St.Bernard of Clairvaux tells us:”However great may be the temptation,if we know how to use the weapon of prayer well,we shall come off as conquerors at last,for prayer is more powerful than all the demons”.
On the other hand,St.John Vianney warns us,if we aren’t praying,we’re losing the battle:”We can see how much the devil fears those who pray,since there is not a moment of the day when he tempts us more than when we’re at prayer.He does everything he possibly can to prevent us from praying.When the devil wants to make someone lose his soul,he starts out by inspiring in him a profound distaste for prayer.However good a Christian he may be,if the devil succeeds in making him either say his prayers badly or neglects them altogether,he’s certain to have that person for himself”.
John was raised in a Catholic home and the family often helped the poor and housed St. Benedict Joseph Labre when he made his pilgrimage to Rome.
In 1790, when the anticlerical Terror phase of the French Revolution forced priests to work in secrecy or face execution, young Vianney believed the priests were heroes.
He continued to believe in the bravery of priests and received his First Communion catechism instructions in private by two nuns who lost their convents to the Revolution.
At 13-years-old, John made his first communion and prepared for his confirmation in secrecy.
When he was 20-years-old, John was allowed to leave the family farm to learn at a “prsbytery-school” in Écully. There he learned math, history, geography and Latin.
As his education had been disrupted by the French Revolution, he struggled in his studies, particularly with Latin, but worked hard to learn.
In 1802, the Catholic Church was reestablished in France and religious freedom and peace spread throughout the country.
Unfortunately, in 1809, John was drafted into Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies. He had been studying as an ecclesiastical student, which was a protected title and would normally have excepted him from military services, but Napoleon had withdrawn the exemption in some dioceses as he required more soldiers.
Two days into his service, John fell ill and required hospitalization. As his troop continued, he stopped in at a church where he prayed. There he met a young man who volunteered to return him to his group, but instead led him deep into the mountains where military deserters met.
John lived with them for one year and two months. He used the name Jerome Vincent and opened a school for the nearby village of Les Noes’ children.
John remained in Les Noes and hid when gendarmes came in search of deserters until 1810, when deserters were granted amnesty.
Now free, John returned to Écully and resumed his ecclesiastic studies. He attended a minor seminary, Abbe Balley, in 1812 and was eventually ordained a deacon in June 1815.
He joined his heroes as a priest August 12, 1815 in the Couvent des Minimes de Grenoble. His first Mass was celebrated the next day and he was appointed assistant to Balley in Écully.
Three years later, when Balley passed away, Fr. John Vianney was appointed parish priest of the Ars parish. With help from Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lerdet, La Providence, a home for girls, was established in Ars.
When he began his priestly duties, Fr. Vianney realized many were either ignorant or indifferent to religion as a result of the French Revolution. Many danced and drank on Sundays or worked in their fields.
Fr. Vianney spent much time in confession and often delivered homilies against blasphemy and dancing. Finally, if parishioners did not give up dancing, he refused them absolution.
He spent 11 to twelve hours each day working to reconcile people with God. In the summer months, he often worked 16-hour days and refused to retire.
His fame spread until people began to travel to him in 1827. Within thirty years, it is said he received up to 20,000 pilgrims each year.
He was deeply devoted to St. Philomena and erected a chapel and shrine in her honor. When he later became deathly ill but miraculously recovered, he attributed his health to St. Philomena’s intercession.
By 1853, Fr. Vianney had attempted to run away from Ars four times, each attempt with the intention of becoming a monk but decided after the final time that it was not to be.
Six years later, he passed away and left behind a legacy of faith and was viewed as the champion of the poor.
On October 3, 1873, Pope Pius IX proclaimed Fr. Vianney as “venerable” and on January 8, 1905, Pope Pius X beatified him. St. John Vianney was canonized on May 31, 1925. His feast day was declared August 9 but it was changed twice before it fell to August 4.
St. John Vianney would often say: “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire, it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”
Prayer of St. John Vianney
I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally…
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.
O my children, how beautiful it is! The Father is our Creator, the Son is our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is our Guide…. Man by himself is nothing, but with the Holy Spirit he is very great. Man is all earthly and all animal; nothing but the Holy Spirit can elevate his mind, and raise it on high. Why were the saints so detached from the earth? Because they let themselves be led by the Holy Spirit. Those who are led by the Holy Spirit have true ideas; that is the reason why so many ignorant people are wiser than the learned. When we are led by a God of strength and light, we cannot go astray.
The Holy Spirit is light and strength. He teaches us to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and between good and evil. Like glasses that magnify objects, the Holy Spirit shows us good and evil on a large scale. With the Holy Spirit we see everything in its true proportions; we see the greatness of the least actions done for God, and the greatness of the least faults. As a watchmaker with his glasses distinguishes the most minute wheels of a watch, so we, with the light of the Holy Spirit, distinguish all the details of our poor life. Then the smallest imperfections appear very great, the least sins inspire us with horror. That is the reason why the most Holy Virgin never sinned. The Holy Spirit made her understand the hideousness of sin; she shuddered with terror at the least fault.
