Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Cure of Ars

I'm still running a day or so behind on feast days, which is a shame, because St. John Vianney is one of my favorite people. Most folks know him as the Cure of Ars, Ars being the small town in France where he was stationed as a parish priest.

More priests should reflect upon his life. In a time when confession is at an all time low, the Cure would spend sometimes 16 hours a day in the confessional. This is not merely a comment on the holiness of the man. It also shows the effect of such priests on their parishes since people would stay lined up to receive the sacrament of Penance, whether they were from Ars or from some nearby (or faraway) town. Holiness births holiness. Of course, it didn't hurt that St. John was blessed with supernatural gifts ranging from clairvoyance to the reading of hearts. Regardless, we shouldn't get too caught up on those things. The real miracle in the confessional is the restoration of sanctifying grace to the soul. His belief in the horrors of sin made the work of Penance the hallmark of his work:

So many crimes against God are committed that they sometimes incline us to ask God to end this world! . . . You have to come to the town of Ars if you really want to learn what an infinite multitude of serious sins there are. . . Alas, we do not know what to do, we think that there is nothing else to do than weep and pray to God.

He's another guy like St. Anthony of the Desert and the aforementioned St. Alphonsus who had a severe problem with demonic attacks. Most biographies are quite blunt in recounting how the Devil would physically abuse him on a regular basis. This article from EWTN gives a good summary of the saint's battles with diabolical forces. It makes for another point to reflect on Christ's elect being called to a life of suffering. Being holy does not mean that you are somehow impervious to the assaults of the Evil One. Granted, you might be more open to grace for resisting such attacks, but outstanding holiness is more likely to put a target on your back than anything else. St. John did not fear suffering, though, and neither should we. Consider that:

Our Lord is our model, let us take up our cross and follow Him. Let us do like the soldiers of Napoleon. They had to cross a bridge under the fire of grapeshot; no one dared to pass it. Napoleon took over the colors, marched over first and they all followed. Let us do the same; let us follow Our Lord, who has gone before us.

Blessed John XXIII devoted an entire encyclical to the Cure of Ars. In one particular section, he focuses upon mortification and penance, two subjects that are regarded as signs of insanity in modern society (see any news program that discusses Opus Dei):

John M. Vianney was an outstanding model of voluntary mortification of the body as well as of detachment from external things. "There is only one way"—he used to say—"for anyone to devote himself to God as he should through self-denial and the practice of penance: that is by devoting himself to it completely." Throughout his whole life, the holy Cure of Ars carried this principle into practice energetically in the matter of chastity.

This wonderful example of chastity seems to have special application to the priests of our time who—as is unfortunately the case in many regions—are often forced by the office they have assumed to live in the midst of a human society that is infected by a general looseness in morals and a spirit of unbridled lust. How often this phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas is proved true: "It is harder to lead a good life in the work of caring for souls, because of the external dangers involved" To this We might add the fact that they often feel themselves cut off from the society of others and that even the faithful to whose salvation they are dedicated do not understand them and offer them little help or support in their undertakings.

St. John Vianney, pray for us, especially our priests.

1 comment:

David said...

Excellent post. Saint John Vianney has a special place in my heart as I had two uncles that were priests and he was the patron of my childhood grade school and parish.

Saint John Vianney Pray for us.