Saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney

(This is part of my series on saints.  The first one, “The Other Mary” about St. Mary of Egypt, I posted on my blog in March.)

He was a simple young farm boy
born in the fields of France
as the revolution drew near. As a child
he watched as priests and noblement hid
like fearful rabbits in the French countryside.
The radicals, Les Sans Culottes, wanted blood,
rich blood
to spill and fertilize the dark soil
that grew the vineyard grapes.
(That’s the French version of blood into wine.)

Jean Marie had a visit from the Holy Mother
that called him to priesthood.
One thing held him back:
He was a bit obtuse
and no matter how hard he tried
those Latin declesions and conjugations just alluded him.
He stayed on his knees outside the seminary for years
until one of the kinder priests took pity on him.
He was 20, way older than the other students.
Because he was so slow, the monks assigned one of his fellow students,
Mathias, a bright but impatient 12-year-old boy, to tutor him.
As Jean Marie faltered again and again
trying to read the Bible in Latin
Mathias had enough and began beating the much bigger and older Jean Marie.
He beat him until he whimpered like a whipped mongrel
and Jean Marie enjoyed it.
He prostrated himself at the young boy’s feet
and begged forgiveness, pleading for more punishment.
He told anyone who would listen: “We must practice mortification.”

His studies were interrupted when Napoleon called upon him to fight Spain.
As his militia was marching off to battle, Jean Marie slipped into a church
and began to pray countless rosaries.
He stayed in there until another deserter arrived
and led him up a steep mountain to hide in a tiny village
where he remained until the war ended.
When he came back home, all was forgiven since France was victorious.
But now the bishops came together to decide
what to do with this sincere but simple-minded young priest.
They found a small town called Ars that needed a parish priest.
It was a town of only 230 people, so what harm
could Jean Marie do, the bishops reasoned.

When the new parish priest arrived to this happy
town hidden in the center of France, he was sickened
by the laughter and all the dancing.  Jean Marie vowed to make
the town more virtuous, and he whipped the town people
into submission in a manner that would’ve made the Taliban proud.
Suddenly the dancing and singing stopped, and every single tavern boarded its windows and doors.
Jean Marie was addicted to sacrifice, and he wanted the whole town
to experience the ecstasy of self-inflicted pain.
The town grew to admire and fear
their gawky parish priest
who deprived himself of all pleasures.
He ate only one meal a day, a bland meal of boiled potatoes.
Never allowing himself to taste fruit, or bread or anything sweet.
The only wine found in the town
was hidden in the small church
reserved for the Eucharist each Sunday.
It had to go through the ceremony and converted into the blood
of Christ before it could be consumed.

When word got out about the incredible transformation of Ars
from this bright, joyous town into a dark, pious village devoted to suffering,
the Pope sent his advisors to learn
the remarkable formula of this dull-minded priest.
Jean Marie knew he was rising to sainthood
and he began talking himself up
even implying that he was holy and without sin.
“I was only acquainted with evil in the confessional coming out of the mouths of sinners”
is what he said.  This upset a diminutive nun
who complained that he was claiming to be immaculate, a status reserved
only for Jesus.  The pope responded by banishing her to a missionary in Africa
where she died of malaria.
Jean Marie kept up his joyous suffering
as more and more pilgrims arrived to worship at his altar
until God took his soul from the humble town of Ars.


~ by Dark Landscapes on April 18, 2012.

4 Responses to “Saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney”

  1. i don’t know much about the saints, but i can identify a few things in here from long ago. the spot of the nun getting banished sticks out. it’s that unequalness factor that sticks out. it’s a compelling read because it makes you think.

  2. I am fascinated by the lives of saints. I wish their biographers would have written more about their quirks. Regarding the Cure de Ars, I don’t this man and I would have gotten along very well.
    What is the best way to honour someone who has given you a gift? It’s to let them seeing you enjoying it! God has given us countless gifts (like chocolate!). I think it can be a very holy thing to enjoy God’s gifts with a deep sense of gratitude.

    • I agree 100%. If you like the Saints, you might prefer my poem “The Other Mary” that I posted to my blog in March. She had a bit more fun…at least at first.
      Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog, too.

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