Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. John Vianney. John Vianney was born near Lyons, a city in eastern France, in 1786. He was ordained a priest in 1815. 3 years later, in 1818, when he was 32 years old, he became the parish priest of Ars-en-Dombe, an insignificant village of 230 people about 30 km. north of Lyons.

As a result of the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was outlawed in France from 1790 – 1802. Churches were closed, church property was confiscated and clergy as well as men and women religious were persecuted. One of the consequences of this devastation was religious ignorance and indifference among the people.

This was the situation that Vianney encountered when he was stationed at Ars. Most people were not interested in religion or God. Vianney chose not to be overwhelmed by frustration and disappointment and seek an appointment elsewhere as quickly as possible. Rather, he did the opposite. With a high degree of commitment and dedication, he spent the rest of his life serving the parishioners of this little village. That’s the reason, he is popularly known as the Cure (priest) d’ Ars. 

One of Vianney’s biographers notes the following: “Vianney came to be known internationally, and people from distant places began travelling to consult him as early as 1827. By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year. During the last ten years of his life, he spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional. Even the bishop forbade him to attend the annual retreats of the diocesan clergy because of the souls awaiting him yonder”.

As the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass states, his secret was that he was “wonderful in his pastoral zeal”. In other words, he served all who came to him with intense enthusiasm and fervor. 

He developed a reputation as an excellent preacher and as a patient and kind confessor who gave wise and practical advice. Through his priestly ministry, people experienced healing and conversion.

When he died in 1859 at the age of 73, 300 priests and more than 6,000 people attended his funeral. St. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests worldwide. (Congratulations to Fr. Raymond and Fr. Jim on the feast day of your patron saint.)

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Vianney’s death, Pope Benedict XVI declared a “Year of the Priest”, running from the Feast of the Sacred Heart in June 2009 until the feast of the sacred Heart in June 2010. (There were numerous activities in this city and in this diocese during that year dedicated to priests which expressed our encouragement and support for our priests. Although the “Year of the Priest” ended 11 years ago, let’s continue regularly to support and encourage our priests!)

Reflecting on the life of this Saint teaches us an important lesson about how to respond when faced with religious indifference. The situation in today’s society is very similar to the one that Vianney encountered in Ars in 1818. In today’s modern Canadian culture, there seems to be little interest in God or religion.

According to a study by the Pew Research Centre Forum conducted in 2018, more than half of Canadians are Christian, but 3 in 10 have no religious affiliation. Almost one third of Canadians belongs to the “nones”. The #1 religion in Canada (based on numbers) is Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox). The #2 religion in Canada is “No Religion”.

St. John Vianney’s life teaches us not to wring our hands in despair over this situation. Despair is not of God. Rather, like Vianney, we ought to be “wonderful in our pastoral zeal”. 

In other words, with intense enthusiasm, we meet people where they are at, accept where they are in their faith and /or spiritual journey and welcome them. In our homes, our families, our schools, our places of work, our places of recreation, we reach out with intense fervor and serve every individual that crosses our path regardless of the degree of their commitment to God.

This is where we can make a connection with today’s Gospel. Although “Tyre and Sidon” had a significant Jewish population, they were considered “pagan” districts. The woman he meets is a “Canaanite”. She is a non- believer, a non- Jew. She does not hold to the same beliefs, traditions and practices as Jesus. Furthermore, she belongs to a different race and ethnic background than Jesus. Any devout Jew would have avoided such a woman. 

By granting her request and healing her daughter, Jesus is saying: “I am God’s instrument of healing for all peoples.” “I am called to minister to everyone regardless of religious identity”.

Like St. John Vianney and like Jesus himself, our call is to respond to every person with fervent patience, gentleness and kindness. We are called to be ministers of ardent love, compassion and healing towards all, including those who are religiously unaffiliated.

As our Eucharist continues, let us ask God for the courage, strength, perseverance and grace to imitate Jean Vianney’s example in treating those who are different from us and those whom we consider to be “outsiders”.


Deacon Roland Muzzatti

August 4, 2021

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