My Pilgrimage to Ars and Devotion to Saint Jean Vianney - the Curé d'Ars
The Curé d'Ars was the most humble and generous soul in that particular place at that particular time.
When I was reading about the Curé d'Ars spending hours in that cramped and stiffly hot confessional, I wanted to bring him a little pillow for his back! But then I remembered how he eschewed comfort. He used to take the mattress out of his bed before going to sleep and he only ate the bare necessity, which was often a steady diet of potato pancakes. This is possibly what is the hardest thing for me to grasp in regards to the Cure d'Ars. I understand part of it only.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (Le blog de la Bergerie) - As we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Jean Vianney - the Curé d'Ars, on August 4, I remember my own arrival to Ars, a little over a year ago, as part of a diocesan pilgrimage, and how joyful and fun that day was. There were over 10,000 of us, coming from all the dioceses of the Central/Eastern part of France, converging on the village of Ars, in dozen and dozen of buses for a one day retreat.
Our group had decided to get off the bus for the last 3 miles and walked through the countryside, which is what we did, walking and singing pass the lovely fields of mustard flowers, the green woods and the gentle rolling hills. Every diocese had been given a color scarf and ours was gold and it felt exciting to be part of such a large group with a common intent. We were on a journey to Ars to honor and celebrate the good that "le Curé d'Ars" did - and is still doing thanks to the communion of saints - in this little village which was changed forever 150 years ago.
I have known and loved Saint Jean Vianney for quite a long time. I think that one of the first thing that attracted me to him, when I was a child, was to learn that he himself struggled with Latin and right there, a personal connection was established! I heard about Ars although I never went there while growing up but this little village is not far from where I was born, Roanne, which is less than 50 miles away, and which is where I spent my early childhood before moving to the French Alps. My grand-mother (who gave me the foundations of the faith) spoke often about the Curé d'Ars and told me the amazing life story of this very humble priest.
As we were approaching Ars on this sunny afternoon of May 2010, I wondered if he had been on this very country road 150 years ago? It is entirely possible that it is the one he took the day when he tried to "run away" from his parish and from its heavy toll . I found it very endearing to know that he (almost) walked away from it all. I know that he turned around and came back so I see this incident as a tribute to his courage and fortitude, his perseverance. I found this moment of faltering as another personal connection with him. The importance is not in the wavering, in the hesitations or in the doubts, but in what we do with them, and I just love the fact that he came back and persisted.
Fortitude? Yes, that is the right word and it is a word not used frequently nowadays.
My grand mother used to tell me about the long lines of people waiting outside the confessional booth. It is mentioned in all the books written about him and it is definitively a hallmark of his pastoral work. He brought many souls closer to God in helping them to confess and understand their sins. He drew people to Ars just to confess (just as Padre Pio did in Italy a century later). He inspired so much trust and hope in all these people that they were willing to wait for hours on end.
This charism of his is very close to "spiritual direction", it is the ability to assist people through their own hesitations and awkwardness, to help them understand what they have done and failed to do, to see it all under the light of God's judgment and God's love. It is quite a blessing of perspicacity and charity to be able to help others like he did, softening their hearts and opening up their wills to repentance.
Because the truth is that the process of repentance brings much hope, it brings interior peace and healing, it opens up many doors, it is truly a gracefilled moment. And Saint Jean Vianney had this amazing gift to be able to guess people's thoughts before they had even fully articulated them, he would help them probe their own conscience and search their own memory, and gently but firmly bring it all together like pieces of a puzzle. Under his guidance, everything would become coherent and meaningful.
Repentance? Yes, that is the right word and it is another word not used often nowadays.
I read how upset he was about the drinking and dancing that went on in Ars. He knew that it is often through these types of entertainment that the tempter gets a foothold in our life. The Curé d'Ars used to resent the fascination that such activities held on the youth of Ars or the addiction that compelled husbands to go out and drink their pay away. He never downplayed these forms of entertainment as innocent fun.
I must admit that I wonder what he would say today where there is a whole industry born out of our craving for "entertainment" and feeding into our consumer habits, whether it be TV, movies, videos games, computers, music, iPods, iTunes, blackberries or Netflix.. Once, I read a book about the negative impact of a society addicted to distractions and the title said it all: "Amusing ourselves to death".
Entertainment! Here is a word we are all familiar with nowadays, there is no escaping it. ...
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