Tantumblogo posted some quotes from a book about Saint Jean Vianney, known as the Cure (there’s an accent on the “e” in French and pronounced “curay”) of Ars, the patron saint of parish priests. The post reminded me of my own extraordinary experience with Saint Jean.
Saint Jean was a simple man who is said to not be too bright as a youngster but had a great desire to become a priest. After being turned away, he persisted and was finally allowed to study for the priesthood, doing poorly in his studies. Ordained in 1815, and his superiors not having much confidence in his abilities, he was assigned to be the parish priest in a small out of the way French village named Ars. Ars was not much of a parish, and it is said that few people there bothered to come to Mass or to show much faith at all. Saint Jean took up his assignment and managed to reconvert the village through his simple life, humility, and his abilities as a confessor and spiritual guide. After some years, he became renowned throughout France and people from around the country came to Ars to have him hear their confessions, spending up to 16 or 18 hours a day in the confessional to do so. The throngs to Ars became so great that a train was brought to the village to accommodate the crowds. This all came about from the effort of one simple priest who had great strong Faith and who also loved the Mass and the Eucharist. He was asked once what he said to Jesus as he sat in the church before the tabernacle. He replied that he didn’t say anything. “I just look at him and He looks at me.”
Please forgive me if the foregoing details are not accurate in every respect, but that is the gist of the story as I recall it. Later, he was canonized as a saint by the Church and he is known as the patron saint of parish priests. Please take the time to find some information about him in the many books and pamphlets available, and no doubt websites to learn more about this extraordinary man and priest. Please also pray for his intercession for your priests and for vocations.
Besides having read about Saint Jean, I have also spent time with him in 2006. On Long Island, here in New York, the parish of the Cure of Ars had a visit from a French bishop who brought with him the incorrupt heart of Saint Jean, where thousands were able to come and venerate the relic. For some reason, I had to go, drawn like a moth to the flame. No one wanted to go except my then seven-year old son. So we went. When we arrived, we saw several dozen people lined up in front of the church waiting for vespers with the priests and bishop to conclude. The church is on a busy street, set back about 150 feet from the street. We waited happily with the people there for nearly an hour. I was surprised because my son never complained that his legs were tired or he was bored, as young boys might. After considerable time had passed, a woman in front of me looked behind me with surprise. “Look how many people are here.”
I turned around and the line was four or five abreast out to the street, and then turned down the street for blocks, all waiting patiently to enter the church. I was silently proud to be Catholic and to see the presence in the street of so many Catholics. Finally, the doors were opened and the pastor and the bishop greeted us and welcomed us in. We processed slowly toward the front of the church, where the relic was placed in the sanctuary with about a dozen prayer kneelers or “prie Dieu” arranged close to and before the heart in the reliquary, with the Knights of Columbus standing guard. People in turn would kneel and silently pray before the heart for a few minutes. As they rose and left, another would take over. So my son and I made our way, and I saw that he was totally captivated and he was excited to get closer. Remember that he was seven.
When it was our turn, he went and knelt first while I waited for the next prie Dieu, which was at least two minutes. I watched my little boy transfixed as he gazed on the heart of Saint Jean, little hands folded in prayer. I took my place alongside him and I prayed intently for him, my whole family, for my parish priests, for all priests and bishops, and for all the people who had come this night. After about two or three minutes, I was conscious of the many people still waiting for their turn. I looked over at my son to tell him it was time to go. He prayed still with his head bowed and eyes closed, very intensely. I said nothing and gave him more time. I thanked Saint Jean for what he was doing for my little boy. Finally, he raised his head and looked up at me with a smile. He looked again at the heart and then we rose and walked toward the back of the Church. People were in the pews and they were praying the Rosary. I wanted to stay and pray but I was also aware that my second-grader was normally in bed at this time and he had school the next day. He wanted to stay and pray though, so we did for one decade and then we left.
We met the pastor in the vestibule where he sat in a chair, looking both overjoyed and astonished.
“I never expected this,” he told us, “I never thought so many people would come. Isn’t it amazing and wonderful?”
We left the church and stepped outside, where the lines still wound their way down to the street and down the block. But now most people were praying the Rosary aloud and in unison so that their voices carried and echoed in the night, over the street and around the church. It was a moment of Catholic witness and beauty I will never forget.
My son and I went home quite excited and elated by the visit. As the expression goes, to those who believe, no explanation is necessary, and to those who don’t, no explanation is possible.
Since then, I have watched my own Faith grow. More importantly, I have seen my son’s Faith grow and flourish. Saint Jean I believe has been a factor here. The following May, he made his first Communion. His catechism teacher told my wife that he was the only child in his class that actually “got it.” And he did. He is also the most intensely prayerful of my children and loves the Mass. When he was old enough, he became an altar boy and still serves. In fact, the priests tell him every time that he’s the best and they love it when he’s serving. When he is scheduled, he reminds me, sternly, that we have to leave a few minutes earlier so that he can dress and pray with the priest before the Mass.
Last year, we were at our church for Lenten confession. He made his confession and was praying. One of the parish priests waved me over. “There’s something special about your son. Your other boys are great too. But there’s something special about him.” I understood that he meant that he believed my son might be getting a vocation, and I told him I would appreciate it if he would speak to him about discernment when it was appropriate. A few weeks ago, I watched my son serve at Mass and sensed something happening. Our pastor was outside the church after the Mass and I went to speak with him. I told him that, even though my son had never said anything to me about it, I was wondering if he was getting a call to be a priest. He looked at me with a bit of surprise.
“I think he is,” he said emphatically. I gave him permission to speak with him about discernment and told him that I had also asked the other priest to do so, and that I would completely support my son if he chose to become a priest. Since then, I spoke with my son about careers and told him that being a priest is also an option. He didn’t say anything but I saw in his eyes that he might be contemplating it.
Whether he does or not remains to be seen. He has a girlfriend, is a popular, friendly guy, has potential to play high-level baseball and is smart enough to pursue any manner of career. Yet, he has such a strong Faith, and a love of the Church that can be seen, even if he doesn’t come out and say it. It’s just there, working in him.
Over the years, I have related his faithfulness to the visit with Saint Jean because of the immediate effect I saw that night in 2006 and saw it all develop before my eyes afterwards. That’s the power of a saint and the power of a relic of a saint.
To those who believe, no explanation is necessary, and to those who don’t, no explanation is possible . . .