The Catholic Thing
Bring back John Vianney! Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 18 September 2011

Saint John Vianney (1786-1859) was the curé of the parish of Ars in France and, because of his simple but great gifts as a pastor, was made the Patron of Priests and Parish Priests. I try to read his biography each year and am regularly struck by some of the features of his daily life.

The reason for my fascination is that he was a pastor before the wholesale professionalization of the clergy. So he spent more time in his parish church than anywhere else. But he was not a desk jockey, although there were certainly some among the pastors of his circle.

The church building back then had not yet become a place of limited use. Rather it was like the courtyard of God, much after the fashion of the vision in Isaiah: “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1) There were people crowding in to pray at all hours of the day or night. They were coming for grace and truth. The good pastor was right there in the middle of that crowd.

Here is the eyewitness account of Monsieur La Croix in the church: “What mighty influence did he exercise over his hearers! . . . The multitude was crowded around him; at his feet, on the steps of the altar, on the pavement of the choir, were pressed together persons of every age, sex, and condition . . . all absorbed in breathless attention.” And all to hear a priest giving instruction in catechetics – and doing it daily.

He was in the church from midnight on to deal with the crowds. The remarkable thing is that the whole day passed in the church, and divided among prayer, instruction, and the sacraments. Of course, the sacrament that occupied the most time was Confession. Observers noted that he spent about sixteen hours a day in confession. This was of course before confession was obliterated by psychologizing and theories about the impossibilities of really sinning.

When did you last hear a homily on sin? It was the reason for Christ’s death and yet it is an almost unknown category in people’s thought, even Christians. Yet people become less human because of sin. We are watching the whole possibility of humanity trickle away into the sand.

     Le Curé d’Ars

In his biography of the Curé, Alfred Monnin says: “the bitterest drop in his chalice was the perpetual vision of sin; the daily insults offered to the Master he adored. ‘My God,’ cried he one day, ‘how long shall I dwell among sinners? When shall I be with the saints? Our God is so continually offended, that one is tempted to pray for the end of the world.’” What a sensibility! What a grasp of reality!

      The Church has produced a number of documents on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but how much work has been done to instruct clergy in the teaching and then to lead them into the practice of reconciliation? The pope can issue documents, but without leadership at the diocesan and parish levels, they do not get much traction.

It is interesting how Benedict XVI encourages the practical use of his documents by using every possible occasion to pick up themes from them and recast them in new and fresh ways. By contrast, in recent decades “progress” in Church practice has come to mean, for many progressives, doing less. Always in the name of deeper experience, of course, but in fact less means less.

Fewer devotions are being encouraged. Fewer people spend time in church outside of official moments like the Eucharist. And would they see the pastor there if they went? When he arrived in the parish, the Curé (literally “the one who has care”) got into the church at four in the morning for his own prayer.

Now, as in our own lives, the people of Ars had other things to do. When he arrived in town, there was serious drinking and dancing and of course all of the backbiting that challenges any of the works of God. But the Curé trudged through it all. Eventually, people were coming to church rather than wasting their time on what might have been innocent pastimes.

The point was – where would one pass the time? With Christ? Or somewhere else? The “God is everywhere” mantra that we often hear today belies the wonder of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The Curé speaks of that reality: “Our Lord is there, waiting for us to visit him and ask him for what we want. How good he is. He accommodates himself to our weakness.”

And here are the Curé’s words to the Bishop Monsieur Devie: “If you want to convert your diocese, you must make saints of your parish priests. Oh, my friend what a fearful thing it is to be a priest! Confession! The Sacraments! What a charge! Oh, if men knew what it is to be a priest, they would fly like the saints of old, into the desert to escape the burden.”

Yes, but also what a blessing, for priest and people.

