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St. John Vianney vs. Satan
That Hell exists and that there are fallen angels condemned to hell, is a dogma of the Catholic faith. The devil is a personal, living being, not a figment of the imagination. True, his activity in the world remains for the most part, hidden; none the less, by divine permission, at times the evil one comes out into the open.
For the space of 35 years - from 1824 to 1858 - the Cure d’Ars was subjected, even outwardly to the molestations of the evil one. What if, by preventing him from taking both food and sleep, Satan had succeeded in inspiring him with a distaste for prayer, penance and the exertions of the apostolic life, and in obliging him to give up the cure of souls!
But the enemy of our salvation was disappointed and defeated.
It was to be expected that so signal a triumph of religion, as well as the personal holiness of him who was instrumental in bringing it about, would rouse the fury of hell. The Scriptures tell us that Satan at times disguises himself as an angel of light. In our days he is even more cunning: he persuades people, all too successfully, that he does not exist at all. One of the most amazing features of the life of the Cure of Ars is that during a period of about thirty-five years he was frequently molested, in a physical and tangible way, by the evil one.
It should be borne in mind that all men are subject to temptation—for to tempt to sin is the devil’s occupation, so to speak—and temptation is permitted by God for our good. But for St. John Vianney, it was far worse.
The powers of darkness opened the attack in the winter of 1824. In the stillness of a frosty night terrific blows were struck against the presbytery door and wild shouting could be heard coming, so it seemed, from the little yard in front of the house. For a moment the Cure suspected the presence of burglars so that he asked the village wheelwright, one Andre Verchere, to spend the following night at the presbytery. It proved an exciting night for that worthy. Shortly after midnight there suddenly came a fearful rattling and battering of the front door whilst within the house a noise was heard as if several heavy carts were being driven through the rooms. Andre seized his gun, looked out of the window but saw nothing except the pale light of the moon: “For a whole quarter of an hour the house shook—and so did my legs,” the would-be defender subsequently confessed. The following evening he received another invitation to spend the night at the presbytery but Andre had had enough.
These and similar disturbances were of almost nightly occurrence. They happened even when the Saint was away from home—in the early years when he was still able to lend a hand to his clerical neighbours. Thus on a certain night during a mission at St Trivier, the presbytery shook and a dreadful noise seemed to proceed from M. Vianney’s bedroom. Everybody was alarmed, and rushing to the Saint’s room the priests found him in his bed which invisible hands had dragged into the middle of the room. M. Vianney soon perceived that these displays of satanic humour were fiercest when some great conversion was about to take place, or, as he playfully put it, when he was about to “land a big fish.” One morning the devil set fire to his bed. The Saint had just left his Confessional to vest for Mass when the cry, “Fire! fire!” was raised. He merely handed the key of his room to those who were to put out the flames: “The villainous !” (it was his nickname for the devil) “unable to catch the bird, he sets fire to the cage!” was the only comment he made. To this day the pilgrim may see, hard by the head of the bed, a picture with its glass splintered by the heat of the flames. It must be remembered that at no time was a fire lit in the hearth and there were no matches in the presbytery.
These molestations were both terrifying and ludicrous. The holy man ended by getting inured to them, so much so that he often poked fun at their author who showed himself in a very poor light indeed. With a smile the Saint once remarked: “Oh! the and myself—we are almost chums.” As a sample of Satan’s sense of humour the following is characteristic of one whom somebody called “God’s ape.” The devil would go on for hours producing a noise similar to that made by striking a glass tumbler with the blade of a steel knife; or he would sing, “with a very cracked voice,” the Saint said, or whistle for hours on end; or he would produce a noise as of a horse champing and prancing in the room, so that the wonder was that the worm-eaten floor did not give way; or he would bleat like a sheep, or miaow like a cat, or shout under the Cure’s window: “Vianney! Vianney! potato-eater.” The purpose of these horrible or grotesque performances was to prevent the servant of God from getting that minimum of rest which his poor body required and thus to render him physically unfit to go on with his astonishing work in the confessional by which he snatched so many souls from the clutches of the fiend. But from 1845 these external attacks ceased almost entirely.
The Saint’s constancy amid such trials was rewarded by the extraordinary power God gave him to cast out devils from the possessed. Nevertheless, horrible as may be the condition of one whose body is possessed by the devil, it is as nothing by comparison with the wretched plight of a soul which, by mortal sin, sells itself, as it were, to Satan. The holy priest may be said to have spent the best part of his priestly career in a direct contest with sin through his unparalleled work in the confessional. The Cure’s confessional was the real miracle of Ars, one that was not merely a passing wonder, or the sensation of a few weeks. Great as were his penances, assuredly the greatest of them all was the endless hours spent by him within the narrow confinement of a rugged, comfortless, unventilated confessional. This miracle went on for forty years. The astonishing thing about M. Vianney is that he himself personally became the object of a pilgrimage, people flocking to Ars in hundreds of thousands just to get a glimpse of him, to hear him, to exchange but a few words with him, above all, to go to confession to him.
It is said that the Devil told St. John Vianney, “If there were three such priests as you, my kingdom would be ruined.” The Saint, for his part, developed a remarkable sense of humor about the supernatural assaults, saying, “Oh! the grappin” – his nickname for the Devil – “and myself? We are almost chums.”
It’s not likely that we’ll ever have to struggle with Satan the way St. John Vianney did, but we should be familiar with who he is and what he does – and why he must be resisted. That begins with acknowledging that he exists and that he wants to destroy us. It means knowing that although he is powerful, Satan is limited and he is already defeated (CCC 2852, 2864).
August 8: St. John Vianney, Cure d’Ars
August 8 is the traditional feast day of St. John Vianney, also known as the Cure d’Ars (Pastor of the Parish of Ars, France), who is the patron saint of parish priests.He became internationally notable for his priestly and pastoral work in his parish because of the radical spiritual transformation of the community and its surroundings. Catholics attribute this to his saintly life and his ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Philomena.
St. John Vianney was a simple man, who almost did not become a priest due to his poor academic performance. Owing to the support of his Bishop, who knew him to be a faithful and pious man, he was eventually ordained and given a small, country parish suffering the effects of the French revolution which had wiped out virtually all traces of Catholic identity and worship. Nothwithstanding these great challenges, this Saint was an overwhelming success.
Vianney came to be known internationally, and people from distant places began traveling to consult him as early as 1827. By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year. During the last ten years of his life, he spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional. Even the bishop forbade him to attend the annual retreats of the diocesan clergy because of the souls awaiting him yonder. He spent at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional during winter, and up to 16 in the summer.
Vianney had a great devotion to St. Philomena. Vianney regarded her as his guardian and erected a chapel and shrine in honor of the saint. During May 1843, Vianney fell so ill he thought that his life was coming to its end. He asked St Philomena to cure him and promised to say 100 Masses at her shrine. Twelve days later, Vianney was cured and he attributed his cure to St Philomena.
Although he is venerated as the patron of parish priests, lay people should pray to him as one of their own personal saints. After all, for whom did he toil in his earlthly life? It was not for the sanctification of priests, but of lay people, that he laboured.
Here is the approved Collect for the Feast of St. John Vianney, Confessor of the Church:
Almighty and merciful God, who didst make St John Mary to be wonderful in pastoral zeal and unchanging love for prayer and penance, grant we beseech thee, that by his example and intercession we may be able to gain the souls of our brethren in Christ, and with them to arrive at the glory of eternity. This we pray through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
August 6: The Transfiguration of our Lord
In the traditional Roman calendar and Breviary, today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, the namesake feast of Toronto’s SSPX Chapel (Church of the Transfiguration). The nine lessons/readings from Matins today are as follows:
From 2 Peter:
Wherefore, brethren, labour the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing these things, you shall not sin at any time. For so an entrance shall be ministered to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For which cause I will begin to put you always in remembrance of these things: though indeed you know them, and are confirmed in the present truth. But I think it meet as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance. Being assured that the laying away of this my tabernacle is at hand, according as our Lord Jesus Christ also hath signified to me. And I will endeavour, that you frequently have after my decease, whereby you may keep a memory of these things. For we have not by following artificial fables, made known to you the power, and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we were eyewitnesses of his greatness. For he received from God the Father, honour and glory: this voice coming down to him from the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And this voice we heard brought from heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount. And we have the more firm prophetical word: whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost.
From the Sermons of Pope St Leo the Great On the Transfiguration
The Lord taketh chosen witnesses, and in their presence, revealeth His glory. That form of body which He had in common with other men, He so transfigured with light, that His Face did shine as the sun, and His raiment became exceeding white as snow. Of this metamorphosis the chief work was to remove from the hearts of the disciples the stumbling at the Cross. Before their eyes was unveiled the splendour of His hidden majesty, that the lowliness of His freely-chosen suffering might not confound their faith. But none the less was there here laid by the Providence of God a solid foundation for the hope of the Holy Church, whereby the whole body of Christ should know with what a change it is yet to be honoured. The members of that body whose Head hath already been transfigured in light may promise themselves a share in His glory. For the strengthening the Apostles and bringing them forward into all knowledge, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias that is, the Law and the Prophets talking with Him. Before five witnesses did His glorification take place, as though to fulfil that which is written At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. What can be more certain, what can be better attested than this matter, which is proclaimed by the trumpets of both the Old and the New Testaments, and concerning which the witness of ancient testimony uniteth with the teaching of the Gospel The pages of either Covenant strengthen one another, and the brightness of open glory maketh manifest and distinct Him Whom the former prophecies had promised under the veil of mysteries. The unveiling of such mysteries roused the mind of the Apostle Peter to an outburst of longing for the things eternal, which despised and disdained the things worldly and earthly overflowing with gladness at the vision, he yearned to dwell with Jesus there, where the revelation of His glory had rejoiced him. And so he said Master, it is good for us to be here if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. To this proposal the Lord answered nothing, this signifying, that what Peter wished was not wrong, but out of place, since the world could not be saved but by the death of Christ. And the Lord’s example was to call the faith of believers to this, that albeit we are behoven to have no doubts concerning the promise of eternal blessedness, yet we are to understand that, amid the trials of this life, we are to seek for endurance before glory.
Homily by St John Chrysostom, (Patriarch of Constantinople) on Matthew 17
Since the Lord had spoken much concerning dangers, much concerning His Own sufferings, much concerning death, and the killing of His disciples, and had laid upon them many hard and grievous things, and since all these were in this present life, and already hanging over them, whereas the good things were matter for hope and waiting as, for example, that whosoever should lose his life for His sake should find it, for that the Son of Man should come in the glory of His Father, and reward every man according to his works. Therefore, to assure them by their own eyes, and show them what the glory is wherein He will come, He manifested and unveiled it to them, as far as in this life they were able to grasp it, lest they and especially Peter should grieve over their own deaths, or the death of their Lord. Behold what He doth, when He treateth of heaven and hell. Where He saith Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. And again He shall reward every man according to his works in these words He pointeth at heaven and hell. But although He speaketh concerning both, He giveth a glimpse of heaven only and not of hell. To see hell would have profited the brutish and stupid, but His disciples were upright and clear-sighted, and therefore for them it was enough to be strengthened by the better things. This was what suited Him the best. Yet He left not the other altogether undone. Sometimes He set the horrors of hell, as it were, before the eyes, as for instance in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and that of him who was fain to wring the hundred pence from his fellow-servant.