John Mary Vianney was the son of a peasant farmer, and a slow and unpromising candidate for the priesthood: he was eventually ordained on account of his devoutness rather than any achievement or promise.
In 1818 he was sent to be the parish priest of Ars-en-Dombes, an isolated village some distance from Lyon, and remained there for the rest of his life because his parishioners would not let him leave. He was a noted preacher, and a celebrated confessor: such was his fame, and his reputation for insight into his penitents’ souls and their futures, that he had to spend up to eighteen hours a day in the confessional, so great was the demand. The tens of thousands of people who came to visit this obscure parish priest turned Ars into a place of pilgrimage.
The French State recognised his eminence by awarding him the medal of the Légion d’Honneur in 1848, and he sold it and gave the money to the poor.
The noble task of man, to pray and to love
Consider, children, a Christian’s treasure is not on earth, it is in heaven. Well then, our thoughts should turn to where our treasure is.
Man has a noble task: that of prayer and love. To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth.
Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness; it is dazzled by a marvellous light. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax moulded into one; they cannot any more be separated. It is a very wonderful thing, this union of God with his insignificant creature, a happiness passing all understanding.
We had deserved to be left incapable of praying; but God in his goodness has permitted us to speak to him. Our prayer is an incense that is delightful to God.
My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, an overflowing of heaven. It never leaves us without sweetness; it is like honey, it descends into the soul and sweetens everything. In a prayer well made, troubles vanish like snow under the rays of the sun.
Prayer makes time seem to pass quickly, and so pleasantly that one fails to notice how long it is. When I was parish priest of Bresse, once almost all my colleagues were ill, and as I made long journeys I used to pray to God, and, I assure you, the time did not seem long to me. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like a fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette saw our Lord and spoke to him as we speak to one another.
As for ourselves, how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask.
And yet, when we go to call upon someone, we have no difficulty in remembering why it was we came. Some appear as if they were about to say to God: ‘I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.’ I often think that when we come to adore our Lord we should get all we ask if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart.
—from A Catechism on Prayer,
by St John Mary Vianney, Curé d’Ars
inThe Divine Office.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Saturday 4 August 2012.