Recently I had the grace of visiting Ars, that parish which was, (and still is) the centre of God’s grace shown to humanity through its holy parish priest, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus instituted both the Eucharist and the Ministerial Priesthood. It would be beneficial to revive the living example and life teachings of the saint Curè of Ars.
Saint Jean-Marie Vianney was a man of prayer. He spent long moments in front of the tabernacle savouring the real intimacy with the Eucharistic Jesus. There, in the silence of the night, the holy Curè learnt how to accept totally the Father’s Will. There he was transfigured by that all-powerful light that abundantly poured unto himby the Prisoner of Love. His humble docility to the Holy Spirit coupled by his heroic readiness in lovingly obeying the Father’s Will touched the lives of myriad ofpeople which Divine Providence made him meet. All these people, in their heart of hearts, knew very well that their holy Curè was a man deeply steeped in prayer. It is precisely in prayer where Fr. Jean-Marie Vianney found his real joy. How many times, in the late hours of the night or in the earliest hours of the morning, that little church of Ars heard him crying with his tears flowing from his eyes while staring at the tabernacle his incessant declaration of love for his God: “I love you, O my God …”
Regarding prayer he used to say: “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”
This great man of prayer chose the Eucharist as the centre of all his pastoral activity. While looking at the tabernacle Saint Jean-Marie Vianney exclaimed: “He is present!” The holy Curè was undoubtedly a eucharistic priest. He adored and celebrated it. Fully convinced that the Eucharist was the fulcrum of his varied pastoral activity he said: “There is nothing greater than the Eucharist”. From the latter he amply received that happiness which propelled him to give himself entirely to God and men and giving men to God in return, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist. He said: “All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.”
Another quality that excelled in the saintly life of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney was his heroic determination to dedicate his life for the salvation of man. Motivated by the Good Shepherd’s love for his sheep the saintly Curè spent his 41 years of constant pastoral activity making everybody having the joy of knowing how God loves them and making them loving Him in return. This wise servant of Jesus Christ knew that a powerful way of enfleshing this sublime goal was that of spending long hours at the confessional. In fact, from 1830 onwards thousands of pilgrims came to Ars to make their confession to him. Fr Jean-Marie Vianney used to hear confessions for up to 17 hours a day so as to reconcile men with God and men amongst themselves. Because he was so familiar with God’s love for humanity he knew that it is utter foolishness to live separated from God.
He used to say: “O how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office until he is in Heaven . . . Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an Angel. Will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of Our Lord? No”.
Like Mary, whom the saint Curè described as the one who “loved God only, desired God only and tried to please God only”, let us pray for all our priests (myself included) to live a holy life on the example of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney.