Truly a model of mercy for us in this Year of Mercy, St. John Vianney gave his life to reveal and to minister the mercy of God to as many people as he could. He grew up in France during the French Revolution and saw many priests and Catholics persecuted for their faith —forced into hiding and celebrating the sacraments in secret. John himself received his first Holy Communion in a barn under the cover of darkness. He witnessed priests and laity who denied their faith in the face of this persecution, but he also saw many who remained faithful and risked their lives to bring the faith to others. He saw those priests as heroes who suffered and persevered.
When he later became a priest, St. John’s bishop sent him to the small town of Ars, telling him, “There is not much love of God in Ars. You will bring some love there.” Many people had fallen away from the church because of the persecution. John invited them back and then made himself available to them at the parish. Some say that God raised him up to forgive the sins of the revolution. Spending at times 16 hours in the confessional each day, he was truly a humble and generous man who lived his priesthood for others. To sinners who approached the sacrament discouraged and full of doubt about God’s forgiveness, he would say, “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again and yet he forgives you. How great is the love of our God who even strives to voluntarily forget the future in order to forgive us.” He also reminds us, “It is not the sinner who returns to God begging forgiveness; rather, it is God himself who runs after sinners causing them to return to him.” John found his identity in Jesus Christ, the great high priest, and lived his priesthood preaching the word of God, ministering the sacraments, shepherding his people. People began to flock to Ars. He cared for the poor, sometimes even giving away his own food, he started a school for the poor and an orphanage for young girls, and he provided for unwanted children. During his ministry, the number of pilgrims who came to Ars numbered as many as twenty thousand each year.St. John Vianney had a deep devotion to Our Lady and a great love for his bride, Christ’s bride, the church. He was a man of mercy, a minister of mercy according to the call of all priests, as he often said, “Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus,” and “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.”
Prayer to St. John Vianney
I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life.
I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you.
I love you, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally …
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you,
I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath.