Friday, August 08, 2008

Feast of St John M. Vianney, Confessor (1786-1859).
Patron Saint of Parish Priests.

Today we have an opportunity to read testimonies of many pious people, including devout Chanoine Gardette, chaplain to the Carmel of Chalon-sur-Saone, describing the Cure of Ars prayer life, his ability of recollection and union with God amidst extremely busy life and duties of parish priest. All testimonies were taken during process of Beatification and are cited and commented upon in the well known and beloved book by Abbe Francis Trochu "The Cure of Ars":

"M. Vianney once expressed himself thus in my presence: 'Oh, how I wish I could lose myself, never again to find myself except in God!'. Well, watching him at work, one could see that his wish had been fulfilled. Indeed, he knew so well how to abandon himself to God's good pleasure that amid the manifold and laborious activities of his ministry he appeared as when engaged in his religious exercises. He always seemed but one thing to do - viz. the duty of the present moment. The keenness he displayed was that of apostolic zeal, never that of merely natural love of activity. Thus, whether one watched him on the morning, at noon, or at night, he invariably exhibited true liberty of spirit, meekness of disposition, and interior peace. It seems to me that here we have the realization of the ideal union with God - that is, the fullest possible development of perfect love." (said Chaplain Gardette.) We further read the comment made by Abbe Trochu: A soul united to God as to its centre may indeed perform a series of holy actions and yet not itself be holy. To avoid such a danger the Cure d'Ars constantly lifted up his heart to God - in the pulpit, in the confessional, in the midst of conversations and the most varied occupations. "He had acquired the habit of the saints, which consists in leaving God for active work, when this was required of him, and returning to God by prayer at the earliest possible moment." Prayer was the greatest joy of his soul and his habitual refuge. "Prayer is a fragrant dew," he used to say; "the more we pray, the more we love to pray." In fact, if all his life he longed so earnestly for solitude, it was that he might give himself up wholly to prayer and the contemplation of the things of God. Alas! the time had come when he could no longer give himself, as did his brother priests, even to the refreshing exercises of the annual retreat. On the very last occasion when he thus hoped to quicken his spirit - it was in 1835, at the Seminary of Brou - Mgr. Devie sent him back to his parish even before the opening exercise. "You have no need of a retreat," the prelate declared, "whereas over there sinners want you." And he went home without a word. There were times, however, when he was heard to groan as he remembered the far-off days when he lived in the solitude of the fields. "Oh, how happy I was then! Then my head was not racked as it is to-day; it was so easy to pray!" And he would add with a smile: " I believe my vocation was to remain a shepherd all my life." Yet when he became a priest - a shepherd of souls - he was able, at least during the first years, to indulge his holy passion for prayer. At that time he had assuredly attained to that exalted degree of prayer which is called "the prayer of simplicity," "where intuition replaces, for the most part, discourse or reasoning, where affections and resolutions vary but little and are expressed in but few words." "Before the great work of the pilgrimage began," says the Abbe Claude Rougement, vicaire of Ars, "according to the testimony of the old inhabitants, M.Vianney was for ever to be seen in church, on his knees, and praying without using a book." "His prayer was affective," says the Baronne de Belvey, " rather than made up of reflections and reasonings." He gazed at the tabernacle and never ceased from assuring our Lord that he loved him. In this he followed no other method than that of Pere Chaffangeon: "I look at the good God, and the good God looks at me." Frere Jerome declares in his turn that "when the influx of pilgrims put an end to his long hours of prayer, M. le Cure accustomed himself to choosing, in the morning, a subject of meditation to which he referred all the actions of the day." "I once asked him for advice on mental prayer," says the Abbe Dufour. "'I no longer have time for regular prayer,' was his answer 'but at the very first moment of the day I endeavour to unite myself closely to Jesus Christ, and I then perform my task with the thought of this union in mind.'" "From which I infer," adds M.Dufour, "that his life was one long prayer." In this way he concentrated the attention of his heart upon some scene of the life of our Lord, our Blessed Lady, or upon one of his favourite saints. His preferences were, however, for the sorrowful mysteries, and he usually accompanied our Lord throughout the divers phases of His Passion. That he might the more readily recall them to mind, he asked Catherine Lassagne to write them down in the margin of his Breviary, in this way, whilst reciting his Office, he lived over again, with tearful emotion, every one of the stages of the work of our redemption. As he walked among the crowds he frequently bore the appearance of one who feels quite alone, so deeply was he absorbed in holy considerations. Hence, whilst living a most active life, he ever remained the contemplative that he had wished to be. "That is real faith," he used to say, "when we speak to God as we would converse with a man." This ideal was fully realized in his own life.

To read fragments of St John Vianney - The Little Catechisms please follow the highlighted link