Those who have the Holy Spirit cannot endure themselves, so well do they know their poor misery. The proud are those who have not the Holy Spirit.
Worldly people have not the Holy Spirit, or if they have, it is only for a moment. He does not remain with them; the noise of the world drives Him away. A Christian who is led by the Holy Spirit has no difficulty in leaving the goods of this world, to run after those of Heaven; he knows the difference between them. The eyes of the world see no further than this life, as mine see no further than this wall when the church door is shut. The eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity. To the man who gives himself up to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there seems to be no world; to the world there seems to be no God…. We must therefore find out by whom we are led. If it is not by the Holy Spirit, we labor in vain; there is no substance nor savor in anything we do. If it is by the Holy Spirit, we taste a delicious sweetness… it is enough to make us die of pleasure! Those who are led by the Holy Spirit experience all sorts of happiness in themselves, while bad Christians roll themselves on thorns and flints. A soul in which the Holy Spirit dwells is never weary in the presence of God; his heart gives forth a breath of love. Without the Holy Spirit we are like the stones on the road…. Take in one hand a sponge full of water, and in the other a little pebble; press them equally. Nothing will come out of the pebble, but out of the sponge will come abundance of water. The sponge is the soul filled with the Holy Spirit, and the stone is the cold and hard heart which is not inhabited by the Holy Spirit.
A soul that possesses the Holy Spirit tastes such sweetness in prayer, that it finds the time always too short; it never loses the holy presence of God. Such a heart, before our good Savior in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, is a bunch of grapes under the wine press. The Holy Spirit forms thoughts and suggests words in the hearts of the just…. Those who have the Holy Spirit produce nothing bad; all the fruits of the Holy Spirit are good. Without the Holy Spirit all is cold; therefore, when we feel we are losing our fervor, we must instantly make a novena to the Holy Spirit to ask for faith and love…. See, when we have made a retreat or a jubilee, we are full of good desires: these good desires are the breath of the Holy Spirit, which has passed over our souls, and has renewed everything, like the warm wind which melts the ice and brings back the spring…. You who are not great saints, you still have many moments when you taste the sweetness of prayer and of the presence of God: these are visits of the Holy Spirit. When we have the Holy Spirit, the heart expands – bathes itself in divine love. A fish never complains of having too much water, neither does a good Christian ever complain of being too long with the good God. There are some people who find religion wearisome, and it is because they have not the Holy Spirit.
If the damned were asked: Why are you in Hell? they would answer: For having resisted the Holy Spirit. And if the saints were asked, Why are you in Heaven? they would answer: For having listened to the Holy Spirit. When good thoughts come into our minds, it is the Holy Spirit who is visiting us. The Holy Spirit is a power. The Holy Spirit supported St. Simeon on his column; He sustained the martyrs. Without the Holy Spirit, the martyrs would have fallen like the leaves from the trees. When the fires were lighted under them, the Holy Spirit extinguished the heat of the fire by the heat of divine love. The good God, in sending us the Holy Spirit, has treated us like a great king who should send his minister to guide one of his subjects, saying, “You will accompany this man everywhere, and you will bring him back to me safe and sound.” How beautiful it is, my children, to be accompanied by the Holy Spirit! He is indeed a good Guide; and to think that there are some who will not follow Him. The Holy Spirit is like a man with a carriage and horse, who should want to take us to Pans. We should only have to say “yes,” and to get into it. It is indeed an easy matter to say “yes”!… Well, the Holy Spirit wants to take us to Heaven; we have only to say “yes,” and to let Him take us there.
The Holy Spirit is like a gardener cultivating our souls…. The Holy Spirit is our servant…. There is a gun; well you load it, but someone must fire it and make it go off…. In the same way, we have in ourselves the power of doing good… when the Holy Spirit gives the impulse, good works are produced. The Holy Spirit reposes in just souls like the dove in her nest. He brings out good desires in a pure soul, as the dove hatches her young ones. The Holy Spirit leads us as a mother leads by the hand her child of two years old, as a person who can see leads one who is blind.
The Sacraments which Our Lord instituted would not have saved us without the Holy Spirit. Even the death of Our Lord would have been useless to us without Him. Therefore Our Lord said to His Apostles, “It is good for you that I should go away; for if I did not go, the Consoler would not come.” The descent of the Holy Spirit was required, to render fruitful that harvest of graces. It is like a grain of wheat – you cast it into the ground; yes, but it must have sun and rain to make it grow and come into ear. We should say every morning, “O God, send me Your Spirit to teach me what I am and what You are.”