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Manfred, September 18, 2011
In the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. all seminarians, for many generations, were taught to emulate the Cure d'Ars as their role model. Then, Paul VI asked Abp. Jadot to seek out a certain type of bishop whose thinking was more in line with Vatican II and Abp Peter Gerety (still alive!) was appointed the ordinary. He is notable for being a major supporter of Call to Action in 1976. Obviously, the Cure d'Ars model had to be removed. Thanks to Fr. Bramwell for reintroducing this great example who was visited by devils (invisible) who would make great noise in his bedroom (including moving his bed about the room) so that he would be too exhausted to hear confessions the following day! He could read the souls of people in the confessional, often reminding them of specific sins they had not confessed. That is what attracted people to Ars-this real priest would be instrumental in saving their souls. He represented the opportunity of a lifetime? No, eternity!
written by Dave, September 18, 2011
My wife and I are blessed to be part of a parish whose pastor regularly and tirelessly preaches on the reality of sin and the necessity and availability of sacramental confession. I know of someone who once responded to his statement, made often in his homilies throughout the year, that we were privileged to have access to confession every day if we wanted it. The person tried to go to Confession daily during Lent one year and the changes were noticeable: greater peace and happiness, greater confidence in God's mercy, more personal apostolate. God grant us many more priests who are ready, wiling, and able to to hear a penitent's daily confession -- and many more such penitents. I believe it was Lenin who said that with 50 St. Francis of Assissis, communism never would have had a chance as there would have been no need for it. May we rise to the challenges of our times by beseeching God for sanctity and for the priests to help us attain it.
written by Bill Russell, September 19, 2011
There are confessions every day in the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan- including Sundays when the lines have to be stopped in order to let the priest offer Mass.
written by Ned, September 19, 2011
Something to think about, too - John Vianney never sat down in the presence of a woman. He always stood (except at Mass, Confession, etc., of course). Read his autobiography, read his sayings (both available from TAN). There's a reason he was the model for the Year of the Priest. We need more John Vianney's - and let me tell you, they are coming.
written by bbruno, September 19, 2011
What do you say about the following?- : "Eucharistic devotion such as is noted in the silent visit by the devout in church must ot be thought of as a conversation with God. This would assume that God was present there locally and in a confined way. To justify such an assertion shows a lack of understanding of the Christological mysteries of the very concept of God. This is repugnant to the serious thinking of the man who knows about the omnipresence of God. To go to church on the ground that one can visit God Who is present there is a senseless act which the modern man rightfully rejects." "Die Sakramentale Begründung Christlicher Existenz" (The Sacramental Reason for Christian Existence) 1966, Kyrios Publishing, Freising-Meitingen, Germany
written by Fr. Bramwell, September 19, 2011
Thank you for pointing that out. But if omnipresence were all that there was to be then there would have been no need for the Incarnation. God entered history in the Incarnation for a number of reasons but also for a personal closeness to us in the particular mode of the union with the material. Seeing as how we are embodied spirits. There is a historical concreteness in the Incarnation that answers to our intrinsic historicity as human beings. The concreteness of personal encounter places our historicity on notice - so for example, when we hear the teaching of the Church; we have to respond to THIS pope and THIS pastor and so on. The restriction of God to presence via omnipresence also eliminates the sacraments and one can argue it eliminates manifestation in Scripture and tradition. This pretty much clears the board! Nothing in the Church remains. So restricting God to omnipresence has to make a really good case which I have yet to hear.
written by Fr. Bramwell, September 19, 2011
I did not realize when I responded to the 'quotation' above that this is a proposition that comes from the anti-Ratzinger industry on the web. The person who posted the 'quote' concealed the author. Insulting! What people on the web claim to have is a 'translation' of something in a 25 page pamphlet by Ratzinger. The translation is so off the wall that it of course does not convey what Ratzinger is saying. I have ordered the pamphlet but can do no more at this stage.
written by Manfred, September 19, 2011
History is replete with martyrs in the early Churchwho died rather than give up the Host which they were carrying on a sick call rather than have the pagans get It to blaspheme with it. A French Canadian man a few years ago rushed in in order to save the Hosts in the tabernacle of a burning Church. If I recall correctly, the Church collapsed and he was crushed to death. One visits a Church in order to pray to Christ present in the Eucharist. That is why the tabernacle dominates the center of a truly Catholic Church. The tabernacle was moved to the side or into separate room when it was decided the consecrated Host was just "bread" to be used at the "Community Meal".
written by Fr. Hugo, September 19, 2011
Just a word of caution about much preaching and teaching about sin without accompanying the preaching and teaching on the mercy and compassion of Christ. To preach and teach only about sin could persuade and convince the hearers that the Gospel message is about me the sinner, and not about the Lord Jesus the merciful and compassionate One. All of us are called to holiness of life which calls us into repentance and conversion of life. Repentance and conversion of life is a life-long process. We are to be converted from focusing my time and energy upon me the sinner to Christ the merciful and compassionate one.

