Sunday, May 28, 2017

Popular Piety III: Sacred Heart

From the 17th through 19th centuries comes one other notable theme of piety, veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

A close friend used to carry around a prayer card with an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She dropped it one day and was told by a very secular Protestant, “You dropped your bleeding heart.”

The image may have been similar to the French holy card, circa 1880, depicted below, right. Note the spear, a reference John 19:34 (“one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water”), which tells of a Roman soldier who speared the dead Jesus on the cross (caption: “Behold this heart which has loved men so much. It is nothing but love and mercy”). Today a commonplace Catholic devotional artifact, it emerged in modern form only in the 17th century.

The heart as a symbol of affection or romantic love is near universal—although when the French first colonized Vietnam they learned that locals viewed the stomach as the organ of love. The oldest instance of the heart as a symbol relates to silphium, a now-extinct species of fennel from the Greek colony of Cyrene, North Africa, used most famously as a form of birth control. It was so popular that it was overharvested into extinction in the first century. Its seedpod looked like the modern Valentine’s heart, and Cyrene, which grew rich from the silphium trade, put the heart shape on its coins.

The modern Valentine heart is medieval, as are the very earliest allusions to the heart of Jesus. In early Christianity, there were meditations on the humanity of Jesus Christ and his sufferings on the cross, with particular reference to his five wounds (nails on hands, nails on feet and the spear to the side). In John 20:24-29 the apostle Thomas demands to see the wounds of the risen Christ.

In the 12th century, just when the heart became the locus of love in the European mind, St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that the piercing of his side revealed Jesus’ goodness and his heart’s love for us. Devotion to the wounds spread through the monastic orders and was propagated worldwide by the Jesuits, who admired the Franciscan devotion of the Five Wounds.

A well-known medieval litany the Anima Christi (Soul of Christ) pleads:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water flowing from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
Good Jesus, hear me
In your wounds shelter me
Never let me be separated from Thee
From evil one protect me
At the hour of death call me
Into your presence lead me
That with your saints I may praise you
Forever and ever
It was a hop, skip and jump from these devotions to the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), a French nun and mystic. At the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial, where she made her final vows and was assigned to the infirmary as a not very skillful nurse, Alacoque experienced several private revelations between late 1673 and mid-1675.

She reported that Jesus let her rest her head on his heart, revealed the wonders of his love, and asked to be honored by the depiction of his heart. He said he had chosen her to make his love known to all people. Her superior, Mother de Saumaise, was skeptical, as were theologians called to authenticate the apparitions; even most members of her own community, who reputedly didn’t think much of her visions, were not persuaded.

She eventually convinced her confessor, St. Claude de la Colombière, S.J., and opposition in the community ended in 1683, when the convent’s leadership changed and she was named assistant to the new superior. The convent began to observe privately the Feast of the Sacred Heart (today observed 19 days after Pentecost, on a Friday), and in 1688 a chapel was built to honor the Sacred Heart.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart was promoted by the Jesuits, but remained the subject of controversy within the Church and was not officially recognized until 75 years after Alacoque died. She was beatified in the 19th century and canonized in 1920.

The Sacred Heart is also linked to the story of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, R.S.C.J. (1779-1865), a French saint who founded of the Society of the Sacred Heart (official name Religiosa Sanctissimi Cordis Jesu or Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus).

The daughter of a well-to-do Burgundy family, Barat was born barely a decade before the storming of the Bastille. As a child and young woman she witnessed the conflict between the leaders of the revolution and the Church, which was under constant attack by the government between 1790 and 1801, when Napoleon signed a concordat with the pope.

In 1795 she went to Paris with her brother, a priest, who sought the anonymity of the big city and was received in a safe house. She worked as a seamstress and became an excellent embroiderer, while her brother taught her about the Church Fathers, mathematics, Latin and the scriptures. Sophie decided to become a Carmelite nun, but religious orders in France had been abolished in 1790.

Instead, along with three other women living in the Paris safe house, she took vows as one of the first members of a new religious congregation. At the time, however, the French government had outlawed devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so the society took the name Dames de la Foi (“Women of Faith”) or alternatively, Dames de l’Instruction Chrétienne (“Women of Christian Instruction”). The second name described their activity, the education of girls and young women in schools, first in Amiens, then Grenoble and later Poitiers. Barat was elected superior in 1806.

From then on the network of schools grew exponentially throughout Europe, America and elsewhere. Barat dreamed of educating all children regardless of their parents’ financial means, but the schools rapidly became elite institutions and the intellectually superior nuns became known as the female Jesuits. She aimed to see that for every new elite school established, a corresponding “free” school was opened for poorer children, but this aim does not seem to have been accomplished.

As of 2015 about 2,600 religious serve in 41 countries around the world. Barat was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Popular Piety II: Saints of Charity

Saintliness and devotion related to saints is about both prayer and action. Some of the most revered saints promoted charity toward the poor and marginal, “like Jesus” they might have added. Some came from humble beginnings. Saints could populate an entire blog, but here I will focus on just three.

Martin de Porres

Martin de Porres Velázquez (1579-1639) is a particularly modern saint, though he lived 400 years ago. Born in Lima, Viceroyalty of Peru, he was the illegitimate son of Don Juan de Porres, the scion of minor Spanish gentry, and Ana Velázquez, a freed slave from Panama of African and possibly part Native American descent.

Like the famous literary figure who was his contemporary, the half-Inca and half-Spanish Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Martin was born in a society in the early stages of Spanish colonization, uneasily drifting toward a mix of ethnicities spurred by the arrival of all-male conquerors who took over the Inca empire. When Martin’s sister Juana was born two years after him, the father left his family, which meant he grew up in poverty. His mother placed him with a barber who, as was common then, was also a surgeon, and he learned both trades from the man.

Martin spent long hours in prayer and felt called to religious life, but the law barred descendants of Africans or Indians from joining religious orders. So he asked the Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima to take him as a volunteer. He did menial work in return for being allowed to wear the habit and live within the religious community. He was eventually given responsibility for distributing money to the poor, while also barbering and healing, working in the kitchen, doing laundry, and cleaning. These many tasks inspired the title of a 1961 Spanish film about him, “Fray Escoba” (Fra Broom).

After eight years, a prior dispensed with the law, and Martin took vows as a Third Order Dominican, a layman devoted to the community’s ideals. Not all Dominicans were as open-minded as the prior: Martin, who had already been ridiculed as a “half-breed,” was called names and mocked for both his illegitimacy and slave descent. (Incidentally, similar behavior by Irish-Americans has occurred in modern U.S. seminaries and monasteries toward other ethnic groups.)

Martin was assigned to the infirmary, which he ran until his death, and was known for patiently caring for the sick, whether Spanish nobles or African slaves. He founded an orphanage for abandoned children and slaves and raised dowries for poor young girls in an astoundingly short time.

In his work he became acquainted with two other local saints of the period, both TOR Dominicans, St. Juan Macías and the better known St. Rose of Lima.

A notable mystic, Martin displayed the gifts of levitation, bilocation, healing, miraculous insight and uncanny communication with animals. When an epidemic affected friars in his religious house, Martin passed through locked doors behind which they were quarantined. Disciplined for breaking community rules, he replied, “Forgive my error, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.”

Martin died at 60. He was ill with chills, fever, and tremors that were agonizing. He was canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXIII and named patron saint of mixed-race people, barbers, innkeepers, public health workers, and all those seeking racial harmony.

Martin is the first non-European New World saint, a contemporary of St. Mariana of Jesus de Paredes, the first canonized from Ecuador, and less than a century before St. Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), an Algonquin-Mohawk laywoman from what is today northern New York state, canonized in 2012.

Vincent de Paul

Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) is synonymous with service to the poor. His life included two years as a slave after capture by Barbary Pirates and spiritual direction of Queen Anne of France. His care for the plight of peasants, galley slaves, and orphans spawned orders and institutions to serve them.

