St. John Marie Vianney once said, “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.” As the patron saint of parish priests, his orientation to the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith presents a model for all to follow.
St. John Vianney understood that the Eucharist has the power to transform people from within, and so he made it a priority to guide his parish of Ars back to regular attendance at Mass in the aftermath of the French Revolution. It’s interesting that he was so attuned to the miraculous power of God, found in the simplicity of Christ’s gift to us in the Eucharist, because St. John was known in his lifetime as a man whose wisdom flowed from his simplicity.
One particularly amusing story that captures how he blended wisdom and simplicity relates to the time he was struggling to become a priest. The turmoil of the French Revolution had caused an interruption to his studies, and this became a major obstacle for him in the seminary. One day the rector of the seminary summoned Vianney to inform him of negative reports from his professors, saying, “The professors do not find you fit for sacred ordination to priesthood. Some of them have called you an ass knowing nothing of theology. How can we promote you to the reception of the sacrament of priesthood?”
Vianney replied, “Father Rector, in the book of Judges, Chapter 15, we have the narration of how God made use of Samson to kill a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass to save the people of Israel. If with the useless jawbone of an ass God could do that wonderful deed, how much more can He accomplish with the whole of an ass like me.” The humility and sense of humor demonstrated in this answer revealed to the rector the wisdom underpinning Vianney’s simplicity, and he was left with no reservations in promoting him for ordination to the priesthood.
Vianney’s gift of wisdom and simplicity stemmed from many formative years in which he witnessed the heroism of priests who kept the faith alive in spite of persecution in the aftermath of the French Revolution. During the Mass in which he made his First Communion, the windows were blacked-out in order to hide the light of the candles from those who might obstruct their practice of the faith.
Vianney knew what a precious gift it was to be able to practice his faith, and he also understood the heroic virtue needed to persevere through the trials that test one’s faith. He called his parishioners to that heroic way of life, making a practice of challenging people to greater rigor in their spiritual lives. Far from alienating his parishioners, he inspired their devotion to the sacraments and eventually became a sought after confessor for the people of France looking to restore their relationship with God.
Known for his poignant teachings, Vianney once said, “A person who is in a state of sin is always sad. Whatever he does, he is weary and disgusted with everything; while he who is at peace with God is always happy, always joyous… Oh, beautiful life! Oh, beautiful death!”
Let us pray that St. John Vianney intercede for priests everywhere to lead people along the narrow road to salvation, steering their flocks away from sin and towards peace with God and eternal joy.
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Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., is a member of The Christophers board of directors.