4 August
Jean-Baptist Vianney, Curé d'Ars, Spiritual Guide, 1859

Jean-Baptiste Vianney (better known as the Curé d'Ars, or curate of Ars) was the son of a peasant farmer, born in France in 1786, three years before the beginning of the French Revolution. He wished to become a priest, but his studies were hindered, first by the poverty of his family, next by the anti-religious policies of the Revolutionary government, and finally by the wars of Napoleon. He was not a particularly bright student, and struggled hopelessly with Latin. He was 29 when he was finally ordained, his superiors having decided that his zeal and devotion compensated for his 'academic underqualification.'

He was sent as curate to the small and obscure village of Ars-en-Dombes, where he proved an unexpectedly brilliant preacher. He campaigned vigorously against drinking, dancing, and immodest dress, but became chiefly known for his skill in individual counselling. He was blessed with extraordinary psychological insight, and knew when to tell someone, 'You are worrying too much about your sins and failing to trust in the mercy of God,' and when to say, 'You are not worrying enough about your sins and are treating the mercy of God as a moral blank check.' He would often tell people, 'Your spiritual problems do not lie in the matters you have mentioned, but in another area entirely.' Many people came away convinced that he must be a mind-reader. As his fame spread, people came for hundreds of miles to hear him preach (close to 100,000 in the last year of his life) and to receive his private counsel (he ended up spending eighteen hours a day hearing confessions). The work was exhausting, and three times he undertook to resign and retire to a monastery, but each time he felt bound to return to deal with the needs of his congregation. He died 'in harness' at the age of 73, 4 August 1859. Once, when he was arguing with a Protestant peasant woman in his village, he asked her, 'Where was your Church before the Reformation?' She promptly replied, 'In the hearts of people like you.'

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