St. John Vianney’s Revolution

Friends in Christ, today we are in our continuing Novena to St. John Vianney, our patron saint. Many have been coming to the Novena Nights this past week; Monday will be the final day, and the great procession, so hopefully everyone can be there, especially the children.
.
St. John Vianney once said, ‘All the saints did not start out so well, but they all finished well.’
St. John’s whole life was really about helping people to ‘finish well,’ to turn away from past sins and begin again – to follow Christ. This is why he was in the Confessional 12 hours a day, and people came from all over Europe to confess – and begin new.
.
‘All the saints did not start out so well, but they all finished well.’
The mercy of God is always inviting us to begin new, and to become a more true disciple; this was the mission of St. John Vianney. He once said, ‘All I desire is that everyone would love God.’
.
Atheists deny God. So much of our world has no use for God, or heaven, or goodness or hope. But one thing is true of all such people: They do not wish to hear about the saints – they do not wish to hear about those whose lives became shining stars of goodness. For those whose heart has grown cold, who make the pleasures of this world their god – they do not wish to hear about the saints, it is painful to them.
.
I was once asking my sister, what she likes to hear in a good homily. Without hesitation she said: ‘I love to hear about the saints.’ My sister likes this, because we learn by example. The saints show us what Christian discipleship looks like. So I thought it would be good today to speak about our great patron, St. John Vianney.
.
Once upon a time, to the north of Lyon, France[i] was a tiny village called Dardilly, and in a nearby farmhouse, there lived Mathieu and Marie Vianney who had 6 children, the 4th being John. This was rural France in the 18th century. On the outside, such poor people of those days worked very hard; but on the inside, they had a great and simple peace. The difficulties of life pulled them down, but a pure faith in God lifted them up. Among themselves and at the supper table, they talked about the gospel stories as easily as we today, speak of news on tv. As Henri Gheon says, children then learned at the same time how Jesus was born and how the corn grows. Both were simply facts. This was the atmosphere of faith and life that little John Vianney breathed.
.
But shattering through this goodness, was the outbreak of the French Revolution. Atheism and hatred against God led to the suppression of religion; some 30,000 priests either fled France or were executed by the guillotine. The Vianney family watched as their government became an enemy to the Christian Faith; in fact, the French government created its own pseudo-religion, based on progress and reason.
We ourselves today can feel a hint of this same attitude; our present government is against the Church, trying to force religious institutions to pay-for and accept that which is against God’s law. So we can feel a hint of this kind of pressure. So far however, no one has gone to the guillotine – yet.
But in little John Vianney’s time, this attitude of the government had crescendoed to a frenzy: priests and nuns were arrested and their heads chopped off by the thousands. For little John Vianney, he and his family, at great risk, attended covert Masses held secretly in various barns or farm-houses. Priests moved secretly from house to house, wherever good Catholics would shelter them so that they could still bring the sacraments. As a little boy, St. John once asked: ‘What is a priest? He was told: ‘a priest is a man who is willing to die, so that he can be one.’ And so he chose to be one.
.
By the time he went to the seminary, the Revolution had ended, and the people had no faith. ‘Without God, he once said, people live like animals.’ But in order for him to become a priest and help the people find God again, St. John had to get through the seminary. He struggled in his studies, especially Latin.
Here is an incident[ii] that happened to him when he was attending school: One day, a teacher asked him to stand and answer a question in class, but he did not know the answer. With that, a boy much younger named Loras, called him a fool and straightaway punched him. Do you think he retaliated? No. He knelt down and apologized for being so stupid! At the sight of this humility, Loras himself burst into tears over what he had done.
.
What effect did this simple act of humility have on Loras? Well, surprisingly, this cruel boy, went on to become a priest. He was sent as a missionary to the US – to Iowa. Working tirelessly, he was named a Bishop, and there established the diocese of Dubuque, Iowa. For 19 years, Bishop Loras guided Dubuque, a diocese that flourished. The people of Dubuque spoke with love of their Bishop. They named a college after him: ‘Loras college’ For generations, Catholic parents named their boys “Loras”, and even their girls “DeLoras,” after the Holy Bishop, who had shown them Christ.
.
Loras – a man who had punched St. John Vianney. A man who transformed his own part of the world, because he himself was transformed by an encounter with a saint.
Our life affects so many others. The better our life, the more effect it has in the world. St. John Vianney was especially about helping people to turn away from the failings of their life, to begin again.
.
‘All the saints did not start out so well, he said, but they all finished well.’
And he had a secret to help him – Mary.
.
One evening, when St. John was only 4 years old, his mother went to look for him; she found him at the far end of the cattle shed on his knees in the straw, holding in his hand a little statue of the Blessed Virgin, which was his favorite toy. He did not hear his mother enter, he was praying. This was his secret.
.
Mary, help us to be saints.
Pray for us, that we today will begin anew, and make the remainder of our life, a perfect gift to God.

.

[Entrusted to the prayers of Blessed Bartolo Longo]

 

[i] ideas and quotes here are taken from ‘The Secret of the Cure D’Ars,’ by Henri Gheon. pp. 7-11.

[ii] this incident is related in ‘The Cure D’Ars Today,’ by Fr. George Rutler

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation