This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

August 4 -- Feast of Saint Jean-Baptiste Maria Vianney

Patron saint of those who can't decline puella
Here's one for my Latin students who struggle with declensions, conjugations, and weird constructions like the ablative absolute and passive periphrastic.  And all the other Latin students who also struggle.  Cognoscitis qui estis.  Or maybe even, cognoscimus qui sumus.

Jean-Baptiste was a French farm boy with a vocation to the priesthood.  His family traveled miles to attend secret, illegal Masses during the French Revolution, which probably made the job seem even more attractive.  His confirmation had to be done in secret, by candlelight, with the windows covered.  Folks were watching for Jacobin guards who might bust down the door and That had to be way more exciting

In 1802, when the Church was decriminalized, he did what he could to prepare, but his dad didn't have the money for much formal education, and when JB did get to finally concentrate on his studies (around age 20), he proved a porr stoodent.  Latin was particularly difficult for him.  In 1806, he walked about sixty miles to the shrine of Saint Regis to enlist his help in entering the priesthood.  Sometimes the answers to prayers come slowly.

Royalist cartoon showing Napoleon himself deserting
JB was drafted a couple of times, but missed actual military service due to illness and desertion.  He returned to his studies with Father Balley after an amnesty for deserters in 1810.  In his defense, there had been an exemption for ecclesiastical students, but Napoleon ended the exemption when he ran short of draftable young men.

Eventually JB was ordained and appointed to the parish of Ars.  He had never really "met the standard," as we say in schools these days, but Father Balley persuaded the seminarians that his religious zeal compensated for his deficits in knowledge.  They wisely said, fine, Balley, he can be your assistant.  They did not however, give him Balley's parish when the kind old priest died; that parish went to some other guy and he was packed off to the hinterlands of Ars.
Yes, the people of Ars were hobbits

He found that the Revolution had broken the habit of religion for many folks.  Farmers tended to work on Sundays, making hay if the sun was shining.  Those with sufficient means and leisure tended to be drinking and dancing in the taverns.  Since his parishioners weren't coming to him, he started visiting them in their homes.  In time, he built up a very faithful and devoted congregation.

Not the most flattering statue
Naturally, with the French Church struggling to make a comeback after years of suppression, word got around about JB's exceptional success.  When folks heard that he almost didn't make the cut as a priest, he became a national celebrity.  Since this was before the E! Network, people had to come to him.  Everyone wanted to have their confessions heard by him, to receive communion from him, or just get splashed with a little holy water from him.  He got to handling 20,000 pilgrims a year and spent twelve to eighteen hours a day hearing confessions, depending on the season.  The bishop even told him to skip the annual diocesan retreats (priests' regional convention) because so many people needed him. 

Can you hear my confession now?
Small wonder that he ran away from the parish.  Four times.  They kept catching him and sending him back until at age 73 he finally escaped.  Sort of.  Even in death he is still serving the parish, since he is laid out in full view of the pilgrims and parishioners under the main altar.  Mercifully, they put a wax mask over his face.  If you go there (30 miles from Lyon), you can say your confession; perhaps he'll hear you and grant absolution.  If you hear him, however, tell the bishop or increase your meds. 

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