Let me make one point about the life and spiritual journey of the Cure of Ars. He had a strong drawing to the contemplative life and at the same time he was attracted to pastoral ministry. He was able to integrate his contemplative life with pastoral ministry. There was a creative tension between the two but they were not in contradiction to each other. I know of parish priests that have a similar desire for the contemplative life while at the same time they feel drawn to pastoral ministry. If this doesn't get integrated well, it could lead to a faith crisis and/or vocation crisis. The Cure of Ars is a role model for priests as to how these two don't have to become a crisis.
written by craig, September 19, 2011
We have good priests now and more to come (eg, Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter). Saint John Vianney-ora pro nobis!
written by Jacques , September 20, 2011
Since St John Mary Vianney is the patron saint of all the priests, I wonder wheteher the post-VATII seminarists have ever been obliged to read his sermons and his biography. I doubt it bcs if they had been, one could hear much more homilies about sin, Hell, death, etc...
In my opinion, the Curé d'Ars is considered as "outdated" in the "enlightened" times being.
written by bbruno, September 20, 2011
Urged by the (nervous ) reaction on the part of Fr Bramwell....I've gone back to my research on the web and I've discovered what fellows:

-the book cited at the end of the above 'quotation' is in fact a book written by Ratzinger, and you can buy it, last edition, also on the web, at Joseph Ratzinger - Gesammelte Schriften: Theologie der Liturgie: Die sakramentale Begründung christlicher Exisenz: BD 11 [Gebundene Ausgabe], Verlag Herder: Auflage:3(16. Oktober 2008)-Preis EUR 50,00.

-The above proposition- I must admit! - is rather a semplification than a real quotation: the literal quotation should be as follows:

“Eucharistic adoration or quiet visiting in church can, reasonably, not simply be thought of as conversation with the God who is thought present in a locally-circumscriptive manner. Statements such as "God dwells here" and conversation with the locally-thought God based on such [thinking] express a mistake [misjudgment] of the christological event as well as the idea of God, which necessarily repels the thinking man who knows about the omnipresence of God. If one were to justify going to church on the grounds that one must visit the God who is present only there, this would indeed be a justification which would make no sense and would rightfully be rejected by modern man. Eucharistic adoration is in truth related to the Lord, who, through his historical life and suffering, has become "bread" for us, that is, who through his Incarnation and abandonment unto death has become the one who is open for us [the for-us-open-one]. Such praying, then, refers to the historical mystery of Jesus Christ, to the history of God with man, which [i.e. the history] approaches us in the sacrament”.
My source is, where you can find a translation in English, along with view scanner of the cover image of the book and the pages 24-25, 26-27 concerning the above quotation.
- From this larger and precise reading, my perplexity does increase, raher than disappear:
a) first of all the author, or professor Ratzinger, prefigures through and through gratuitously an obstacle – that 'most superficial understanding of the dogmatic statement content” - in order, by easily clearing it, to dash into his doctoral, and twisted!, explanation of the premise which be worthy of a “thinking man”, that is bound to be the modern man!
Since I was a boy of seven of age and was preparing to the Holy Comunion , I know by heart – thanks to the Cathechism of St. Pius X – that in the sacrament of the Eucharist, in that 'bread' and 'wine' converted into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ “is contained truly, really, and substantially, the Body, the Blood, the Soul and DIVINITY of the same Lord Jesus Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine as our spiritual food”. The Man and the GOD! And thus, in the appearances of bread and wine, I adore the Man and the God, the God, yes, in that locally- circumscriptive manner as given by those appearances! And that is “ no mistake of the christological event as well as the idea pf God, repelling the thinking man [!] who knows about the onnipresence if God” In fact, the same Catechism taught me to answer the question “Where is God?”, like that: “God is in heaven and earth and in all places: He is the Immense”. Or does someone dare to say that Moses was a not a thinking man, of course not just a 'modern man' , when he “hid his face ; for he was afraid to LOOK upon God in that very place”???

_ Question: why does it disgust Ratzinger or is he so cautiuos to say that the catholic faith teach us that we 'see' and 'adore' God in the Eucharist, the second Person of the blessed Trinity made Man??? Or should we be careful not to call Mary Mother of God, because some Christian could be so feeble-minded, so poor-thinking to believe that God is 'confined' in the womb of a woman??? When I read these pages by Ratzinger, I, at the leat, feel a great commitment not to hurt Lutheran and Anglican... And indeed which one among these would not subscribe these words of Ratzinger???
written by Fr. Bramwell, September 20, 2011
Verbose but hardly to the point. Obviously nothing in adoring Christ in the Eucharist 'disgusts' Ratzinger. It would be so out of tune with everything else that he has written over forty years. What does the official translation say? We do not yet know if these are the words of Ratzinger.

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