DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     August 3, 1999     vol. 10, no. 144


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Tuesday, August 3, 1999

      First Reading: Numbers 12: 1-13
      Psalms: Psalm 51: 3-7, 12-13
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 15: 1-2, 10-14

Wednesday, August 4, 1999

      First Reading: Numbers 13: 1-2, 25-33; 14: 1,26-29, 34-35
      Psalms: Psalm 106: 4, 6-7, 13-14, 21-23
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 15: 21-28


          This humble parish priest was born on May 8, 1786 in Dardilly near Lyons, France three years before the French Revolution. Few realized this young John Baptist Vianney would stage his own revolution within the Church - one which would set the model for the importance of the parish priest and foster numerous vocations to the priesthood at a time when the Church was greatly persecuted and misunderstood. He saw first hand the slaughter of the clergy and exile of many of the priests who he longed for. Thus at age 20, with a fervent desire to rebuild the Church in France he began studying for the priesthood under the saintly Abbe Balley at Ecully. Because he was not a learned man, young John had great difficulty with his studies and struggled greatly, particularly with the Latin. Because of his grades he was not protected from the military draft and was called to Napoleon's army in 1808. Less than a year later, realizing the folly of war, he deserted and returned home in hiding. In 1810, the little French general, realizing how the populace was turning against him, granted amnesty to all deserters. This freed Vianney to pursue his studies where he was tonsured. Though he continued to struggle with his studies, the Abbe saw the qualities of holiness in John and interceded for his ordination. Thus John became a priest in 1815 despite his poor grades. His first assignment was under the Abbe as curate where he remained until the Abbe's death in 1817. The next year the bishop assigned Fr. Vianney as the Cure d'Ars where he remained for the rest of his life - 42 years - as a humble, parish priest. His first priority was to reinstill the reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and then reignite the flame of involvement in a parish that had become exceedingly indifferent. He waged a constant war on immorality and over-spending, eventually winning over the entire village though not before impassioned bouts with enemies who wanted to cling to the good life. But Fr. Vianney won out, opening a school for girls, a shelter for orphans and a shrine to Saint Philomena which drew enormous throngs as a place of pilgrimage. Many believe it was not the shrine they were being attracted to, but rather this simple, holy priest who spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day in the confessional counseling through spiritual direction, and giving absolution. Though he was laughed at by many of his peers and some of the villagers for his ignorance in things of the world, he had the unique gift of reading souls and the confessional became his classroom where he was the master teacher. As befits a holy man, the more one strives for sanctity the more satan assaults. Such was the case with Fr. Vianney who was subjected to demonic attacks for over thirty years. Though he was not an intellectual, the wisdom which he spoke told volumes. One such pearls of wisdom was on "Whom the devil torments most?" in "Beware if you have no temptations". Every time the bishop sought to transfer him, his parishioners stormed the ordinary with protests, causing the bishop to back down. Fr. Vianney himself longed to leave, not for another parish, but rather for the life of a Carthusian monk. Three times he sought the contemplative life but each time his parishioners brought him back and he finally realized his life would always be healing sinners and tending to the desolate. His fame spread throughout Europe and in 1843 he was awarded the medal of the Legion of Honor. He promptly sold it for the value it brought and gave the money to the poor. Exhausted from a life-long dedication to his parishioners and pilgrims, he died peacefully on August 4, 1859 a year after Our Lady, whom he had a deep devotion to, had appeared at Lourdes affirming the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This holy saint truly believed in the power of prayer, saying "Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there, if you set it on fire it makes a long 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." Such was the power of Mass, the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Holy Rosary and this devotion is still evident today in this tiny village which has become the shrine of St. John Vianney who was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and four years later proclaimed "patron of parish priests."

August 3, 1999       volume 10, no. 144


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