"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Curé (priest) of Ars: St. John Mary Vianney

Mass ordination at Luneta Park, Manila
Today we celebrate the feast of the patron saint of parish priests St. John Mary Vianney. When I was serving as a parish priest in a rural parish, the saintly life of the Curé of Ars served as my humble beacon. The first big ordination of priests in the Philippines happened when St. Pope Paul VI embarked on an APOSTOLIC PILGRIMAGE TO WEST ASIA, OCEANIA AND AUSTRALIA fifty years ago. He was the first to travel by airplane and to leave Italy as Pope, and the first Pontiff to set foot on Philippine soil. He presided the mass ordination on 28 November 1970 at Luneta Park in Manila. In his homily, he addressed the ordinands,
"You will be able to understand something of your priesthood by trying to comprehend two orders of relationships set up by it. The first order concerns the relationships with Christ which you have taken on by your priestly ordination... there is only one true priesthood, that of Jesus Christ... by virtue of the Sacrament of Orders you have become sharers in Christ’s priesthood... Christ lives in you... This is something that opens to the priest the way of ascent for his spirituality, the highest way open to man, one that reaches the summits of ascetical and mystical life... if ever some day you feel that you are weak secular men, if ever some day you are tempted to abandon the sacred commitment of your priesthood, remember that you are «through him, with him and in him»; each one of you is «another Christ».""The second order of relationships... that with your bishop or superior, with the People of God, with persons, and also with the world.
The priest is no longer for himself... The proclamation of the Gospel, the celebration of the Eucharist, the remission of sins, the exercise of pastoral activity, the life of faith and worship, and the radiation of charity and holiness are his duty, a duty that reaches the point of self-sacrifice, of the cross, as for Jesus. It is a very heavy burden. But Jesus bears it with his chosen one and makes him feel the truth of his words: «My yoke is easy and my burden light» (Matth. 11: 30). For, as Saint Augustine teaches us, «my weight is my love» (S. AUG., Conf., 13: 9)... All classes of people seem to stretch out their hands to him and to ask for his understanding, his compassion and his assistance: children, young people, the poor, the sick, those who hunger for bread and for justice, the unfortunate, the sinners—all have need of the help of the priest. Never say that your lives are irrelevant and useless... This twofold sensitivity, to evil and to good in man, is the beating of Christ’s heart in that of the faithful priest. It is... a miracle that is psychological, moral and, if you like, mystical... social... It is a miracle of charity in the heart of a priest."

Key Events in John Vianney’s Life

1786  Born in Dardilly, France, who lives as a poor farm and shepherd boy with his family.
1806  At age 20, he begins formal seminary school very late because of the war and poverty. He is expelled because of his considerable difficulties with Latin.
1810  Drafted into the French Army, but frail health forces him to miss his recruiting call.
1815 Sponsored by a local priest, he reenters the seminary and is ordained at age 30.
1818  Becomes parish priest of Ars.
1824  Starts La Providence, a home for orphan girls.
1855  Hears 20,000 confessions a year which increases to nearly 75,000.
1856  Receives the French Legion of Honor.
1859  Dies on August 4 (his current feast day).
1905  Is beatified by Pius X.
1925  Is canonized and named patron saint of parish priests.

Stories about his saintly life

1. Someone asked the saint, "Should we give to the poor?" With a smile, the Curé replied, “We will have to answer for why we did or didn’t give, and the poor will have to answer for what they did with what is given them.”

2. In an extensive biography by Father Trochu, there is a testimony of the Curé's own sister, Marguerite, recounting what happened when she spent the night at the Ars' presbytery. She was awakened by strange rapping on the wall and table in her room. She got up and lit a lamp but found everything in order. Upon returning to bed the noise came back. She went to the church where her brother was hearing confessions late in the night. The Curé, said to her, “Oh, my child, you should not have been frightened. It is the Grappin [pitchfork]. He cannot hurt you. As for me, he torments me in sundry ways. At times he seizes me by the feet and drags me about the room. It is because I convert souls to the good God.”

3. At the museum at Ars’ presbytery, a strange relic of John Vianney’s old soot-covered bed frame has been preserved. It was reportedly burned by the Devil when his room caught fire on the morning of February 24, 1857. Borrowing from a deposition taken from Father Alfred Monin, a young priest, Father Trochu wrote in his book that the Curé was busy in the church hearing confessions when he learned about the fire in his room. Then the Curé triumphantly remarked, “The Grappin is very angry. He couldn’t catch the bird so he has burned the cage. It is a good sign. We will have many sinners this day.”

4. He is well-known for reading souls. His sensitivity to the movements in the human soul is second nature to him. The Curé advised that, “The soul should move toward prayer the way a fish should move toward water; they are both a purely natural state.” A man of deep love for the cross, he said, “My children, it is in loving the cross that we find true peace, not running from it.” Also, he encouraged deep love and devotion to the Eucharist. He told pilgrims, “There is no better way to experience the good God than to find him in the perfect sacrifice of the Mass.”

5. The Curé had a great sense of humor. There was once a Paris socialite who complained why she had to wait in line for confession, but the Curé told her that she would have to wait even if she were the queen of England. When a local plasterer, Francois Dorel, visited the church during a duck-hunting trip with his dog in 1852, the Curé spotted him and exclaimed, “It is greatly to be wished that your soul was as beautiful as your dog.”

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