CHURCH IS NOW OPEN UNDER GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
CHURCH IS NOW OPEN UNDER GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney, our Church’s Patron, was a religious personality of unusual force. To the incomparable exclusion of everything else he addressed himself to the greater honour and glory of God and the salvation of souls. He accepted his obligation to holiness at an early age, and it took complete possession of him.
Jean Vianney was born on 8 May 1786 at Dardilly, near Lyon in southeast France. His mother was a woman of great piety, and she led him into the way of religion at an early age. “I owe a debt to my mother,” he said, “virtues go easily from mothers into the hearts of their children, who willingly do what they see being done.”
As a small child he used to seek the shelter of a thicket and pray before the little statue of Our Lady that he always carried with him. He also gathered other little shepherds about him and taught them what his mother had taught him, thus anticipating the days when he would make this his daily duty as the Curé of the parish of Ars.
A year after the French Revolution of 1789, a law was passed – entitled the Civil Constitution of the Clergy – which subordinated the Roman Catholic Church in France to the French government. Priests who would not take the oath to this Constitution began to be persecuted, though many took on disguises or went into exile.
In his thirteenth year Jean Vianney made his first Communion behind shuttered windows at his mother’s home. Even in his old age, he still recalled this occasion with tears in his eyes.
Gradually priests could throw off their disguises and return from exile, and one, Monsieur Balley, opened a school at his Presbytery for boys with a vocation, which Jean Vianney attended. He proved to be a willing student but had a bad memory. He was on the point of returning home when his despair was sensed by M. Balley and he urged his pupil to make a pilgrimage on foot to the Shrine of S. Francis Régis at La Louvesc. That enabled him to overcome his despair but his studies were soon interrupted by conscription to the army.
Sickness and his bad memory caused him to miss his army truck. He tried to follow on foot, lost his way and became technically a deserter. He was freed by a general amnesty granted to all deserters of the years 1806 to 1810.
Jean Vianney was over 20 by the time he resumed his studies. He was at first rejected for ordination because of his poor Latin, but was finally accepted, more for his amazing goodness than for any academic achievement. He was ordained on 15 August 1815 (Assumption Day) and in 1818 was appointed to Ars.
Ars, which lies 30km north of Lyon, was regarded by clergy as a kind of “Siberia”. The faith had survived in a number of souls and immediately he began to establish contact with his flock. He spoke to the peasants on matters dear to their hearts so as to win their goodwill. He subjected himself to the greatest penances, and loved the solemnities of the Church.
Typical of this was his desire for the best “household furniture of the Good God”. The goldsmiths and embroiderers of Lyon had the amazing experience of seeing a country priest wearing a shabby cassock and rough shoes, seemingly with not a sou in his pocket, ordering the most expensive articles. He took his pastoral duties seriously teaching the people and forbidding dancing and the patronage of taverns.
Fr Vianney would not consider Ars converted until all the 200 villagers were living up to the Ten Commandments of God. It took him ten years to renew Ars but the community changed so noticeably it was observed even by outsiders. There was no more working on Sundays, church attendance rose from year to year, drunkenness diminished and even domestic strife abated. Honesty became the principal characteristic and Ars became a community of pious people. He taught the people love for the rosary and wanted them to carry one around at all times. He instructed children in the catechism and after a while also adults who had grown up during the Revolution and were in complete ignorance about their faith.
One of the Curé’s greatest penances was his daily duty in the confessional, where he sat for up to 18 hours a day. This was one of the many saintly qualities that attracted pilgrims to Ars. They came in such large numbers that the railway company that served the area had to open a special booking office at Lyon for travellers to the hamlet of Ars.
For over 40 years Fr Vianney shone like a beacon first on the lives of his little flock and in time on practically everybody in France. He was a living miracle of prayer and incredible mortification, eating and drinking next to nothing, curtailing sleep to the absolute minimum, cheerful, humorous, radiating joy and the love of God. Eventually up to 80,000 people a year made their way to Ars. He told them how they stood in the sight of God, what sins they had committed, when and where, what they should do to save their souls and what God willed for every one of them. People waited in queues for over a week to kneel at his feet in the confessional. He thought no one knew about his visions, penances, miracles and mystical experiences. All he wanted and what he succeeded in doing was to bring souls back to God and get them to respond in the best way they could to the infinite eternal love God has for all his children.
In his 41st year at Ars he suffered his final illness. Serene and in total peacefulness of heart and mind, deep in prayer to the last, the good Father went to God on 4 August 1859. His last words were: “How good God is. When we can no longer go to Him, he comes to us.”
He became Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney when Pope Pius XI canonised him on 31 May 1925, the day of Pentecost. His feast day is celebrated on 4 August.