Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Curé of Ars and the Angels



My previous post featuring St. John Vianney was short and sweet and seriously in need of a sequel considering the stature of the saint involved.

To that end, and in honor of the Feast of the Curé of Ars (August 4th), I’d like to reflect a bit on the life of this remarkable priest and share some of his more memorable quotes about the angels (including the fallen ones, with whom he had some up-close-and-personal dealings).
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St. John Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, in the small French town of Dardilly. He was the oldest of six children born to his parents, Matthieu and Marie. The anti-religious and anti-clerical political atmosphere brought on by the French Revolution made it difficult at that time to practice Catholicism, but the Vianneys managed to keep their faith alive and thriving by opting to teach their children at home instead of sending them to the state-run public schools.

It was in this environment that John’s faith and piety developed. His zeal was such that he was horrified by the large numbers of priests that defected and signed oaths of loyalty to the state. He famously said in response, “Oh, if I were a priest, I should want to win ever so many souls for God.” That desire would soon be made a reality.

After his rise to power in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte liberated the Church from state power, allowing church doors to reopen and Mass to be celebrated publicly once again. The road to the priesthood had been cleared for John, and at age 19 he entered the seminary. Life as a seminarian was a challenge, however, as academics, particularly Latin, proved difficult for John. Making matters worse, his studies were interrupted by a forced two-year stint in Napoleon’s army.

Upon his return to the seminary, John struggled again with academics and was almost dismissed by his superiors. But there were others in authority who recognized the value of John’s other gifts–his piety, asceticism, modesty, and power of recollection, to name a few. Given another chance to take his exams–this time in French instead of Latin–St. John passed with flying colors and in 1815 was ordained a priest.

At age 31, St. John was sent to the remote backwater village of Ars. Confronted with a staggering amount of immorality, religious indifference, and frivolity among his parishioners, John labored unceasingly to turn the tide back toward God. His success was nothing short of miraculous. It took 25 years, but eventually all 200 villagers “converted,” that is, were observing the 10 Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and living a daily Christian life. His preaching became so famous for its eloquence and ability to touch even the most hardened hearts that many priests and bishops traveled from great distances to hear him.

But what St. John became most famous for was his ability as a confessor. He would hear confessions for 13-17 hours a day, sometimes hearing as many as 400 confessions in a day. With unparalleled powers of discernment and the ability to read hearts, St. John was able to pinpoint a sinner’s source of trouble and prescribe the exact means to treat or remove it. He also shared extreme empathy with penitents and would sob at the thought of souls being lost forever due to sin.

His long hours in the confessional left him little time for anything else, including eating or sleeping, and he often got by on a few hours of sleep and a couple of boiled potatoes. These sacrifices were nothing to St. John, though, as he regularly performed acts of self-inflicted penances. In fact, if someone gave him a loaf of bread, he would trade it for a crust from a beggar. He was known for giving easy penances in the confessional, saying “I give them a light penance and perform the rest myself.”

St. John also obtained many graces for his beloved Ars through his great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Mother, and St. Philomena. One of the things the Curé soon became known for were miraculous cures, not only of the soul but the body as well. But his modesty made him uncomfortable with the attention these acts gained him, and so he made a pact with St. Philomena that he would send all healing requests to her and that he in turn would spread her devotion. St. Philomena reportedly appeared to St. John on occasion, as did the Blessed Virgin. He remarked, “With Our Lady and Saint Philomena we get on well together.”

St. John’s holiness and the good he did for the people of Ars caught the attention not only of Heaven, but (not surprisingly) of the other place as well. For 35 years, from 1824 to 1858, the Curé was subjected to an onslaught of spiritual and physical harassment from the devil, many instances of which were verified by witnesses. The attacks ranged from horrible manifestations, to pulling St. John out of bed by his ankles, to hideously screaming and/or singing in the middle of the night. One morning the Curé’s bed was set on fire while he was hearing confessions. St. John’s comment was, “Unable to catch the bird, he sets fire to the cage!”

