Statue of the Curé d’Ars photographed in Falaise by Mr G.
A Faithful Priest
The Curé d’Ars feast day 4th August
One of my most treasured possessions is a plain plaster statue of a French parish priest known universally as the Curé d’Ars —so named because for over 40 years he served the parish of Ars-en-Dombes in France.
John-Marie Baptiste Vianney (whose feast day is today) was brought up in a peasant farming family near Lyons. He was born in 1786 and as a child of farmers he was given very little formal education. Yet, by the time he was 20 he had heard God’s call to ordination and had begun to study for the priesthood. He found study very hard and on more than one occasion his superiors thought to end his time in the seminary. However, they noted his devotion to God and a quality of holiness which far outweighed academic ability. They saw a young man whose heart God had touched.
He was ordained and after a curacy he was appointed the Parish Priest of a backwater village—Ars. He went there in 1818 and remained until his death in 1859 on August 4th. Very quickly he gained a reputation for being a preacher and people began to flock to hear him. At the same time he became known as a priest who could give wise and gentle counsel to souls in distress. Very soon people began to consult him and to bare their souls to him. The trickle of people became a stream and then a torrent. Countless numbers of people would come to see him. Each day, after his own time of personal prayer and devotion, he would preach a sermon daily at 11am and then spend many hours hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction. He was often moved to tears by the things people told him and he brought to them the comfort born out of someone who understood human weakness and the power of God’s love.
As time went on he was offered more important jobs in the Church and he also struggled with a call to the monastic life but he stayed put and in so doing put the little village of Ars on the map—not only in his own day but for all time.
Not surprisingly, after his death, he was declared a Saint and he became known as the Patron Saint of parish priests. As an example of the devotion and service priests are called to emulate, this is hardly surprising. The simple statue I have, unadorned by paint, reminds me that at the heart of all service in God’s Name there must be humility.
Here’s one of my favourite sayings of his:
Speaking of the difference between private and public prayer, he said:
“Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there : if you set it on fire it makes a lot 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.”