The village that we had our retreat was called Ars. In 1818 only 3 years later after his ordination at the age of 32, St. Jean Vianney was assigned there as the pastor. His flock was only 230 people. His bishop warned him that faith has died in that parish and it was his job now to put faith back into that parish. First few months, Jean Vianney found very few people coming to Sunday mass. It turns out most village folks were at taverns on Sunday to dance. On his 40th year as the pastor there, however, he attracted 100,000 pilgrims annually to his small village. Most who came were wives and husbands. Why? What was there in an unknown, sleepy village of Ars to see for the married couples? And why did 1,200 priests from all over the world come to that village 150 years after the death of Jean Vianney?
All of us, sought this humble parish priest for confession. St. Jean Vianney was known to spend regularly 12 hours or more in hearing confession. In his last years when more than 100,000 flocked to him, spent 17 hours in confession. What was so special about his confession? When you went to confession to him he could read your heart. When you neglect to repent a serious sin, he would let you know. It's not just his ability to read heart that was significant; he helped you to turn your life around. A wife visiting him renewed her commitment to her vocation while a husband repented of his lack of love and fidelity to his wife. And a priest recommited himself to love Christ and His Bride, the Church, with more fervent love, which I experienced this past week.
In both our First Reading and in the Gospel, we deal with the mystery of spousal love--marriage. This mystery applies also to those of us single and celibate. Adam says, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." He has found a spouse at last to whom he will give himself totally, without conditions, and exclusively for the rest of his life. He will love many others, as a friend, as a brother, as a father, but to only one woman out of the whole world will he love like no one else. What about us singles and celibates? Who is the one person to whom our total and exclusive affection belong to? All the baptized persons are the Bride of Christ, hence our affections both body and soul belong to Him. What is asked of us is holiness--to be a pure and undefiled Bride of Christ. But there are plenty of challenges aren't there to be holy and chaste?
Some married spouses go through mid-life crisis where they forget the promises they made to their spouse and announce one day out of the blue that the feelings of love left them. There are single and married persons who struggle with impurity on Internet. There are priests who have given up prayer and have sought worldly things. All are symptoms that something other than our true spouse has won our affection.
So what do you do when the overpowering perfume of temptations like that of a dutyfree shop waft into your nose and lure you into thinking, 'I need that instead of my true spouse'? We need to do what the hero of the Greek myth, Ulysses did when on the way back to his wife he was about to sail into where the Sirens were. The Sirens were the strange mermaids who lured sailors to drown by their enchanting songs. Ulysses told his shipmates to tie him down tightly to the mast of the ship so that he will not plunge into the waters when hearing their songs. Ulysses knew that his love for his wife was not superficial and required self-denial and self-sacrifice. If we are willing to say 'yes' to God and to our true spouse, we should be willing to say 'no' to ourselves. That is why more than 100,000 people and priests visited St. Jean Vianney in his confession, to deny themselves and to turn from their ways back to their true spouse.