John-Baptist Mary Vianney is surely one of the most remarkable saints in the liturgical calendar. He was born in France just before the French revolution and the Age of Napoleon, times of great turbulence and bitter hostility to the Church.
John-Baptist grew up as an unlettered farmhand, and due to his lack of primary education he encountered great difficulties in his studies for the priesthood. It was only his sterling character and spiritual depth which finally brought him to ordination. On one occasion, he was failed by one of his priestly examiners who exclaimed in disgust, “Brother John-Baptist, you’re a complete ass!” To which Vianney replied sweetly, “Monsignor, if God could bring victory to Samson with just the jawbone of an ass, imagine what He will achieve with a whole donkey!”
Assigning him to the obscure village of Ars, near Lyons, his bishop told him, “there is not much love of God in that parish. You will enkindle it.” And this is what he did in the years he was there, through untiring prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and quiet work among the poor and sick. What he is most remembered for is his spiritual direction through the confessional, an exercise which engaged him for 14 to 18 hours a day, come searing summer or freezing winter. No wonder the village of Ars was spiritually transformed within a few years. People started coming to him from all parts of France and the rest of Europe. “Those who are guided by the Spirit can see things which are concealed from the learned and the wise,” he would declare.
John-Baptist died at the age of 73, worn out by his austerities. Through the 40 years of his priestly ministry, he ate very little and slept even less. A frail man in physique, he was nevertheless a spiritual giant, and the Church honours him by placing him on the altars, and declaring him the patron of those in the pastoral ministry.
We remember him with one of his most famous sayings: “Anything we do without offering it to God, is wasted.”