The Curé of Ars and Mercy

The following is the talk given by Fr. Patrice Chocholski on the first day of the two-day 12th Annual Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality Conference held in Worcester, Massachusetts on May 4-5. Father Patrice is rector of the Shrine of the Curé of Ars, in France.

The saints did not start all well, but they all finished well. We started badly, finish well. (Spirit 63) Saint John Vianney, as all the saints, has been walking in this world. He has evolved, he got transformed. He was healed by God's mercy. He converted to its touch. He was overwhelmed. And his whole being was swept away by it.

1. Cured by Mercy
Several episodes of Jean-Marie's life reveal a wounded man. There is one of them that shows him afflicted by the torment of guilt. Msgr. René Fourrey traces using available sources of the itinerary of the conscript deserter in year 1809, his long stay in Noës, the death of his mother Mary Béluse, his return to Dardilly, and the anger of his father, Mathieu Vianney. Since he had deserted, he had to be replaced in the Napoleonic armies. His brother François was drafted into the army in his place, went to the front to Phalsbourg (Moselle today the borders of Alsace) and died in the fighting. We can imagine the weight that the young seminarian was to bear in his heart: a brother died in his place, a mother who dies of despair, a father who made him blame the misfortune that has befallen the family ... The pathos of one of his letters of Verrières seminary to his father clearly expressed: I am the most unworthy of your children; I abused in such a manner. I am unworthy of your kindness. I do deserve that perpetual indignation. I am 'the unworthy son who deserves only contempt. (Letter of 12 June 1813 The Curé of Ars authentic, p. 56) Although there was never contrition in the language of the holy Curé about desertion, such an injury could find healing only in the experience of God's mercy. "Our sins are like grains of sand in front of the great mountain of God's mercy." Only a wound cauterized with the fire of divine love may become that gushing cave that will be able to heal others. In his wounds pilgrims came to draw Mercy. By confessing to him to Ars, they encountered the crucified and risen Christ with his words of peace and forgiveness. The Holy Curé was inhabited by Christ Mercy, pilgrims saw it through.

2. Converted to Mercy
Formed by the priest Balley in the intellectual and jansenist (rigorist) French priests of the pre-revolutionary period climate, it will leave a shine of some rigor on his arrival in Ars. The first homilies testify it. Like many other priests of the new post-revolutionary generation, closer to the people and the poor, the Curé of Ars will pass from rigorism in ligorisme. This is a turning point in his life. The Neapolitan Bishop Alphonse Liguori had marked the spirits in Italy and Rome by his teachings of moral theology refocused on the love and mercy of God. He died in 1787. And Rome hastened to beatify him in 1816, canonized him in 1839 and the proclaimed him the Doctor of the Church in 1871, in order to deploy the spirituality and theology in the whole Church. In the 1810s, the bishop of the Cure of Ars (diocese of Belley), as many bishops of France, was invited to attend theology courses in the school of St. Alphonsus in Venice. He came back excited and shared this new spirituality with his priests. (Philippe Boutry, priests and parishes in the country of the Cure of Ars, p. 405) It appears that Father Vianney was one of the first to join and promote this spirit. This concern of the Holy See to promote mercy, especially by the proclamation of St. Alphonsus, Doctor of the Church, to stem the rigor that came from the North, is somehow similar to the efforts of recent Popes John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis to promote Mercy as the central nucleus of the Gospel in the mission of the universal Church. So when it is said that "in the confessional, he often handed absolution for several days "; once delivered in context, we must first remember that "it was a habit of the Gallican clergy." And sure he was not so attached to this practice for his colleagues accused him of giving absolution without control." (Nodet) It stood out from the legalistic practices of its neighboring counterparts. "It's not the sinner who returns to God to ask him for forgiveness; but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes return to him." (Nodet p. 133); Jean-Marie Vianney learned to get out of this jansenistic spirit he was configurated in his youth and during the first years of his ministry in Ecully with abbé Balley. He used to explain in his catechesis: "The jansenists have still the sacraments, but they have no effect because they think that the people have to be perfect in order to receive them. The Church desires only our salvation. That is why she orders us to receive them. " (Mon¬nin p. 327) » (Mgr Guy-Marie Bagnard)

3. Overwhelmed by Mercy
Being overwhelmed by events, works or occupations have become in our time a common expression. We are exceeded, overwhelmed. He had not a moment for himself. The saint said he was overwhelmed by Mercy, carried away by it, "God's mercy is like an overflowing stream; it carries away the hearts in its wake." (MONNIN II 436) His life, his pastoral ministry began early with preferential attention to the poor, the foundation of Providence for the orphans of the village, reception and listening to the sacrament of reconciliation in villages surrounding at popular missions alongside colleagues. It concludes with a daily immersion renewed in Mercy: "He bathed, in his words, in the flames of love. "(P. O. MONNIN 1068) " What kind of God! his good heart is an ocean of mercy. "(ORIOL V. P. 191) "For me I will tell you my recipe. I give the sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place. (I MONNIN 374) (tariffied penance) "The meaning he gave to his mortification was clear when he proposed a penance to those who had just been absolved. "I know, said Abbe Toccanier, he gave the penitents that penance proportionate to their weakness, that is to say, in general, very low and that it applied to supply it with personal penance. " One day one of them expressed surprise at the light of what the Curé of Ars showed him, he answered him: "Go, go, my friend, I'll do the rest." "(Bishop Bagnard) Here is the pastor bringing much of the burden, so that the afflicted sinners can set foot in the stirrup and rise with Christ. The opposite of the attitude of the teachers of the Law denounced by Christ: "you load men with burdens hard to bear, you do not touch yourself with one finger. "

