This statue of the holy pastor of the village of Ars refers to the moment of his arrival there in February 1818. It was such a bleak and foggy period that Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney had lost his way. A young shepherd boy guided him to Ars. As he thanked the lad, the priest said, "You have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven".
There are many such stories and anecdotes about the Curé of Ars and the guide who showed us around yesterday, Abbé Carlo (at right), a priest from Belgium but on the staff at the sanctuary to welcome priests in the Jubilee Year marking 150 years since the death of Vianney on August 4, 1859 and this recently designated Year of Priests inaugurated by Pope Benedict XVI on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this vein, one of the sayings of Saint Jean-Marie is, "the priesthood is the love of the heart of Christ".
On arrival in Ars, still a small French village (but not far from bustling Lyon), one enters the house of the curé. One sees how simply he lived, a thread-bare cassock that he had repaired many times contrasting with the beautiful vestments he bought for Mass. For himself the bare necessities; for the Lord's house and work the best he could afford. But this not mean neglect of the poor, for love of God and neighbour went hand in hand. He sold his ermine-trimmed canon's cape the day after it arrived and did the same with the medal of France's Legion d'Honneur in order to give all he could for the needs of the poor.
Then one moves to the original church where the cure gathered his people during his ministry. There is a beautiful statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to whom the Curé consecrated his parish on May 31, 1838.
One leaves the original church to pass into what is now the basilica with the glass-enclosed remains of St. John Mary Vianney.
In the basilica, there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a deep silence and peace reigns there, even as people move about to pray before the relics of the Curé.
Here is the Prayer for Priests and Priestly Vocations recited daily in the basilica.
PRIÈRE DE L’ANNÉE SACERDOTALE (19 JUIN 2009-11 JUIN 2010)
Père Très Saint,
en cette année sacerdotale
que tu donnes a ton Église,
nous te prions pour tous
les prêtres du monde;
Viens les bénie
et rendre fructueux leur ministère.
Donne à tes pasteurs,
par l’intercession du Saint Cure d’Ars,
un cœur semblable a celui de ton Fils.
Suscite par ton Esprit-Saint
de nombreuses vocations sacerdotales.
A break for lunch took us to the Foyer Sacerdotal Jean-Paul II, commemorating the Holy Father's visit in October 1985 and now housing an international seminary which prepares priests in the spirituality of the saintly Curé. There we met priests, seminarians and aspirants for the priesthood from France, Spain, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo--all deeply moved by what the year of the priest means for them and their lives, an inspiration and a cause of hope.
Here are some photos of the people we met and the delightful exchanges and joy we shared.
Finally, a lovely prayer by the Curé that is quoted at length in the video that describes life and its impact on Ars and the Church Universal, a beautiful prayer any priest can say:
ACT OF LOVE OF THE HOLY PARISH PRIEST OF ARS
I love you, oh my God and my only desire is to love you until
my last breath.
I love you, oh infinitely loveable God and I prefer to die loving
you than to live a single moment without loving you.
I love you, oh my God and I long for heaven only in order
to know the bliss of loving you perfectly.
I love you, oh my God and I only fear going to hell because there
I will never experience the sweet consolation of loving you.
Oh my God, if my tongue is not able to say at every opportunity
that I love you, I want at least my heart to repeat it to you as
many times as I take a breath.
My God give me the grace of suffering out of love
for you, of loving you while I suffer. Give me the
grace of one day breathing my last out of love for you
and at the same time feeling how much I love you.
The closer I come to my final end the more I
beseech you to intensify and perfect my love for you. Amen.
Tomorrow and Monday I will make a visit to nearby Paray-le-Monial, site of the Revelations by the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque, where there is also a chapel in honour of her Jesuit confessor St. Claude de la Colombiere, and in recent years a place for family encounters under the aegis of the Communaute de l'Emmanuel.