July 29, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. John Vianney

John F. FinkFeasts of some great saints are celebrated between July 29 and Aug. 5—Peter Chrysologus, Ignatius of Loyola, Alphonsus Liguori and Eusebius of Vercelli. They all spoke words of wisdom. But I choose to write about St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, whose feast is on Aug. 4.

He lived from 1786 to 1859. After overcoming many obstacles because he had great difficulty with his studies, he was ordained a priest and assigned to a parish in the French town of Ars.

It wasn’t long before people started to flock to him for the sacrament of penance—or reconciliation. Toward the end of his life, he spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional. He had the gift of being able to read souls and reclaimed thousands of lapsed Catholics.

In one of his catechetical instructions on the subject of prayer, St. John Vianney said, “Reflect on these words: the Christian’s treasure is not on Earth but in heaven. Our thoughts, then, ought to be directed to where our treasure is. This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where your happiness lies.”

He said that prayer is nothing else but union with God. “When one has a heart that is pure and united with God,” he said, “he is given a kind of serenity and sweetness that makes him ecstatic, a light that surrounds him with marvelous brightness.”

He described that intimate union as “God and the soul fused together like two bits of wax that no one can ever pull apart.”

He said that our hearts are small, “but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer, we have a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down to us.”

St. John Vianney compared prayer to honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, he said, “sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.”

He said that prayer also makes time pass very quickly and he gave an example from his own life: “Once when I was a purveyor in Bresse and most of my companions were ill, I had to make a long journey. I prayed to the good God, and, believe me, the time did not seem long.”

Some people, he said, are able to immerse themselves as deeply in prayer “as fish in water” because they give themselves totally to God. He mentioned St. Francis of Assisi and St. Colette, who used to see our Lord and talk to him just as we talk to one another.

“How unlike them we are!” he said. “How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for.” And worse still, he said, some people speak to the Lord like this: “I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.”

We would receive everything we ask for in prayer, he said, “if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.” †

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