The Miracle Worker of Ars

By Chris Sparks

Some saints seem made up.

Now, modern secularists and atheists tend to assume all our saints are made up, or that they didn’t do what the Church says they did, or that their miracles and sanctity must be overblown, must actually be scientifically explicable, if only they’re examined with a critical eye.

That’s not what I mean.

What I mean is that some saints have such extraordinary lives of signs and wonders that even faithful Catholics can easily be tempted to say, “Come on — that’s got to be a story for children. Nothing like that happens today!”

Saint John Vianney was one such saint. The Abbe Trochu wrote several biographies of the saint, based on the documents from John Vianney’s cause for canonization — and those biographies read like Grimms’ fairy tales.

The devil attacked St. John Vianney in very visible and dramatic ways, even setting fire to the saint’s bed to try to deprive him of sleep. The whole rectory resounded with the sounds of heavy foot, loud bangs, and more, terrifying some of the faithful who stayed the night trying to help the saint drive away the intruders.

Saint John Vianney had extraordinary gifts of reading souls, telling penitents their own sins when they came to him in the confessional. He offered consolation to a woman who had lost her husband to suicide, telling her that he’d repented in his final moments and so was saved, all before the woman had said one word to him. The whole story is recounted in After Suicide: There’s Hope for Them and for You by Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, and Br. Jason Lewis, MIC.

Saint Vianney worked miracles of healing and conversion, helping restore the practice of the faith, not just in the little town of Ars, France, where he ministered, but across France. The eldest daughter of the Church had been ravaged by the French Revolution and the Terror that ensued. Saint John Vianney and his miracles served as living proof of the truth of Catholicism during an age of atheism, secularism, persecution, and violent anti-Catholicism. A special train line to Ars was built during his lifetime to accommodate all the pilgrims who came in search of miracles through the intercession of the humble priest of Ars.

All this — in the 1800s.

Saint John Vianney isn’t a saint from ancient days, but from the modern era. He was alive at the same time our Founding Fathers were establishing the Constitution, dying shortly before our Civil War. He was working extraordinary signs and wonders during the lifetimes of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and the heroes of the Civil War. He proved that miracles do happen in during times of extraordinary scientific and technological progress.

I love saints like St. John Vianney. There’s something wonderful to me about the times when God moved with visible, significant power. Now, true, often the most powerful actions by God are invisible, things like holding the created order in existence with His love, or sending His powerful grace to touch a soul that seems impenitent, doomed to damnation (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1486). But there’s also something encouraging, something joyful, about those times where God shows His power over sin, death, and hell through the miracles, ministry, and fidelity of the saints.

In saints like John Vianney, we get a glimpse of the end of the world, of the final conquest of evil by good. We get a taste of the time when every tear shall be wiped away, every wrong made right, where justice and mercy consummate history, and where God shall be all in all.

Thank God He has given us reasons to believe in Him like the great wonderworking saints. Thank God we are given evidence for our faith in the lives of faithful men and women of God like St. John Vianney and St. Faustina Kowalska, in their miracles, their visions, their extraordinary gifts. Thank God we don’t have to believe without any evidence, without any reason, but rather that God shows His merciful face to us through Jesus, and through those who love Jesus and do His will.

So as we celebrate the feast of St. John Vianney on Aug. 4, let us ask his intercession. Let us ask him to help us be more like him, to imitate his works of mercy, his powerful prayer, and his faithful proclamation of the Gospel. Let us practice love of Our Lady like he did, praying and promoting the Rosary. Let us trust in the intercession of all the saints of Heaven, turning to them again and again with the impossible problems we confront today. And let us ask that St. John Vianney and all the saints help us to love God and neighbor as they did, and do now forevermore.

Saint John Vianney, pray for us!

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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What does it mean to work for the Catholic Church, especially by working for (or with, in the case of volunteers) the Marian Fathers? It means that we are reminded throughout our day, in ways large and small, that our earthly work depends on grace.

The devil may rage; the wealthy may grasp at their riches; the powerful may send forth their forces; the world, the flesh, and hell may do their worst. But Jesus Christ is Lord of Heaven and Earth, and there is nothing they can do about it.

Give thanks for the lives of our forebears, and obtain indulgences, knowing that we are fallen humans descended from fallen humans, and that grace is needed if we are all to meet again in happier circumstances.