Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Simple Cure Ministered to Millions: St=Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Simple Cure Ministered to Millions: St=Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney

Article excerpt

It is strangely comforting to know--when deadlines are nipping at your heels, the correspondence pile is teetering, your to-do list has cobwebs at the top, the demands on your time are excessive, and the clean sock drawer stares at you empty--that even a saint was tempted to run away from his life.

Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney came from humble beginnings in rural France near Lyon. Born into a peasant family in 1786 just before the French Revolution, the boy was raised in a very pious home at a time when violence against the faithful was common and it was necessary to hide priests from persecution or death. Nevertheless, he felt called at a tender age to become a priest himself. His father was not so convinced, and Jean-Baptiste had to wait until his late teens to begin any formal education for the priesthood. If his attempts to study Latin, moral theology and philosophy did not lead him to despair, it is hard to imagine that anything could. He failed every examination miserably. But it was a time when the queue for the priesthood was not overly long and a pragmatic vicar-general concluded that the church needed not only learned priests but holy ones as well. So, ordained Jean-Baptiste was.

A humble little parish priest, tucked away in the sleepy little village of Ars with 250 parishioners, wouldn't seem particularly noteworthy, but within months Jean-Baptiste had drawn his lines. He would relentlessly admonish against acting, dancing, drinking and Sunday work, even going so far as to refuse absolution to dancers or Christian burial to unrepentent actors. Eventually, the new priest's own fidelity and singleminded pursuit of holiness won over his community: Saturday dances ceased and parishioners and pubkeepers alike observed the day of rest on Sunday.

Miraculously, this simple little man with an entirely countercultural message, who lived so sparingly on a few cold potatoes each day, mortified himself to excess, performed miracles that he attributed to the wholly fictitious St. Philomena, gave everything away to the poor, and asked so much of himself and everyone around him, became sought after by crowds of people daily. He was especially gifted at seeing into hearts, and in the last year of his life it is believed that he may have heard the confessions of close to 120,000 people. A special train had to be set up between Paris and Ars.

As one can imagine, it often took two or three days to get to meet the beloved Cure d'Ars, and so an entire economy of lineups developed outside the church whereby poor people would be hired to hold a place in line for the better-heeled. …

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