Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

parish is the unit of the Church and the priesthood the sum of Christianity. " Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest,” he said, “and it will worship the brutes. When people want to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice; and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.” It was with this thought in his mind that he devoted two hundred thousand francs to the work of missions, and provided for a thousand annual Masses at an expense of forty thousand francs.

“This poor priest,” says M. Monnin, “so poor that he used to say that he had nothing of his own but his 'poor sins,' enriched all the world around him by his bounty. Gold and silver flowed into his hands from France, Belgium, England, and Germany, by a thousand imperceptible channels. He had but to will it to obtain immediately the sum necessary for a foundation or a work of charity.” It was generally believed that he supported a number of families, who had fallen from better circumstances. To relieve the poor he would sell every thing he possessed, even his clothes. The twenty thousand francs he got for his share of the Dardilly farm was used to buy the house in which he established the “ Providence"; and when the orphans increased, and it became necessary to build, he made himself architect, mason, and carpenter. He made the mortar, cut and carried the stones with his own hands, and spared himself no labor, only interrupting his work to go to the confessional. The Curé was, in very truth, a martyr to the confessional, where he spent sixteen hours a day. He never began his labors later than two o'clock in the morning, often at one; and when the numbers waiting were very great, at midnight. Except when saying Mass or preaching, or snatching a hasty, frugal meal, he lived almost entirely in the confessional, remaining there from midnight or early morning ull nine at night; then retiring to say his Office; and giving only a couple of hours to rest. Penitents would lie all night on the grass, fifty at a time, either in order to gain the earliest admission to the Church and the confessional, or because the houses in the village were overcrowded. For more than thirty years the Curé heard no less than a hundred penitents daily. This was labor enough, and more than enough, for one man; but there were sick to be visited, spiritual direction to be given, and daily catechetical instructions to the pilgrims from various countries; instructions full of unction and deep insight, in which truths as old as humanity were presented in a new light, the maladies of the soul diagnosed, and the science of moral therapeutics unfolded by one whose penetrating glance read and revealed what was hidden in consciences. Such was the illuminating influence of grace upon intellect in this poor priest who, as a student, was so deficient in the necessary studies that, but for the intercession of his friend and teacher, the Abbé Balley, he would have been sent back to till his father's fields. When Lacordaire, who deplored the fact that there were so few great souls and prayed God from the pulpit of Notre Dame to send France a saint, visited Ars in May, 1843, to find his prayer answered, the learned Dominican disdained not to ask and receive the oracles of spiritual science from the lips of the lowly village pastor, and the most eloquent pulpit orator of the day listened in silent reverence to words of wisdom uttered in the rustic patois of the peasant's son. A distinguished, but somewhat sceptical, philosopher exclaimed, with an enthusiasm inspired by the Curé, “I do not believe anything like this has been seen since the stable at Bethlehem ' " “The philosopher,” observes the Abbé Monnin, who heard the remark, “was mistaken; he had not read the history of the Church; but he spoke truth in this sense, that the life of the Curé of Ars, as the lives of all the saints, was but the continuation of the life of our Lord. One of the never-failing notes of this continuity is the evidence of the truly miraculous, the evidence that the power delegated by Christ to the Apostles is inherent in the Christian priesthood. We do not wonder, then, that the miracle of the marriage feast at Cana was repeated in the life of the Curé of Ars, or marvel when we read of the multiplication of loaves to feed the eighty hungry orphans.” “The one great truth taught us by the whole history of the Curé of Ars,” said Cardinal Manning, “is the all-sufficiency of supernatural sanctity.” Those who think that the best way to combat the intellectual forces marshaled against Catholicism in this age is to appeal solely to the intellect by logical arguments, and not to move and to win the sympathies of the heart; to be content simply with meeting higher criticism on 's own ground, or to abuse scientists of the delusion that the hurch is opposed to science, might study the life of the Curé of Ars with advantage to themselves and to others. What the age wants is not so much theology or philosophy in learned disquisitions, but theology in action as we find it in the life of the Curé of Ars and of the saint he most resembled, the Saint of Assisi; for assuredly the most Franciscan personality of the nineteenth century was Jean Baptiste Vianney. A favorite saying of his was: “When the saints pass, God passes with them.” Among the many mendicants who came, one sultry July day in 1770, to beg food and a night's lodging from his charitable parents—for the Vianneys were noted for keeping open house for the poor-was the beggar-saint, Benedict Joseph Labré, canonized by Leo XIII., a Franciscan tertiary like the present Pontiff. St. Benedict Labré was a member of the Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Francis, and the Curé of Ars was a tertiary priest, born in the course of the very year when miracles were wrought at Labré's grave. The spirit of St. Francis possessed him. “We will eat the bread of the poor—the friends of Jesus Christ and we will drink the good water of the good God," was his greeting to a few friends when he invited them to what he called “a feast," at which he regaled them with some of his favorite black bread. Does not this bring to mind the incident of St. Francis and one of his companion friars resting, after having begged their food, by the side of a well, drinking the pure water out of the hollow of their hands, and eating what he called “the bread of angels"?

