An appropriate place for a priest to visit and renew priestly commitment is undoubtedly Ars-sur-Formans, near Lyon, in eastern France.
In 1818 John-Baptist Vianney (the Curé d’Ars, feast day 4th August) was sent to what was then a neglected and isolated small village. He remained there for forty years as parish priest.
John Vianney was the son of a peasant farmer. His road to priesthood was not an easy one. One biographer has said his progress was ‘slow and umpromising’ and ‘eventually he was ordained on account of his devoutness and good will rather than because of other qualifications.’ For forty years he devoted himself to parish ministry in a small parish. He never sought a more significant position in the church. From this remote location his holiness became famous and tens of thousands came to Ars to make their confession and to pray.
It was claimed by some that the Curé was a charlatan, even deranged. His bishop commented ‘I wish that all my clergy had a touch of the same madness.’
He lived a life of great simplicity and had a special concern for the poor and weak of his parish.
He knew times of personal turmoil – at least three times he tried to ‘escape’ from Ars to a monastery, because of the personal stress and pressure he felt. Each time he was encouraged to come back.
In 1929 he was named as the patron saint of parish clergy (feast day August 4th). There is a statue of him in St Chrysostom’s church.
Today thousands go on pilgrimage to Ars, including priests from all over the world. The example of the holy and humble priest John Vianney is an inspiration to parish clergy today. So I recently went on a short pilgrimage to Ars and prayed for priests and especially the priests of St Chrysostom’s. I had decided this year to renew my priestly commitment at Ars. I knelt before the shrine of the saint and felt embraced and comforted by the holiness of this special place.
Fr Julian comments
” People my age will see the Cure d’Ars as a dead ringer for the first ever Doctor Who – William Hartnell”