Saint John Vianney (1786-1859)
“If you find someone in sin, you who have the Spirit should restore them gently… Bear one another’s burdens. Thus you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:1-2
His seminary teachers thought John Vianney was too stupid to be a priest. But his pastor said he was pious, so the bishop ordained him. Then he sent him to a backwater where he could do no lasting harm.
But in Ars, population 230, Vianney found his gift—he could bear other people’s sins. He could patiently inhabit a confessional, listening and probing, illumining and guiding, encouraging and consoling everyone who came.
And come they did, penitents from near and far. For forty years, up to eighteen hours a day, he listened, absorbing every vice of the flesh, every grief of the heart, every disturbance of the soul they laid before him.
Some struggled angrily against a great darkness, having suffered terrible abuse. Yet somehow they still wanted to forgive God. He was stung by their greatness of heart.
Others casually knocked down commandments like bowling pins, governed by habits they might never succeed in breaking. He was moved by their willingness to try.
Some confessed a lack of trust in God after a marital breakdown, a child’s death, a business failure. He was pained by the way his own security distanced him from them.
And when the poor spoke gratefully of God’s blessings, he wondered, “What blessings?” and learned from them how great they are.
Thus it was that, hearing people’s confessions, John Vianney became a holy man. Today, August 4, is the anniversary of his death, his birthday in heaven.
Gracious God, may the example of Saint John inspire us to receive each other gently, bear each other patiently, and fulfill the law of Christ.
Mary Luti is Interim Senior Pastor, Wellesley Village Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts.