Saint John Vianney
By Jose Amaral
“If there were three men on Earth like thyself, my kingdom would be destroyed.” This saying is from a woman who was possessed by the devil speaking about St. John M. Vianney, also know as the Cure of Ars. For 34 years from 1824 to 1858 the devil tempted John M. Vianney. John Vianney was one of God’s subjects, a virtuous man full of charity, faith and humility. The devil tried to do all he could to stop St. John Vianney on his way to sainthood. The devil would whisper in Fr. Vianney’s ear at night with a screeching voice, other times he will make the rectory shake like an earthquake. While he was sleeping his body would feel like it was being trampled by rats. Fr. Vianney would try to sleep in the center of the bed, with no mattress. He would lie in the center of the bed because the devil would toss him around in it at night. Curtains would move, also furniture, things will get knocked down. John Vianney would think a swarm of bees would be in his room and he will have to wake up and open the window to let the bees out, but there were no bees. John Vianney was tempted a lot but the devil’s greatest efforts were in trying to convince Fr. Vianney to give up praying and doing penance for souls to go to heaven. This all happened at night while he was trying to sleep after many hours of prayer, hearing confessions, working, suffering and of course saying Mass for the conversion of souls. All those years the devil tried but why? We must know who John M Vianney was.
John M. Vianney was born on May 8, 1786 in Dardilly, France to Matthieu and Marie Vianney. John was the middle of 6 children. The Vianney’s were poor and worked as farmers. In 1789 the fall of Bastille, which happened to be the beginning of the French Revolution, affected France in so many ways, but mostly it affected the Catholic Church. The Priests were persecuted if they were caught celebrating Mass. Some were tortured, and even killed. John Vianney grew up with a love for God and even built a little Statue of Our Lady; he prayed every opportunity he could. He one time told his Mother, “I am going to bring many souls to God.” In April of 1802 the Revolution ended. Fr. Balley became Pastor at a parish in Ecully not far from Dardilly. He was going to start a seminary there and he invited John Vianney to come, for he saw something in him that was to be a Priest. Since John Vianney didn’t have much schooling during his youth he was behind in grammar and Latin. One time a group of young seminarians around the age of 12 to 13 made fun of John Vianney and were disgusted by him. John Vianney knelt down and begged forgiveness. The boy forgave and later became the Bishop of Dubuque, Iowa in 1858. John Vianney was tempted to leave the seminary because of his lack of French grammar and because he was completely discouraged with studying Latin. He decided to leave the seminary in the summer of 1806. With a stick in one hand and rosary in the other he prayed as he was on the way to a shrine. When he entered the shrine he prayed for the grace to learn Latin and his prayers were answered.
After a short stint in the service John Vianney finished his studies and became a Priest in August of 1815 at 29 years of age. He became an assistant to Fr. Bailey at Ecully. Occasionally Fr. Bailey and now Fr. Vianny would go to the shrine of Our Lady of Fourviere. They would stop to see friends in Lyons. It was there Fr. Vianney would know about the virgin martyr whose body was found in the catacombs in Rome: his little friend St. Philommena. Fr. Balley became very ill and passed away on December 17, 1817. Fr. Vianney took care of him while he was ill and learned a lot from this holy pastor. People petitioned Fr. Vianney to be their new pastor but a young priest had also died in a neighboring town and so Fr. Vianney was assigned to that parish in Ars. The parish had 230 parishioners. Fr. Vianney was appointed by the Vicar General who said to him,“There is not much love for God in that parish; you will bring some into it.” On February 9, 1818 Fr. John M. Vianney set out to Ars, France.
Ars was a poor town about 22 miles from Lyons, France. While he was on the road to Ars he asked a group of children how to get there and a young boy willingly pointed the way. Fr. Vianney said, “My good friend you have shown me the way to Ars, I will show you the way to heaven.” Fr. Vianney prayed for his parish. He knew that to go to heaven one must repent, convert, and go to confession. Fr. Vianney would do whatever it would take to convert his parish. While he was kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament with tears in his eyes he woud pray, “My God grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer all my life and whatsoever it may please Thee to lay upon me; even for a hundred years am I prepared to endure the sharpest pains, only let my people by converted.”
The one thing Fr. Vianney wanted to do was to be a hermit and just pray for souls, but Fr. Vianney was humble and obedient to his vocation. God wanted him in Ars so he knew he had to stay there. Fr. Vianney realized that people weren’t coming to Mass because they were working in the fields or going to the taverns. When Fr. Vianney found out about this he would go to the tavern and ask how much they made that day. When he was told the price Fr. Vianney would pay double so the tavern will be closed on Sunday. Fr. Vianney would preach on sin and how we must convert. He would preach on the root of sins. For example, he would say that we need to examine why we lie because the why behind the what is usually the root cause. He preached on the Eucharist, the importance of having Christ at the center of our lives. His Parish was converting and that is why the devil tempted him so much; Fr. Vianney was drawing many souls to confession. Fr. Vianney would hear confessions for 16 to 18 hours a day. He had a schedule of when to hear confessions with women, then men, and so forth. He finally converted not just his parish, but towns around it. He used to say that whenever he was tempted greatly the night before a sinner would be converted. Fr. Vianney would also say, “A converted sinner after going and saying a good confession is a greater miracle than someone being resurrected from the dead.” Fr. John Vianney died August 4, 1859 at the age of 73.
Fr. John Vianney through his life teaches us today many virtues and ways to trust in God. The one virtue I really try to follow him by was humility, how he never yelled at anyone and never tried to defend himself even though he was right. I look to the story of him being 19 in the seminary and kneeling down in front of the 12-year-old boy, asking for forgiveness even though he was the one who was offended. He never thought of himself. He always put God and others first. He was also very obedient to God’s Will for his life, his vocation. Through his example we can all ask ourselves, “What am I doing with my life? Is it God’s Will?” He took whatever God gave him and he did the best he could with no regrets. He is also an example of patience. Many parishioners tried to help him because he was tempted by the devil all those years. He stayed until it was time to go to eternal rest. He never fought back, never made excuses, he just accepted whatever trial was given to him and he suffered with patience. He never complained. This clearly stems from his prayer life for as a young priest in Ars he begged for the conversion of his Parish. If the Cure of Ar’s was alive today and saw what the world has become (with the ways of dance, pleasure and selfishness) I think he would do more penance, suffer more and preach on why the world has become the way it is. He would say it must start with us. We need to repent and convert so that we can convert others. He would also not just preach but lead by example.
To really get to know the Cure of Ars we can read his sermons and his life. I hope that this short essay will be enough to start to introduce you to my hero, St. John Marie Vianney, also known as the Cure of Ars. Thanks be to God! God Bless.