Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, (southeastern France) (entered heaven this day in 1859)
I was glad to get your note, and I am glad to hear that you are struggling. Yes, that’s not a typo; I am glad you are struggling – the sign of the cross is the sign of Christ’s loving presence: “I reprove and train those whom I love,” says our Lord. (Revelation 3:19) If you thought that joining the seminary was going to be the end of life’s difficulties, as if you would get your heavenly reward in advance, it is better that you find out the truth now, at the beginning – if you were to have smooth sailing until you were ordained, your delusions could have dire consequences. Nevertheless, I may be able to help set your mind at ease. Today’s saint, I think, has a lesson for you.
St John Vianney is the only parish priest who stayed a simple parish priest his whole life and is now a canonized saint. He was just a country boy from southeastern France whose father resisted his vocation and who had a terrible time completing the studies required for ordination. When he made his way to the little town of Ars, where religious fervor had been doused by the bloody persecutions of the French Revolution, he began the long and difficult transformation of his parishioners by taking on extraordinary personal penances to make up for their sins. Besides thirty years of daily (and violent) visitations by the Devil (who set his bed on fire one time), constant envious calumny from his fellow priests, and unending financial stress upon his numerous charitable projects (sometimes he had to resort to miracles in order to feed the children in his orphanage, for instance – one time the cook ended up making 200 pounds of bread from just a few pounds of flower that the saint had blessed), from the very beginning a growing number of pilgrims deluged his confessional from morning till night, sometimes requiring him to hear confessions for 15 hours a day. Though his dedication and holiness produced prodigious results (he could read souls and he prophesied about people’s future on a regular basis, as a way to help their conversion; he performed a steady flow of miraculous healings; and the people of his town thoroughly cleaned up their act) a burning desire for the silence and solitude of the contemplative life never left him. Three times he even tried to “escape” from Ars to a nearby Carthusian monastery, but upon the bishop’s orders, he always returned.
And that’s the point, my tense young nephew: just because you have found the path God wishes you to tread in life, it doesn’t mean you will no longer experience desires for other paths. Even our Lord himself prayed, in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Don’t be surprised, then, if you face temptations. Just be open and trusting with God in prayer, and with your spiritual director, and don’t give passing emotions the weight of heartfelt conviction. I must be off.
God bless, Uncle Eddy
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