|The incorruptible body of St. John Vianney, Cure of Ars (face covered with wax mask).|
Once there was a priest the devil called "Potato Eater."
St. John Marie Vianney (1786-1859) seemed, to worldly eyes, destined to disappointment and an obscure death. But he was a good young man, and gifted with pious parents (as was so many a saint). He was canonized in 1905 by Pope Pius X, and named the patron of parish priests by Pope Pius XI in 1925. His feast day is August 4th.
His road to the priesthood was not easy. His studies were interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon's army. He ended up hiding out as a deserter for fourteen months. An amnesty permitted him to return to his studies, but he was initially rejected by the seminary as being too dim-witted. His innate goodness saw him through, however, and he was ordained on August 12, 1815.
In 1818, he was appointed the Cure of the village of Ars, a place of 230 reprobate souls with which John Marie Vianney would be forever associated.
The new Cure of Ars thundered against sin. "If a priest is determined not to lose his soul, so soon as any disorder arises in the parish, he must trample underfoot all human considerations, as well as the fear of the contempt and hatred of his people. He must not allow anything to bar his way in the discharge of duty, even were he certain of being murdered on coming down from the pulpit."
Modesty was preached and strictly enforced in church. He inveighed against taverns, "the devil's own shop," and blasphemy, cursing, dancing, and profanation of the sabbath. It took ten years, but Ars eventually yielded to this hard, fearless priest.
He counseled one discouraged priest, "Have you fasted? Have you taken the discipline? have you slept on the floor? So long as you have done none of these things, you have no right to complain." His confessional was always under siege, and he would often weep when hearing confessions, because penitents remained dry eyed.
He contented himself with a single meal of black bread and one or two boiled potatoes. The devil would physically torment him, and mock him by calling him "Potato Eater." He wore a rough garment and frequently slept on bundles of wood.
He proved that the best priest is not the most intellectual, but the one who gives up everything and lives for his sheep.
Sources: "The Story of Saint John Vianney," and "St. John Vianney."
O Jesus, I pray for your faithful and fervent priests;
For your unfaithful and tepid priests;
For your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields;
For your tempted priests;
For your lonely and desolate priests;
For your young priests;
For your dying priests, and for the souls of your priests in purgatory.
But above all I recommend to you the priests dearest to me;
The priests who absolved me from my sins;
The priests at whose Masses I have assisted,
And who gave me your Body and Blood in Holy Communion;
The priests who taught and instructed me.
Jesus, keep them all close to your heart,
And bless them abundantly in time and in eternity.
St. John Vianney, pray for us and obtain for us many and holy priests,
And strengthen those priests called to heroic service in this period of Church history.