Born a peasant, he was ordained a priest in 1600, shortly before the pirate episode. On his return, he was placed as a tutor and spiritual director in the home of the Gondi, a Florentine banking family. He preached to and found aid for poor tenant farmers and with an endowment from the Gondi launched the first of several “conferences of charity” to stimulate missions and assistance of the poor. His major talent, however, seems to have been inspiring others to carry on work he saw needed doing.

With St. Louise de Marillac, he helped found the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, an unusual order in which women make annual vows, remaining free to leave at each one without ecclesiastical permission. They inspired the order founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S. canonized saint. Today 18,000 Daughters serve in 94 countries, working with food aid, sanitation, shelter, health care, migrant assistance and education. Similarly, the Congregation of the Mission, a vowed society of priests and brothers was founded by Vincent de Paul and five other priests on the estates of the Gondi family in 1624.

De Paul saw that priests in France were slackers and inspired Father Jean-Jacques Olier to found the Society of the Priests of Saint-Sulpice in 1641 to educate priests and their continuing spiritual formation. Priests could join only after years of pastoral work. Among the society’s famous members are Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and the late U.S. biblical scholar Raymond Brown.

Several groups claiming inspiration by St. Vincent de Paul form a loose federation known as the Vincentian Family. The most famous is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, founded by Frédéric Ozanam in 1833 to help Parisian slum dwellers. It has some 800,000 members in 140 countries and operates through “charity conferences” based in a church, community center, school or hospital.

Vincent de Paul, canonized in 1737, is revered in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

Don Bosco

Similar to St Vincent de Paul, St John Bosco (1815-1888), popularly known as Don Bosco, is inextricably linked with education of poor and troubled youth.

Born to humble farmhands, he got an education thanks to a priest who saw talent in the destitute youth. He was ordained at about 26. His first assignment was as chaplain of the Rifugio, a girls’ boarding school in Turin. Other duties included visiting prisoners, teaching catechism and helping out at country parishes. Visiting the prisons, Don Bosco was disturbed at the number of underage boys there.

With industrialization, poor rural families came to Turin in search of a better life and ended up in slums, their children exposed to criminals. Don Bosco once said that seeing these young boys in prison reminded him of a dream he had at 12. A large group of poor boys were playing and “blaspheming.” A man of noble, manly and imposing bearing said to him: “You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful.” He decided to go beyond ordinary ministry to a new form of apostolate.

He started talking to boys in shops and the marketplace. He gathered them into prayer groups known as the Oratory, after the work of St. Philip Neri, an Italian priest noted for founding a society of secular clergy. The boys were drawn by Don Bosco’s kindness toward them. He started with 20, and in four years there were 400.

The Oratory became Don Bosco’s permanent work. He found jobs for the boys and sought housing for those who were homeless and slept under bridges or in public shelters. At first the boys stole the blankets and other supplies. In 1847, he gave shelter to a young boy and his mother in rooms he rented for them. Don Bosco and the mother, whom he called Mamma Margherita, began taking in orphans who soon numbered in the hundreds.

Much later he described his approach to drawing in boys and adult helpers as a “Preventive System of Education,” rooted in the heart: the boys were loved, and they knew it. The system included reason, religion and kindness, with a dash of music and games.

The traditionalist clergy accused him of stealing” people from their parishes. Nationalist anticlerical politicians saw the growing number of youths as recruiting ground for revolution. (The Marquis de Cavour, chief of police in Turin, is said to have seen open-air catechism instruction as overtly political and a threat to the government.)

The Salesian Congregation, the order Don Bosco founded, grew out of the assistance some of the boys he helped gave to other abandoned boys. In 1859, Bosco selected an experienced priest, 15 seminarians and one high school boy and formed the Society of St. Francis de Sales, an order of priests, seminarians and lay brothers named after a Geneva bishop revered for his gentle approach to controversy. With a noted religious figure who worked with a group of girls in a nearby hill town, he also founded an order of sisters to do for girls what the Salesian men were doing for boys, the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians. Both orders were aided by a lay support group, the Salesian Cooperators.

The orders began at a time of mass emigration from Italy to Argentina, and the first overseas Salesian mission went to that South American country in 1875. Bosco said that this mission, too, appeared to him in a dream of a vast plain, inhabited by primitive peoples. By 2000, the Salesians had some 17,000 members in 2,711 houses and were deemed the third-largest missionary organization in the world.

