St. John Vianney: Having difficulty learning and being labeled as slow
There are saints for poor students, and especially for those who are perceived to be unable to ever amount to anything during their lifetime. St. John Vianney, or St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney (1786-1859) as he is known in French, is one such saint. He was not only poor financially, but also poor in the area of scholastics. St. John Vianney initially failed out of the seminary. Traditional learning and especially Latin were particularly difficult and next to impossible for him. He was criticized as being slow and dimwitted by his instructors and colleagues.
Born in Lyons, France to pious farmers, St. John Vianney had average intelligence. However, he entered the seminary due to his unwavering desire and call to become a priest. A major obstacle was his early lack of any formal education before the age of 20. During his childhood priests were forced to go into hiding. He received his First Communion and Confirmation in secrecy as practicing the faith was illegal at the time of the French Revolution. The Catholic Church was re-established in France in 1802 but a lot of people did not know much about their faith which was a result of the former persecution. However, what St. John Vianney lacked in book knowledge and training, he excelled in spiritual common sense. Through the help of “Fr. Balley”, his priest friend and tutor, St. John Vianney was eventually ordained. Fr. Balley had convinced the vicars general that where St. John fell short in intelligence was vastly compensated for in his piety and common sense.
Cure D’Ars: Sent to the middle of nowhere
St. John Vianney was sent to a failing parish in a little known community known as Ars, thus he became known as the Cure d’Ars. He was sent to Ars as it was assumed that he would not amount to anything and could do less harm there. At first he was even denied the permission to hear confessions. But before long, people from everywhere were travelling long distances to the small town of Ars to visit St. John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars. Word spread of his ability to guide souls and by 1855 pilgrims numbered 20,000 a year. During the last 10 years of his life, he spent 16-18 hours a day in the confessional. Many miracles were attributed to the Cure d’Ars even while he was still alive. In particular he was noted to be able to “read souls,” had supernatural knowledge of the past and future, had an ability to heal the sick, and was able to obtain money and food for his charities and orphans.
What was most miraculous was how the St. John Vianney had lived. He sustained himself on very little food which consisted only of a few plain boiled potatoes which hung from the ceiling of his meager room to preserve it from rats. He also slept on a bare mattress or a pile of wood in the basement. He denied himself any fruit or meat. Such rations are considered insufficient nutrition to sustain anyone’s life. Yet he was able to faithfully carry out his duties. He also had great appreciation for the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and many of the Saints.
A family pilgrimage to see the incorrupt Cure D’Ars
Pilgrims sought out his common sense coupled with deep love for God and reverence for the Sacraments. With an almost inaudible tone of voice at the end of his life, he died at age 73. Due to his reputation he became known as the patron saint of priests. His Feast Day is August 4.
My family and I were able to make a pilgrimage to Ars in about 2004. We travelled several hours on a tour bus before we came upon a tiny little parish in what seemed like in the middle of nowhere. We had time enough for Mass and then my husband grabbed a couple of jambon sandwiches next door to the Church for that evening’s long ride to our next pilgrimage stop in LaSalette. Within the Church at Ars we found the incorrupt body of St. John Vianney which is still entombed there. By incorrupt, it is thought to miraculously lack decay. It is said that wax was placed upon his face at the time of death. I have included a picture of the body of St. John Vianney and of the parish of Ars at the beginning of this blog.
The sermons of St. John Vianney
Many of his common sense sermons have been published. Frequently his talks focused on turning away from sin, following the Ten Commandments, participating in the Sacraments, and the great love of God. He had a lot to say to those who wasted their time in the taverns and warned the faithful and unfailthful alike of the spiritual consequences of impurity. He was also a big proponent of remembering the Sabbath. However, in the midst of the fire and brimstone, he shared a lot of colorful wisdom, which is appreciated and practical even for our day. What follows are a few excerpts:
St. John Vianney on suffering
Whether we will or not, we must suffer. There are some who suffer like the good thief, and others like the bad thief. They both suffered equally. But one knew how to make his sufferings meritorious, he accepted them in the spirit of reparation, and turning towards Jesus crucified, he received from His mouth these beautiful words: “This day you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The other, on the contrary, cried out, uttered curses and blasphemies, and expired in the most frightful despair. There are two ways of suffering – to suffer with love, and to suffer without love. The saints suffered everything with joy, patience, and perseverance, because they loved. As for us, we suffer with anger, vexation, and weariness, because we do not love. If we loved God, we would love crosses, we would wish for them, we would take pleasure in them…. We would be happy to be able to suffer for the love of Him who lovingly suffered for us. Of what do we complain? Alas! the poor infidels, who have not the happiness of knowing God and His infinite loveliness, have the same crosses that we have; but they have not the same consolations. You say it is hard? No, it is easy, it is consoling, it is sweet; it is happiness. Only we must love while we suffer, and suffer while we love… On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses..
St. John Vianney on our source of help
However, my dear brethren, what ought to console and reassure us is that we have to deal with a good Father Who will never allow our struggles to be greater than our strength, and every time we have recourse to Him, He will help us to fight and to conquer.
St. John Vianney on the Eucharist
To sustain the soul in the pilgrimage of life, God looked over creation, and found nothing that was worthy of it. He then turned to Himself, and resolved to give Himself. O my soul, how great you are, since nothing less than God can satisfy you! The food of the soul is the Body and Blood of God! Oh, admirable Food! If we considered it, it would make us lose ourselves in that abyss of love for all eternity! How happy are the pure souls that have the happiness of being united to Our Lord by Communion! They will shine like beautiful diamonds in Heaven, because God will be seen in them.