and he took efforts in preparing his sermons. And by the example he set, he inspired many.

He would exhort the people to stay out of taverns, visited them in their homes and invited them to love the Church. Eventually, the bars closed one after another and the people’s attention shifted in repairing their dilapidated church.

Father Jean-Marie encouraged devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, held an annual procession in honor of the Feast of Corpus Christi and called the villagers to a life of prayer. This made them understand the necessity of the sacraments and gradually people were brought to confession and Holy Communion that created waves of conversions. Soon, Ars was known as the “Islet of Holiness”.

A Life Lived For Others

His care for the people was genuine and many came to seek him. All kinds of people from neighboring places came to Ars to listen to him. The sick came to be healed and St. Vianney sought the intercession of St. Philomena for the healing of the sick. He also put a free school for girls that eventually turned into an orphanage. Everyday he would spend not less than 15 hours in the confessional and sometimes he would be heard weeping at the offenses made against God. Such was the love, patience, compassion and zeal Father Vianney lavished on God’s people.

As Father Jean-Marie Vianney was winning souls, he was on the other hand battling the preternatural harassment of the Devil.   The parish priest would be knocked down by a hard slap and yet no one was in the room with him. Shouts, loud knocks and other strange noises were heard. Vianney noticed that this intensified the night before a huge conversion or “a big catch” was made and he sees this as a good sign.

For 41 years, Father Jean-Marie Vianney remained the parish priest in Ars, and yet unknown to many, the temptation to leave Ars and to live in solitude was among the many challenges he had to face. He felt unworthy to be a parish priest and repeatedly sought permission from the Bishop to leave the town but each time he was denied. In his great desire to live in a monastery, he attempted several times to slip out of the village only to come back again for he sensed deep within him that God was calling him to remain in Ars and his work with the sinners was his mission in life.


*Before Fr. Jean-Marie Vianney was sent to Ars, the Lord was not the center of the townspeople’s lives.  Father Vianney’s vocation as a priest was lived to the point where he truly became "another Christ" and his prayers and examples made the people feel that Christ is present among them.
When the people began living their lives centered on God, their lives began to change.

*No matter how little we have to offer, God is able to use our lives to benefit others.

*Matthew 12: 29
“How can anyone break into the strong man’s house and make off with his belongings, unless he first ties him up?  Only then can he plunder his house.”

The role of priests is vital and irreplaceable - they administer the sacraments, presides over Mass, absolves sins…. No wonder priests are constantly assailed by God’s enemies.  In the above verse, the priest represents the strong man in the house.  Bring the priest down and the rest will follow.  Father Vianney fought against these evils with prayer, fasting, penance and a deep relationship with God. 
Our duty is to pray for our priests and provide them with the support and encouragement they need.

Please feel free to share your reflections/insights/inputs in the comment box below.  Thank you and God bless!

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