Today we remember Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of priests. Like Forest Gump, Vianney wasn’t a smart man. He had a very hard time in school. In fact, it was only after private tutoring that he was able to pass his exams to become a priest.
His first, and only, assignment was to Ars-en-Dombres, a remote place with only 230 people. Through Vianney’s hard work, he was able to turn the place around and make it a site for pilgrims from all over the world..
He was strongly against blasphemy, profanity, and obscenity and he let the people know it in his homilies. He crusaded for a return of holiness to the Lord’s day; not just getting people to mass, but also to get them to stop working on Sunday.
He was also very much against dancing. calling it an occasion to sin. Clothing was also an issue with him and he spent years fighting against immodesty. It took him many years, but he finally won the people over.
Amazingly, Ars became a place for pilgrimages, not because of any particular holiness of the place itself, but because people wanted to see and meet the good Father. From 1830 to 1845 more than 300 people per day came to visit. From 1858-59 more than 100,000 pilgrims visited Ars. Apparently 18th century Catholics were just as hungry for the truth as 21st century Catholics are today.
A travel office was set up in Lyons to handled all the travelers wanting to visit Ars. Tickets were issued for 8 days because there was no way you could hope to see Vianney in any less time than that. He spent from 12 to as many as 16 hours per day hearing confessions. Think about that! Today most parishes hear confessions for 30 minutes to an hour every WEEK. No wonder Pius XI canonized him in 1925 and made him the patron-saint of priests in 1929.
It’s too bad that most priests (and deacons) don’t follow John Vianney’s example of speaking out on the important moral issues concerning all of us today. When was the last time you heard a preacher speak out on the evils of blasphemy or profanity in a Catholic church? I imagine it’s been a long time. In the so-called Protestant mega-churches, they hear it all the time and their numbers continue to grow.
It’s obvious that Vianney’s homilies, speaking out strongly against sin, attracted thousands of pilgrims to his little church. It would be good if all of us who have the great gift of being allowed to speak from the ambo would follow his example.
Saint John Vianni, pray for us.