The devil did all he could to prevent St. John from getting the rest he needed to do his miraculous work in the confessional. He would go on for hours producing harrowing, ear-wrenching noises, or he would sing, "with a very cracked voice," the Saint said, or whistle for hours on end. Sometimes he would produce a noise as of a horse chomping and prancing in the room. He would bleat like a sheep, growl like a bear, or meow like a cat. At times he would shout under the Curé's window: "Vianney! Vianney! potato-eater!" The Saint, for his part, developed a remarkable sense of humor about these supernatural assaults, saying, “Oh! the grappin’ [his nickname for the devil] and myself? We are almost chums.” In 1845 the devil ceased his physical attacks, but not before revealing that if there were three such priests as the Curé on earth, his (Satan’s) kingdom would be broken.

St. John’s life continued with days full of charity, austerity, and works of wonder. But finally at the age of 73, on July 29, 1859, his severe daily routine proved too much and he collapsed for the last time. The bishop presided over his funeral, which 300 priests and more than 6,000 people attended. In 1925 he was canonized by Pope Pius XI, who then in 1929 declared him “Patron Saint of Parish Priests.”

In 1904 St. John’s body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. His body is on display above the main altar in the Basilica at Ars.





 The thoughts and sayings of the Curé of Ars are ever popular, and there are volumes upon volumes available containing his sermons and other words of wisdom. Below are some of St. John’s thoughts about the holy angels, to whom he had a great devotion. (There are a few thoughts on the devil as well.)

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The first thing about the angels that we ought to imitate, is their consciousness of the Presence of God.
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Ah! if we had the eyes of angels with which to see our Lord Jesus Christ present on the Altar and looking at us, how we should love Him!
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With what humility should we assist at Mass, if we realized that our Guardian Angel was kneeling beside us, prostrate before the majesty of God! With what eagerness should we not ask him to offer our prayers to Jesus Christ!
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Our Guardian Angels are our most faithful friends, because they are with us day and night, always and everywhere. We ought often to invoke them.
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The Angels take great pleasure in helping us with our enterprises, when they are in accordance with God's will.
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If you find it impossible to pray, hide behind your good Angel and charge him to pray in your stead.
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We ought to ask the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints to pray for us that we may receive the good God as worthily as it is possible for us to receive Him. (Sermon on Holy Communion)
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The devil writes down our sins—our Guardian Angel all our merits. Labor that the Guardian Angel's book may be full, and the devil's empty.
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Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels, and the saints—they are your public.
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Like the saints, let us be very zealous in fulfilling all our duties; let the devil never find us doing nothing, lest we should yield to temptation.
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God , the Blessed Virgin, the angels and saints are about our path; they are at our side and see all we do.
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After thanking our Guardian Angel who has remained by our side during our sleep, we should ask him for his protection during the day.
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How happy is that Guardian Angel who accompanies a soul to Holy Mass!
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We must take great care never to do anything before having said our Morning Prayers.... The devil once declared...that if he could have the first moment of the day, he was sure of all the rest.
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What a comfort to you it is to know that when we go out of the house, we are never alone en route.
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When we are walking in the streets, let us fix our eyes on Our Lord bearing his Cross before us; on the Blessed Virgin who is looking at us; on our Guardian Angel who is by our side.
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It is our angels who ask God to grant us a deep sorrow for our sins.
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Offer your temptations for the conversion of sinners. When the devil sees you doing this, he is beside himself with rage and makes off, because then the temptation is turned against himself.
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Blessed are they who are tempted! It is when the devil sees that a soul is tending towards union with God that he redoubles his efforts.
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If we did like St. Remigius, we should never be angry. Being questioned by a Father of the desert as to how he managed to be always in an even temper, replied: "I often consider that my Guardian Angel is always by my side....."
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If we could only see the JOY of our Guardian Angel when he sees us fighting our temptations!
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In the Sacraments, it is God himself who comes to annihilate our enemy. The devil, seeing Him in our heart, throws himself despairingly into the bottomless pit; which explains why he does all he can to draw us away from them, or to make us receive them badly.
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All the angels and saints are engaged in trying to prevent us from committing sins.
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What happiness it is to a Guardian Angel to have the care of a pure soul. When the soul is pure, all the Court of Heaven looks upon it with joy.


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