After two years as a young “curate” (associate pastor), Fr. John Vianney was assigned as pastor to a very poor parish in a miserable little village in southern France called “Ars.” The year was 1818, and he would stay at St. John the Baptist parish in Ars for the next 41 years, until the day he died on August 4, 1859. He grew up in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which had attempted to “cancel” Europe’s Christian culture in 1789. It was the first time people had actually unleashed the practical consequences of secular philosophies that had been developing in Europe since the fourteenth century. This line of thought has driven other revolutions such as in Soviet Russia and Communist China, and it is driving the “soft” revolutions against Judeo-Christian culture in the world today.
The little village to which Father John Vianney was assigned in 1818 was typical in a France recovering from social chaos. People would spend weekends drinking and hooking up for sexual experiences, and they had very little hope of anything better or deeper out of life. “You are going to Ars,” the bishop told his young priest. “There is little love of God in that town. You are going to bring it there.”
Over the next 41 years he worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and towards the end so many people were flocking to Ars from all over Europe that the French railway had to build a dedicated line to accommodate them. My favorite story is of a woman whose husband committed suicide. She tried to get to Fr. Vianney but the confessional line sometimes took days to reach him. He saw her in line and cried out “He is Saved!” People looked up and wondered by the priest was crying out to a woman in line. “I tell you he is saved,” Fr. John insisted. “He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition.”
Through the intercession of St. John Vianney, I pray that we, your priests, will help free you from the fear of death and judgement, and any other darkness, by witnessing to the goodness of God. May we be found worthy of the trust God has placed in us!