Let us return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It often happens that we priests hear our faithful telling us they have encountered a very "strict" priest in the confessional, or very "generous", i.e., a rigorist or a laxist. And this is not good. It is normal that there be differences in the style of confessors, but these differences cannot regard the essential, that is, sound moral doctrine and mercy. Neither the laxist nor the rigorist bears witness to Jesus Christ, for neither the one nor the other takes care of the person he encounters. The rigorist washes his hands of them: in fact, he nails the person to the law, understood in a cold and rigid way; and the laxist also washes his hands of them: he is only apparently merciful, but in reality he does not take seriously the problems of that conscience, by minimizing the sin. True mercy takes the person into one's care, listens to him attentively, approaches the situation with respect and truth, and accompanies him on the journey of reconciliation. And this is demanding, yes, certainly. The truly merciful priest behaves like the Good Samaritan... but why does he do it? Because his heart is capable of having compassion, it is the heart of Christ!
We are well aware that neither laxity nor rigorism foster holiness. Perhaps some rigorists seem holy, holy.... But think of Pelagius and then let's talk... Neither laxity nor rigorism sanctify the priest, and they do not sanctify the faithful! However, mercy accompanies the journey of holiness, it accompanies it and makes it grow.... Too much work for a parish priest? It is true, too much work! And how do we accompany and foster the journey of holiness? Through pastoral suffering, which is a form of mercy. What does pastoral suffering mean? It means suffering for and with the person. And this is not easy! To suffer like a father and mother suffer for their children; I venture to say, also with anxious concern....
To explain, I'll put to you some questions that help me when a priest comes to me. They also help me when I am alone before the Lord!
Tell me: Do you weep? Or have we lost our tears? I remember that in the old Missals, those of another age, there is a most beautiful prayer to ask the gift of tears. The prayer began like this: "Lord, who commanded Moses to strike the rock so that water might gush forth, strike the stone of my heart so that tears...": the prayer went more or less like this. It was very beautiful. But, how many of us weep before the suffering of a child, before the breakup of a family, before so many people who do not find the path?... The weeping of a priest.... Do you weep? Or in this presbyterate have we lost all tears?
Do you weep for your people? Tell me, do you offer intercessory prayer before the Tabernacle?
Do you struggle with the Lord for your people, as Abraham struggled?
"Suppose they were fewer? Suppose there were 25? And suppose they were 20?... (cf. Gen 18:22-33). This courageous prayer of intercession.... We speak of parrhesia, of apostolic courage, and we think of pastoral plans, this is good, but the same parrhesia is also needed in prayer. Do you struggle with the Lord? Do you argue with the Lord as Moses did? When the Lord was annoyed, tired of his people, he said to him: "Don't worry.... I will destroy everything, and I will make you the head of another people". "No. No. If you destroy the people, destroy me too". But, these were real men! Do we have enough guts to struggle with God for our people?(Address to the parish priests of Rome, March 6, 2014)
"Icry for what you do not cry." (SJMV)

4. Carried away by Mercy
Carried away by the torrent of Mercy in his whole being, his relationships and his mission, the Holy Curé fact break into the centuries-old facade of the parish church a second door, close and discreet, to promote the reception of sinners in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Even the walls are blown away by the torrent that flows from God's presence. "Door of Mercy"; also manifests the pastoral delicacy of the saint who, like the Good Shepherd, does everything to accommodate everyone where it is and take care of him. " Like to update this overflow of Mercy in the mission of the Church in our time, Pope Francis leads his community in this movement, "I see clearly that the thing most needed the Church today, c is the ability to heal wounds and warm the heart of the faithful, proximity, conviviality. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It is useless to ask one serious injury if he cholesterol and if his blood sugar is too high! We need to heal the wounds. Then we can tackle the rest. Heal wounds, heal wounds ... We must start at the bottom. "Pope Francis Studies)

"The Church is called to be always open house of the Father ... We often behave like controllers grace and not as facilitators. The Church is not a custom house, it is the Father's house where there is room for everyone with his hard life. (Evangelii gaudium 47) At the dawn of the Year of Mercy, the figure of St. John Vianney appears as one of the great figures implementing the profile drawn by Pope Francis in the Bull of Indiction Misericordiae Vultus: "I will never tire of insisting that confessors be authentic signs of the Father's mercy. We do not become good confessors automatically. We become good confessors when, above all, we allow ourselves to be penitents in search of his mercy. Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves. We priests have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and we are responsible for this. None of us wields power over this Sacrament; rather, we are faithful servants of God's mercy through it. Every confessor must accept the faithful as the father in the parable of the prodigal son: a father who runs out to meet his son despite the fact that he has squandered away his inheritance. Confessors are called to embrace the repentant son who comes back home and to express the joy of having him back again. Let us never tire of also going out to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgement is severe and unjust and meaningless in light of the father's boundless mercy. May confessors not ask useless questions, but like the father in the parable, interrupt the speech prepared ahead of time by the prodigal son, so that confessors will learn to accept the plea for help and mercy pouring from the heart of every penitent. In short, confessors are called to be a sign of the primacy of mercy always, everywhere, and in every situation, no matter what."

We dwell in him
Repent and he will enter your life and heal you (CA and Abbé Gaston)
This will express already here the mystery of Christ's Resurrection
He will lead you to the full truth
He wil declare you the things that are coming (the horizon of the healing)


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