The Story of the Cure of Ars

August 8

Today is the feast day of Saint John Mary Vianney.   Ora pro nobis.

‘They Were Not Human Voices’

By Donna Sue Berry

Ars Church of St. John Vianney

No. He had decided that they were not human voices, nor were they of angelic origin. 

He knew who it was, and he knew why it had stirred up the air with the horror of hell itself.

It was the Devil. And he was on the attack. 

With the fight at hand, the Cure of Ars had but one battle plan to repel the attacks, “I turn to God; I make the Sign of the Cross; I address a few contemptuous words to the devil.”

Then, in prayer and patience, St. John Marie Vianney would pass uncomfortable nights shaken by the “grappin”–  happily because he knew it was a good sign that the next day some big sinner would come to the Sacrament of Confession.  Sometimes there would be a “good haul of fish,” as he called the many sinners who would show up to confess after the Cure had passed such a night.

The town of Ars was not known for its holiness or piety. In fact, when the newly-ordained priest was assigned there, Ars was inundated with sin. Particularly, the vices of blasphemy, cursing, profanation of Sundays, and the gatherings and dances at taverns with their immodest songs and conversation.

These would be the subjects of his sermons, from which he never held back.  “The tavern is the devil’s own shop, the school where hell retails its dogmas; the market where souls are bartered. It is the place where families are broken up, where health is undermined; where quarrels are started and murders committed.”  

There was no mincing of words for the Cure` of Ars.

Just how he would turn this entire village back to into a deeply faithful community was for him a labor of love, deep prayer, mortification and harsh penances. And a life lived in hidden obscurity.  He would rise in the middle of the night to begin hearing confessions at one o’clock in the morning, and spend an incredible 14 to 18 hours a day in the confessional. 

If a penitent withheld certain sins, the Cure would admonish them and proceed, to their astonishment, tell them their sins. He was known to weep while hearing confessions, with the remark, “I weep, my friend, because you do not weep.”

He maintained a strict fast of only one meal per day, consisting mostly of one or two boiled potatoes, black bread and water. He often wore a penitential garment next to his skin that caused friction and was stained from the blood it drew.  When he did sleep he would do so on a bare mattress or a bundle of wood down in the cellar, and if he read, it was his breviary, the lives of the saints or something of theological value. 

The villagers, dumbfounded, witnessed their priest practicing what he preached. He set the example for them.

Over a period of ten years the entire town was converted. This conversion did not go unnoticed;  thousands began to travel to Ars to see the saintly priest and to confess to him. 

Incorrupt body of Saint John Marie Vianney

Today over 500,000 people a year visit Ars to see the incorrupt body of Saint John Marie Vianney, the saintly and humble priest responsible for the conversion of thousands of sinners.

Donna Sue Berry

Other Saint John Vianney resources


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