Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Grace of Ars

Basilica Church in Ars
Notice that the original church with its
bell tower in front of the  new addition.
"We should consider those moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament as the happiest of our lives." -St. John Marie Vianney

What a wonderful Grace to have spent this past week in a tiny French village with St. John Marie Vianney. I went with 36 other seminarians on a retreat to Ars led by Fr. Vincke a spiritual director at the college and a priest of the Diocese of Lansing.

The incorrupt body of St. John Marie Vianney
I had read biographies of St. John Vianney's life. I had studied some of his writings. I had heard about his heroic priestly life sacrificing so much to spend up to 18 hours a day in the confessional. But nothing prepared me to actually go to Ars, to spend time there in his little country parish, to touch his confessionals, to participate in Holy Mass at the St. John Vianney Altar, to receive the precious Blood of our Lord from his chalice, to pray at his tomb.

This past week the Lord has really renewed me in so many ways. Retreats are a wonderful time to catch up on sleep and to physically recharge and repair and of course a retreat gives one time to spend plenty of time in prayer, meditation and reflection. Especially helpful for me was the beautiful countryside. It was such a blessing to be in a small town away from all the noises and the hustle-and-bustle of a big city. The Lord really helped me to find peace and solitude after months of transition and change.

The church where St. Margaret Mary lies at rest.
One of my favorite parts of my time in Ars was to simply pray for all the various pilgrims as they filed in and out of the basilica. I was especially touched when I saw young French fathers bringing their children to pray at the tomb for a few moments. The dad's would point up to the saint's body and help their littlest children make the Sign of the Cross. So beautiful...

The greatest grace was to spend some quality time with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. St. John Vianney had a deep abiding love for Jesus in the Eucharist. In a time when frequent communion of the faithful was very rare he'd encourage his penitents to approach the Sacred Table often.

Le Formans - A small creek running through Ars
Another grace I was given was to spend some quality time with some brother seminarians. It was not a silent retreat so we had time for conversation and recreation together. But what was especially moving was the time spent in prayer together praying for each other. St. John Vianney spoke often of the importance of priestly fraternity, which is a source of strength and true friendship.

 We also took two day trips. One day we went to Nevers which is where St. Bernadette is buried who saw Our Lady at Lourdes. Another day we went to Paray LeMonial which is where St. Margaret Mary is buried. She had visions of Our Lord who asked her to spread the devotion to his Sacred Heart. It was a real blessing to visit this places and to simply drive through the French countryside which is so green this time of year.

The view from the seminary down to the village
I am very thankful for the chance to be in Ars...

I'll leave with you a short reflection on the priesthood by St. John Vianney:

“Saint Bernard tells us that everything has come to us through Mary; and we may also say that everything has come to us through the priest; yes, all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts. If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have Our Lord. Who placed Him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest – always the priest. And if that soul comes to the point of death, who will raise it up, who will restore it to calmness and peace? Again the priest. You cannot recall one single blessing from God without finding, side by side with this recollection, the image of the priest.” (St. Jean Marie Vianney, Cure d’Ars; Catechism on the Priesthood)