Priest Saints: St. John Mary Vianney, the Holy Curé of Ars

The Holy Curé of Ars is one of the great holy priests in the history of the Church, as demonstrated by his immense pastoral work and his reputation for holiness even during his lifetime.

Manuel Belda-August 3, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes
holy priest of ars

St. John Mary Vianney was born in Dardilly, a village near Lyon, on May 8, 1786. At the age of 17, he began his priestly studies. Called to military service, he was sent to fight in Spain, but he deserted and hid in the mountains from 1809 to 1811, when an amnesty allowed him to return to his village. He returned to the Seminary, but because of his difficulties with philosophy and Latin, he was dismissed. A priest, Father Belley, took him in and prepared him until he was ordained on August 13, 1815. Belley's curate from 1815 until 1818, when he was assigned to the parish of Ars, a small village with 230 inhabitants. When he was sent there, the Vicar General of the diocese told him: "there is not much love in this parish; you will try to introduce it".

In the years that he spent in Ars, two phases can be clearly distinguished: in the first, his pastoral work was limited to the parishioners of his parish, with preaching, catechesis, visits to the sick, etc. In the second, a few years later, his reputation for holiness spread throughout France and a great multitude from all regions flocked to Ars, and sometimes people had to wait for days to be able to go to confession with him. An example of this great influx of the faithful is that it was necessary to put special trains from Lyon to Ars.

He died on August 4, 1859, so his obligatory memorial is celebrated on August 4. He was canonized and proclaimed patron of parish priests by Pius XI in 1929.

His sanctity of life

St. John Mary Vianney succeeded in converting the inhabitants of Ars and a great multitude of people, because he was very holy. On one occasion, a lawyer from Lyon who was returning from Ars was asked what he had seen there. And he answered: "I saw God in a man". As Benedict XVI once said: "The holy Curé of Ars succeeded in touching people's hearts not thanks to his human gifts, nor on the sole basis of an effort of will, however praiseworthy. He won over souls, even the most refractory, by communicating to them what he lived intimately, namely, his friendship with Christ. He was in love with Christ, and the true secret of his pastoral success was the love he felt for the Eucharistic mystery, celebrated and lived, which was transformed into love for the flock of Christ, the Christians, and for all people who seek God" (General Audience5-VIII-2009).

The Holy Curé of Ars taught his parishioners above all by the witness of his holy life. By his prolonged stay before the tabernacle in the Church, he succeeded in getting the faithful to imitate him, going gladly to the tabernacle to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. From his example the faithful learned to pray. "There is no need to speak much to pray well," he taught them; "we know that Jesus is there, in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to him, let us rejoice in his presence. This is the best prayer." "I look at him and he looks at me", said to his holy priest a peasant from Ars who prayed before the Tabernacle.

Educating the faithful in devotion to the Eucharist was particularly effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. Those who attended said that "one could not find a figure that better expressed adoration... He contemplated the host with love". He would tell them: "All good works together are not comparable to the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men, while the Holy Mass is the work of God".

This personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross in the Holy Mass took him from the altar to the confessional. His dedication to the Sacrament of Reconciliation was exhausting. As the crowd of penitents from all over France grew, he spent up to 16 hours a day in the confessional. It was said at the time that Ars had become the "great hospital of souls". To a brother priest, he explained: "I will tell you my recipe: I give sinners a small penance and I do the rest for them.

The Holy Curé of Ars lived heroically the virtue of poverty. His poverty was not that of a religious or a monk, but that which is asked of a priest: in spite of handling a lot of money (since the wealthier pilgrims were interested in his charitable works), he was aware that everything was for his church, his poor, his orphans, and his neediest families. He explained: "My secret is simple: give everything and keep nothing. When he found himself empty-handed, he would happily say to the poor who asked him: "Today I am poor like you, I am one of you...".". Thus, at the end of his life, he was able to say with absolute serenity: "I have nothing... Now the good Lord can call me whenever he wants...".".

He also lived heroically the virtue of chastity. It can be said that it was the chastity that befits one who must habitually touch the Eucharist with his hands and contemplate it with all his heart in rapture, and with the same enthusiasm he distributes it to his faithful. It was said of him that "chastity shone in his eyes", and the faithful could see it when he gazed into the tabernacle with the eyes of a lover.

Finally, in the life of the Holy Curé of Ars, his love for the Blessed Virgin must be emphasized. He himself felt a very lively devotion to the Immaculate Conception; he, who already in 1836 had consecrated his parish to Mary conceived without sin, and who with so much faith and joy welcomed the dogmatic definition of 1854. He always reminded his faithful that "Jesus Christ, when he gave us all that he could give us, wanted to make us heirs of the most precious thing he had, that is, his Holy Mother".

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