Today is the feast of St John Vianney, though it is not celebrated because it is a Sunday. Fr Doyle had a great devotion to him and visited Ars in 1907.
From O’Rahilly’s biography:
In spite of missing a train, and after an adventurous journey on a very primitive steam-tram, he found himself in the spot hallowed by the Curé of Ars. Fr. Doyle insisted on seeing everything: the room in which the saint died, the half-burnt curtains said to have been damaged by the devil, the little pan in which the holy man cooked the flour-lumps which he called cakes. He was allowed as a special privilege to sit in the Curé’s confessional, and above all he was able to say Mass at his shrine, using the saint’s chalice. Just above the altar reposed the Curé’s body in a case of glass and gold. “It gave one a strange feeling,” wrote Fr. Doyle, “to see the holy old man lying before one during Mass, calm and peaceful, with a heavenly smile on his face, just as he died fifty years ago…I shall never forget my visit to Ars,” he concluded; “I knew all about the Blessed Curé’s life, so that each spot had an interest and charm for me.”
Writing in his pamphlet on the priesthood, Fr Doyle described St John Vianney in this way:
In the little village Ars, near Lyons, lived and died, some fifty years ago, a simple French Curé. He had none of the great gifts which the world looks for in her famous men; so deficient was he in learning, that his Bishop hesitated about ordaining him, and he could call neither talent nor eloquence to his aid. But the Blessed Curé d’Ars possessed a marvellous, secret power over men, the power of personal holiness. For the last thirty years his life never varied. At midnight, after a broken sleep of only three hours, he entered his confessional, where for eighteen hours he absolved and consoled the hundred thousand pilgrims who annually came to Ars. He revelled in austerities and humiliations, he hungered for prayer, winning souls to God and converting the most hardened sinners by the example of his heroic life as much as by the graces of his sanctity.
Some further reflections from Fr Doyle on St Vianney may be helpful today. Writing in his diary on this day in 1913, he said:
Making my meditation before the picture of the Blessed (John Vianney), he seemed to say to me with an interior voice: “The secret of my life was that I lived for the moment. I did not say, I must pray here for the next hour, but only for this moment. I did not say, I have a hundred confessions to hear, I but looked upon this one as the first and last. I did not say, I must deny myself everything and always, but only just this once. By this means I was able always to do everything perfectly, quietly and in great peace. Try and live this life of the present moment. Pray as if you had nothing else whatever to do; say your Office slowly as if for the last time; do not look forward and think you must often repeat this act of self-denial. This will make all things much easier.”
In another place in his diary Fr Doyle writes in a similar vein:
No sacrifice would be great if looked at in this way. I do not feel now the pain which has past, I have not yet to bear what is coming; hence I have only to endure the suffering of this one moment, which is quickly over and cannot return.
This practical and wise advice can be applied by every person, no matter what our state in life might be.
We shall conclude with some short sayings from St John Vianney.
There are people who make capital out of everything, even the winter. If it is cold they offer their little sufferings to God.
A Christian either rules his inclinations or his inclinations rule him.
God has given each of us our work to do. It is for us to pursue our road, that is to say, our vocation…When God gives such and such a vocation, He bestows upon us at the same time His grace to fulfil it.
Very few people invite Jesus Christ to their wedding; on the contrary they seem to do all they can to keep him away.
The way to destroy bad habits is by watchfulness and by doing often those things which are the opposite one’s besetting sins.
We all make wonderful promises to God so long as nobody says anything to us, and all goes well
All soldiers are good in garrison. On the field of battle we see the difference between the brave and cowardly.
We must be like the shepherds in the fields during the winter. They have a fire, but from time to time they search about for sticks to keep it alive. If we knew how to keep up the fire of the love of God in our heart by prayers and good works, it would not go out.
In the soul which is united to God it is always spring.