The best way to learn about the history of the Church and the lives of the saints is to visit it. The week after Easter I took a pilgrimage to France. Many people think that vacations should not involve too many goals or plans, but we set out with an ambitious four part plan:
4) See something.
Sometimes it was difficult to fit it all in but we managed as best we could.
Our first stop was the tiny town of Ars in central France, north of Lyon. A French priest named Jean-Marie Vianney was sent there to be pastor in 1818. He had not been a good student of Latin and consequently struggled to learn his theology, even being sent away once from the seminary despite his best efforts to learn. He was finally ordained more because of his evident love of God than any other reason. The bishop was probably thinking of this when he sent him to Ars, saying “There isn’t much love of God in that town; you will have to bring it.” So the priest set out, on foot, from Lyon to Ars. Near the town he encountered a little shepherd boy and asked him to point out the way to Ars. When the boy did, he said, “You have shown me the way to Ars, and I will show you the way to heaven.”
True to his word, the priest set about doing all in his power to preach the Gospel. He soon became famous as a holy man who lived in an austere life and had great gifts. One of his greatest was hearing confessions, and more and more people came to confess to him until he was hearing confessions 16 hours a day. With morning Mass, teaching catechism, and eating, he only slept about three hours a night. It was his prayer that sustained him. In fact he wanted to leave the parish to be more dedicated to the contemplative life, but the bishop and the people refused to let him go, insisting he did too much good in the parish. He died at the age of 73, and soon afterwards a large basilica was added to his parish church to accommodate the pilgrims who came. He was named the patron saint of parish priests. The town today is still very small, but with the presence of the shrine and the pilgrims it has changed forever. We can say that John Vianney brought the love of God, and it is still there today.