Aug. 4, 2017: St. John Marie Vianney
Rebuilding His Church
One day Father Vianney went to look for the fiddler who would be playing the music for the village dance that evening. “My good man,” the Curé said kindly, “how much do they usually pay you for playing your fiddle?” When the fiddler told him, the priest handed him twice that amount of money. The fiddler gave Father Vianney a knowing smile. “I see what’s going on here, Monsieur le Curé. The pastors in the other villages don’t approve of these dances, either. Say they cause trouble.” The fiddler stuffed the coins into his pocket. “Well, I guess there won’t be any dancing in Ars tonight! Too bad, I learned a new tune just for the occasion. Can’t say I’m sorry to go home with extra money in my pocket, though.”
Although dancing to the tune of a fiddle sounds fairly tame nowadays, all those dances were giving Ars a rather questionable reputation by eighteenth-century standards. Among neighboring villages, Ars was known as the place to party, and this concerned Father Vianney. He hoped to help the young people of his parish make responsible decisions and find better ways to spend their free time. The Curé also saw that many people in Ars struggled with drinking problems. Sometimes they spent all their wages at the local taverns. Many families in Ars were suffering as a consequence. Eventually, Father Vianney managed to have the two bars that were near the church closed down. Nothing happened overnight. But little by little, the people of Ars began to notice a change in their village.
One Sunday during the summer months, while the cut corn was still on the ground, a farmer came up to Father Vianney before Mass. “Monsieur le Curé,” he began, “our crops are in danger. The sky is becoming dark, and it could start raining at any moment. Shouldn’t we make an exception and go to the fields today?”
Father Vianney understood all too well what could happen if the storms washed everything away. Growing up on a farm, he had worked long days in the fields. But it had taken long and patient work to cultivate renewed honor for the Lord’s Day in his parish. He was reluctant to begin making exceptions… . “I will pray about this,” the Curé reassured the farmer. During his sermon, Father Vianney told the people not to worry because the weather would be fine. The promise of the Curé came true! The storm passed them by, and they had good weather for the next two weeks.
Father Vianney was rebuilding his church spiritually by helping many people begin to put their faith into action again. But he was also restoring the church physically. In 1820, he went ahead with his plans for the construction of a new bell tower. He also had special side chapels dedicated to our Lady and to his Confirmation patron, Saint John the Baptist. Later, Father Vianney added other chapels to the church. In 1837, he dedicated one to Saint Philomena. She was an early Christian martyr, but no one knew about her until 1802, when a workman discovered her tomb in the ancient Catacomb of Saint Priscilla in Rome. Saint Philomena quickly made up for lost time. As people learned about her, miracles started to multiply through her intercession. Saint Philomena became Father Vianney’s guide, intercessor, and special friend in heaven.
Saint John Vianney: A Priest for All People Written by Elizabeth Marie DeDomenico, FSP