Don Bosco was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Rise of Popular Piety

Just as Protestant Christianity turned in the Awakenings to Evangelism and a personal, emotional and unschooled Bible-based religiosity, in the 17th through 19th centuries Catholicism developed a broad-based popular piety that in some ways was similar, although focused on other aspects of teaching.

Let’s make clear what is meant. In Pope Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Proclaiming the Good News) he described “popular religiosity” as a phenomenon that “manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know.” Papa Montini was well aware of its limits (“often subject to penetration by many distortions of religion and even superstitions”) as well as the disdain in which it was held by theologians, particularly after Vatican II.

However, he suggested that even in modern times of faith renewal and updating, such faith “makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism … involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence ... engenders interior attitudes rarely observed to the same degree elsewhere: patience, the sense of the cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion.” Thus, he was disposed to “readily call it ‘popular piety,’ that is, religion of the people, rather than religiosity.”

In practical terms, we are talking of faith bolstered by devotional practices, such as veneration of Mary and other saints, praying for the dead, shrines and pilgrimages. It was the sort of faith practice that became ubiquitous in the Middle Ages, was tossed out as bathwater by Protestant reformers in English-speaking and Germanic countries, but which Europe’s Catholic majority continued to hold dear.

Popular piety is a vast subject and its history enormous, but upon examining the canonized saints that emerged in the four centuries in question I find three focal points of convergence: Mary, charity to and from the poorest and humblest, and third, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These are often intertwined.

Mary and Mariology

Devotion directed at Myriam of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus, gained official support from the First Council of Ephesus, which in 431 approved devotion to the Virgin as Theotokos. The Greek term is often unfortunately mistranslated as “Mother of God,” giving rise to a quasi-divine view of Mary, but it is best translated as “God bearer.”

In its time, the term developed in the Church councils’ pattern of clarifying doctrine through the via negativa (negative path, or declaring certain beliefs erroneous rather than adding new doctrine). Theotokos, implying Jesus’ divinity, responded to Nestorians’ claim that Jesus was only human and distinct from the eternal God the Son or Logos (Word) in the gospel of John.

We have noted the development by St. Dominic of the Marian prayer form known as the Rosary; in the 16th century the Protestant reformers viewed Mariology as unbiblical adoration and worship of Mary, which they dubbed “Mariolatry.” Further along the historical road, three French saints—Louis of Montfort, Catherine Labouré and Bernadette Soubirous—are among the principal promoters of Mariology, each in a distinct way.

Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), a Catholic priest, is deemed one of the early modern writers in modern Mariology. Noted for a life of constant prayer, love of the poor, asceticism and joy in humiliations and persecution (particularly from French Jansenists), Montfort became a wandering preacher and founded many rosary “confraternities” or local societies of prayer throughout France.

His approach involves “consecration to Jesus in Mary.” On this path “the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ.” His two main works, The Secret of Mary and True Devotion to Mary, written in 1712 but only discovered by chance in 1842, are said to have influenced Pope John Paul II. Neither is particularly accessible to a modern reader not predisposed to the subject matter.

Catherine (born Zoé) Labouré (1806-1876) is a more accessible Marian figure. She was a nun of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. In visions of Mary in 1830, she said she was told by the Virgin to fashion the Miraculous Medal of Our Lady of Graces.

After two years of investigation, Sister Catherine got clerical approval for the medallions. Following design directions from the Virgin, the work was commissioned to a goldsmith, and they were inscribed with the message “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee — 1830.”

The reference to “conceived without sin” anticipated papal approval of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Millions of Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, are said to wear the medals, shown in the picture.

As a slightly irreverent, yet fascinating little detail, please note that in the photograph Sister Catherine’s  headdress matches that of the nuns in the 1967-70 “The Flying Nun” American television situation comedy, starring Sally Field in the role of Sister Bertrille. The order in the show is never mentioned by name, but the producers admitted that they based the habit, with its alleged semi-miraculous aerodynamic qualities, on Sister Catherine’s order.

St. Catherine Labouré

Finally, Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), the firstborn daughter of a miller from Lourdes, France, is best known for the apparitions of a “small young lady” who asked her for a chapel to be built at the nearby garbage dump of the cave-grotto at Massabielle. Apparitions of Mary were said to have occurred between February and July 1858. The lady who appeared to her identified herself as the Immaculate Conception.

Bernadette’s story was not accepted initially by Catholic Church clerics, but after a canonical investigation was deemed “worthy of belief.” Bernadette’s body did not decay despite some blemishes and at last inspection, in 1925, showed only minor discoloration. The apparition is now known as Our Lady of Lourdes. The grotto, which I visited in 1969, receives more than 5 million pilgrims a year. Many healings are said to have occurred at the site or in the large church built beside it.
Grotto at Lourdes

Marian devotions center on her role in the incarnation, or dwelling in the flesh, of the Son of God in the person of Jesus, whom she bore after a message from the Angel Gabriel. Her response, given in Luke 1:46–55, is a hymn also known as the Magnificat (Latin for “it [my soul] praises”). Various beliefs historically have circulated concerning Mary’s own conception, including that she was born sinless. This was primarily a post-Nicene outgrowth of philosophical speculation around the notion that God’s son could not have been borne by a human being morally corrupted by the sin of Adam and Eve.

A papal declaration in 1854 affirmed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which exempts her from original sin, in case anyone had any doubt. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox teaching also covers the end of Mary’s life. In the most recent infallible papal statement, in 1950, the Assumption of Mary was formally established as doctrine, matching the existing Orthodox teaching known as the Dormition of the Theotokos (or falling asleep of the God bearer). Both propose that Mary was bodily taken to wherever universal human resurrection is to occur at the end of time, in the physical presence of God.

We will next explore the two other foci of Catholic popular piety between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Post-Renaissance Catholic Spiritual Rebirth

Once the rumblings of the Reformation were tamped down, the Catholic majority in Europe and its colonies returned to a faith no longer within the protective walls of its figurative medieval cathedral. Catholic spirituality began quietly to develop once again.

Two figures are particularly known for their influence in lifting the more mechanical and legalistic approaches to morals.

The Gentle Lawyer

One of these, oddly enough, was originally a lawyer. St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), became in time a bishop, spiritual writer, composer, musician, artist, poet, philosopher and theologian. But first he was the well-born son of a Neapolitan gentleman, although his father’s branch of the family was the clan’s poorer kin.

Despite the family finances, Alphonsus learned to ride and fence, but he had bad eyesight and chronic asthma, which eliminated a military career. Instead, he was prepared for the University of Naples under tutors hired by his father and earned doctorates in civil and canon law at the age of 16. Of his 10 years as a young lawyer about town he later wrote: “Banquets, entertainments, theatres, these are the pleasures of the world, but pleasures which are filled with the bitterness of gall and sharp thorns.”

Alphonsus was one of the attorneys in a 1723 lawsuit between a Neapolitan nobleman and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, with property valued at 500,000 ducats (a large sum of money, perhaps millions today). After losing the case, he fled lawyering and went off to volunteer, as he had done in earlier days, visiting the sick in the Hospital for Incurables. While living this way, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a mysterious light, and an interior voice said: “Leave the world and give thyself to Me.”

In 1726 he became an ordained priest, initially preaching in the streets to the poorest of the poor of Naples, known as lazzarone. He started a confraternity of sorts for them called the Association of the Chapels. Then, as one biographer puts it, God called him to his life work through an unusual third party.

Around that time, a postulant to the religious life, Julia Crostarosa, about the same age as Alphonsus, entered the convent of Scala and took the name Sister Maria Celeste. She began to experience visions, and on October 3, 1731, she saw Jesus with St. Francis and a priest on either side. Maria Celeste heard a voice say, “This is he whom I have chosen to be head of My Institute, the Prefect General of a new Congregation of men who shall work for My glory.” The priest was Alphonsus. The order of the Redemptorists he started a year later began in a little hospice belonging to the nuns of Scala.

The Redemptorists are known for their dedication to the poor. Alphonsus always said that he preached for the humblest and least educated person in any crowd. He and his order are also notable for their gentle approach to morality in the sacrament of reconciliation (confession). Indeed, a contemporary Redemptorist, Fr. Bernard Haring, was notable in penning in 1954 The Law of Christ, a modern manual of moral theology for the laity as well as priests, not in small part influenced by Alphonsus’ own groundbreaking 10-volume 1748 work in Latin, The Moral Theology, translated into English for the first time this year, 2017.

Alphonsus drew on his experience as a confessor. He pondered a question that seemingly arose in the confessional: what should people do when the right course of action is not clear? He sought a middle ground between the prevailing rigor of his time and the laxity many in the clergy abhorred.

Also among his works is the devotional The Way of the Cross, a guide to the Stations of the Cross, also known as Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis, a series of images depicting Jesus on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The book is still used in parishes during Lenten devotions.

Alphonsus Liguori was canonized in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871. He is the patron saint of confessors.

The Curé of Ars

Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney (1786-1859), commonly known as St. John Vianney or the Curé d’Ars (parish priest of Ars), stumbled accidentally on the role that eventually got him a following and ultimately canonization as the patron saint of parish priests.

Jean-Baptiste was the fourth of six children born near Lyons to a farming family that was devoutly Catholic at a time in which the anticlerical Terror phase of the French Revolution forced many loyal priests to hide. He received his First Communion catechism instructions in a private home by two nuns whose communities had been dissolved during the Revolution. During his first communion Mass, at the age of 13, the windows were covered so that the light of the candles could not be seen from the outside.

The Catholic Church was reestablished in France in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, resulting in religious peace throughout the country, culminating in a concordat. The new peace brought other problems: he was drafted into the army to invade Spain. Jean-Baptiste was already feeling a tug to become a priest and tried to avoid going to war. Through a series of accidents he missed his unit’s departure and ended up hiding in a village as a deserter until an 1810 amnesty freed him.

Then he met his advocate for the priesthood and future mentor, Father Balley, the schoolmaster whose patience he tried. Vianney could be called the second “dumb ox,” the first being St. Thomas Aquinas. But Aquinas was called that out of envy for his sullen brilliance; Vianney actually struggled in school and needed tutoring. When he went to the seminary at Verrieres in 1812, he failed the entrance exam but was admitted when he retook it three months later. As a seminarian he had such difficulty with Latin (the language all subjects were taught in at most seminaries until the 1960s) that he was allowed to study philosophy in French. Balley persuaded Church authorities that Vianney’s devotion made up for his lack of intellect, and he was ordained in 1815, appointed assistant to Balley in Écully.

The following year, Balley died and Vianney was appointed parish priest in the then-tiny town of Ars, population 230. He founded an orphanage for destitute girls, The Providence, where he taught the catechism in a way that was so popular it had to be given every day in the church to large crowds.

However, the Curé d'Ars displayed other gifts, particularly in the confessional. He didn’t just listen to the recitation of sins but offered spiritual direction that showed outstanding insight. People came to confess from other parishes, then from other villages, then from all over France and ultimately from all over the world. It was estimated that in 1855 Ars’ yearly pilgrims totaled 20,000. Even his bishop forbade him to travel because of the people waiting to be heard.

He spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional, offering advice to the sick, people in a variety of difficulties, young men and women pondering vocations and even fellow priests as well as bishops. All with long lines stretching out of the church. There were many stories told of his ministry.

Sometimes he would pop out of the box, walk down the line and stop next to someone he declared most needed to confess and would take that penitent to the confessional. He was said to know when someone was withholding sins and making an imperfect confession, breaking the requirement to state all sins since previous reception of the sacrament.

Yet he also showed the love of God. On one occasion a woman came to him troubled about her son, who had committed suicide jumping off a bridge, thereby condemning himself to eternal punishment. Vianney assured her that, as he realized what he had done, the boy had uttered a prayer of contrition and God, always seeking to forgive, had accepted his remorse.

Pius IX declared him venerable in 1874; he was canonized by Pius XI in 1925. His feast day is August 4.