[graphic]

Hearing the birds singing before his window, the Curé exclaimed with a sigh: “Poor little birds ! you were created to sing, and you sing; man was created to love God, and he loves him not!” “One spring morning," says the Curé again, “I was going to see a sick person; the thickets were full of little birds, who were singing their hearts out. I took pleasure in hearing them, and I said to myself: 'Poor little birds, you know not what you are singing, but you are singing the praises of the good God.'”. How forcibly this reminds us of St. Francis preaching to the birds! And when the Curé was dying, in 1859, and they wished to drive away the Aies—for it was a sultry August-he would not use a fan, considering it a luxury, but said: Leave me to my poor fies.” “Our good God has chosen me,” he said, like another St. Francis, “to be the instrument of his grace to sinners, because I am the most ignorant and the most miserable priest in the diocese. If he could have

VOL. LXXXI.-4

found one more ignorant and worthless than myself, he would have given him the preference.”

Catherine Lassagne said any one who met the Curé going through the streets, with his little earthen pipkin, would take him for a beggar who had just received an alms. “Are you the Curé of Ars, of whom every one speaks?” asked an ecclesiastic who had gone to Ars on purpose to see him, and, to his great astonishment and disgust, met him thus eating his dinner as he went along. “Yes, my good friend,” he replied, “I am, indeed, the poor Curé of Ars.” “This is a little too much,” said the priest. “I had expected to see something dignified and striking. This little Curé has no presence or dignity, and eats in the street like a beggar. It is a mystery altogether."

Like the Poverello of Assisi the Curé was small in stature. His face was pale and angular, his gait awkward, his manner at first shy and timid, his whole air common and unattractive; nothing in his appearance, except his asceticism and the singular brightness of his eyes, impressed an ordinary observer. When the congregations began to desert the neighboring churches, and to frequent that of Ars, the other priests became alarmed and jealous. Some threatened to refuse absolution to any of their parishioners who should go to confession to the Curé of Ars; others publicly preached against him. “In those days," he said himself, “they let the Gospel rest in the pulpits, and preached everywhere on the poor Curé of Ars." This was his crux de cruce, the opposition of good but mistaken men-priests like himself. But, like St. Francis, a true lover of the Cross, the Curé rejoiced, rather than repined; and when one day he received a letter from a priest who wrote, “when a man knows as little of theology as you do, he ought never to enter a confessional,” he immediately replied: “What cause have I to love you, my very dear and very reverend brother! you are the only person who really knows me. Since you are so good and so charitable as to take an interest in my poor soul, help me to obtain the favor I have so long asked, that, being removed from a post for which my ignorance renders me unfit, I may retire into some corner to bewail my miserable life.” The writer of the letter afterwards repaired his fault by asking on his knees the holy man's pardon. Still, some of the most influential of the clergy met and resolved to make a formal complaint to the Bishop of Belley, “ of the imprudent zeal and mischievous enthusiasm of this ignorant and foolish Curé.” One of them wrote to the Curé himself in the bitterest and most cutting terms. “I was daily expecting,” said the Curé, “to be driven with blows out of my parish; to be silenced; and condemned to end my days in prison, as a just punishment for having dared to stay so long in a place where I could only be a hindrance to any good.” A letter of accusation happening to fall into his hands, the Curé endorsed it with his own name, and sent it to his superiors. “This time," said he, “they are sure to succeed; for they have my own signature.” They only succeeded, however, in throwing into brighter relief his saintliness, deep-rooted in humility and detachment.

All were not color-blinded like these French ecclesiastics. The late Dr. Ullathorne, Bishop of Birmingham, who visited Ars in May, 1854, has left on record, in his Pilgrimage to La Salette, his impressions of the Curé who made his parish famous all over the world. “The first object on which my eyes fell,” he says, “was the head, face, and shrunken figure of the Curé straight before me; a figure not easily to be forgotten." Having heard him preach for twenty minutes, the bishop adds: “It was as if an angel spoke through a body wasted even to death. If I had not understood a syllable, I should have known, I should have felt, that one was speaking who lived in God.” Men of the world accustomed to the power of far different spells, have acknowledged that, after they had seen him, his image seemed to haunt them, and his remembrance to follow them wherever they went. “It would have been difficult, indeed, to image to one's self a form more clearly marked by the impress of sanctity," writes M. Monnin. “On that emaciated face there was no token of aught earthly or human; it bore the impress of Divine grace alone. It was but the frail and transparent covering of a soul which no longer belonged to earth. The eyes alone betokened life; they shone with an exceeding lustre. There was a kind of supernatural fire in M. Vianney's glance, which continually varied in intensity and expression. That glance dilated and sparkled when he spoke of the love of God; the thought of sin veiled it with a mist of tears; it was by turns sweet and piercing, terrible and loving, childlike and profound.". And this was a man whose only fear was of appearing before God “ with his poor Curé's life," who wanted to go into a corner to weep

« НазадПродовжити »