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St. John Vianney

Can you imagine the Church today without the influence of one of the greatest priest-saints of the 19th century, St. John Vianney?

It easily could have happened. The world could have been completely unaware of the existence of the man named Jean Marie Vianney, if he had given up at just one of the many obstacles he faced in his vocational discernment.


Jean Marie encountered difficulty when he first began studies at age 20. Said to be of average intelligence, he struggled with most subjects. He had particular trouble with Latin, which was absolutely essential for a priest of that era. Fortunately, he was assisted by a fellow student and scraped by.

During these studies, he was drafted to fight against the Spanish. As his regiment was about to leave for the war, he went to pray in a church and was left behind. He attempted in vain to follow, but finally gave up. He became a schoolmaster and hid behind an assumed name, officially becoming a deserter. (If he had gone to war, he might have been killed; if caught as a deserter, he would have been jailed or executed.) Eventually, an imperial decree pardoned deserters, and he was able to return to his studies.

At age 26, he went to the seminary. But because of his poor knowledge of Latin, he failed to pass the entrance exam the first time, and was required to take it a second time. Only by the intercession of Pére Balley, his mentor and former teacher, was he allowed to continue and eventually to be ordained in 1815. But his difficulties didn’t end there.

He was appointed the Curé of the small French town called Ars. He got lost on the way there! When he arrived, he found that the townspeople had little faith and scorned God and, therefore, His priest.

Though he became a legendary preacher and confessor, he continually faced opposition in his ministry from the townspeople, other clerics, and even the Devil, who would fight him while he lay in his bed at night. Because of these continued difficulties, Pére Vianney just wanted to lead a life of solitude in a monastery. He attempted to run away from his parish and become a monk – four times!

But each time he came back. He could not say “no” to Jesus calling him to go where he was needed.

Nobody would point to these endless failures and say, “Now there’s a great man!” But he was, indeed, a great man! Why? Because, in the midst of these failures and difficulties, St. John always said “yes” to the call of our Lord. It is because of this that he is the universal patron of parish priests!

At any one of these moments, St. John could have justified his way out of saying “yes” to God. Then he would have been lost in the obscurity of history, nothing but a failure. We would not have his holy example, which continues to inspire countless priests and laymen in their vocations and discernment.

How is God calling you to reject the temptations the world throws up against your good efforts? How is He calling you to say “yes”?

Do not despair because of your failures or difficulties. God will always give you the grace to overcome. Let Him guide you where He wants you.

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