Today the Church remembers the witness of St. John Vianney, the “Cure of Ars”, who is the patron saint of parish priests.
John Vianney was born in 1786, just two years before revolutionary fervor swept through France. The French Revolution would mean the end of Catholic culture that had endured for centuries.
In 1790, laws were enacted that essentially made the practice of the Catholic Faith illegal. A state sponsored pseudo-Catholic church was established, but this was more of a ministry of the government than that of Christ. Its purpose was to make good citizens, not to engender Christian holiness. It was a simulacrum of the Church, rather than the reality.
John Vianney’s practice of the Church’s Faith went underground and he along with it. With most of the clergy exiled or under arrest, he labored with the Catholic faithful who remained, mostly laity, to evangelize and catechize the best that they could, knowing that their actions made them traitors and enemies of the French state.
The Revolutionary Government of France gave way to the tyranny of Napoleon, and in 1809, John Vianney was drafted into Napoleon’s army. But his conscience could not bear fighting on behalf of a power he believed opposed to Christ, and so he deserted the army before he could be deployed.
In the year 1812 he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in the year 1815.
In 1818, John Vianney was sent by his bishop to the parish of Ars, a godforsaken place with maybe 230 inhabitants. The place was basically a ruin. His bishop told him that “there is little love of God in that parish; you will have to the one who puts it there.”
Read more at Word On Fire.