The Blessed Cure of Ars in His Catechetical Instructions
"THERE IS no doubt, " says Pere Gratry, "that, through purity of heart, innocence, either preserved or recovered by virtue, faith, and religion, there are in man capabilities and resources of mind, of body, and of heart which most people would not suspect. To this order of resources belongs what theology calls infused science, the intellectual virtues which the Divine Word inspires into our minds when He dwells in us by faith and love. "
And Pere Gratry quotes with enthusiasm, excusing himself for not translating them better, these magnificent words of a saint who lived in the eleventh century in one of the mystic monasteries on the banks of the Rhine: "This is what purifies the eye of the heart, and enables it to raise itself to the true light: contempt of worldly cares, mortification of the body, contrition of heart, abundance of tears . . . meditation on the admirable Essence of God and on His chaste Truth, fervent and pure prayer, joy in God, ardent desire for Heaven. Embrace all this, " adds the saint, "and continue in it. Advance towards the light which offers itself to you as to its sons, and descends of itself into your hearts. Take your hearts out of your breasts, and give them to Him who speaks to you, and He will fill them with deific splendour, and you will be sons of light and angels of God. "
The description we have just read seems to have been traced from the very life of the Cure of Ars. Every detail recalls him, every feature harmonises marvellously with his. Who has ever carried further "contempt of worldly cares, mortification of the body, abundance of tears?" He was always bathed in tears. And then, "meditation on the admirable Essence of God and on His chaste Truth, and fervent and pure prayer, joy in God, ardent desire for Heaven"--how characteristic is this! "He had advanced towards the light, and the light had descended of itself into his heart. . . . He had taken his heart from his breast, and given it to Him who spoke to him; and He who spoke to him, " who is the Divine, uncreated Word of God, "filled him with deific splendour. " No one could doubt it who has had the happiness of assisting at any of the catechisms of Ars; of hearing that extraordinary language, which was like no human language; who has seen the irresistible effect produced upon hearers of all classes by that voice, that emotion, that intuition, that fire, and the signal beauty of that unpolished and almost vulgar French, which was transfigured and penetrated by his holy energy, even to the form, the arrangement, and the harmony of its words and syllables. And yet the Cure of Ars did not speak words: true eloquence consists in speaking things; he spoke things, and in a most wonderful manner. He poured out his whole soul into the souls of the crowds who listened to him, that he might make them believe, love, and hope like himself. That is the aim and the triumph of evangelical eloquence.
How could this
man, who had nearly been refused admittance into the great seminary because of
his ignorance, and who had, since his promotion to the priesthood, been solely
employed in prayer and in the labours of the confessional-how could he have
attained to the power of teaching like one of the Fathers of the Church? Whence
did he derive his astonishing knowledge of God, of nature, and of the history
of the soul? How was it that his thoughts and expressions so often coincided
with those of the greatest Christian geniuses,
we have often heard him say that the heart of the saints was liquid. We were
much struck with this energetic expression, without suspecting that it was so
theologically accurate; and we were surprised and touched to find, in turning
over the pages of the Summa, that the angelical doctor assigns to love four
immediate effects, of which the first is the liquefaction of the heart. M.
Vianney had certainly never read
The Spirit of God had been pleased to engrave on the heart of this holy priest all that he was to know and to teach to others; and it was the more deeply engraved, as that heart was the more pure, the more detached, and empty of the vain science of men; like a clean and polished block of marble, ready for the tool of the sculptor.
The faith of the Cure of Ars was his whole science; his book was Our Lord Jesus Christ. He sought for wisdom nowhere but in Jesus Christ, in His death and in His Cross. To him no other wisdom was true, no other wisdom useful. He sought it not amid the dust of libraries, not in the schools of the learned, but in prayer, on his knees, at his Master's Feet, covering His Divine Feet with tears and kisses. In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament where he passed his days and nights before the crowd of pilgrims had yet deprived him of liberty day and night, he had learnt it all.
When persons have heard him discourse upon Heaven, on the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord, on His dolorous Passion, His Real Presence in the most Holy Sacrament of our altars, on the Blessed Virgin Mary, her attractions and her greatness, on the happiness of the saints, the purity of the angels, the beauty of souls, the dignity of man--on all those subjects which were familiar to him -- it often happened to them to come out from the discourse quite convinced that the good father saw the things of which he had spoken with such fullness of heart, with such eloquent emotion, in such passionate accents, with such abundance of tears; and indeed his words were then impressed with a character of divine tenderness, of sweet gentleness, and of penetrating unction, which was beyond all comparison. There was so extraordinary a majesty, so marvellous a power, in his voice, in his gestures, in his looks, in his transfigured countenance, that it was impossible to listen to him and remain cold and unmoved.
Views and thoughts imparted by a divine light have quite a different bearing from those acquired by study. Doubt was dispelled from the most rebellious hearts, and the admirable clearness of faith took its place before so absolute a certainty, an exposition at once so luminous and so simple.
The word of the Cure of Ars was the more efficacious because he preached with his whole being. His mere presence was a manifestation of the Truth; and of him it might well be said that he would have moved and convinced men even he would have moved and convinced men even by his silence. When there appeared in the pulpit that pale, thin, and transparent face; when you heard that shrill, piercing voice, like a cry, giving out to the crowd sublime thoughts clothed in simple and popular language, you fancied yourself in the presence of one of those great characters of the Bible, speaking to men in the language of the prophets. You were already filled with respect and confidence, and disposed to listen, not for enjoyment, but for profit.
Before he began, the venerable catechist used to cast a glance over his hearers, which prepared the way for his word. Sometimes this glance became fixed on someone; it seemed to be searching into the depths of some soul which the saint had suddenly seen through, and in which one would have thought he was looking for the text of his discourse. How many have thought he was speaking to them alone! How many have recognised themselves in the picture he drew of their weaknesses! How many have listened to the secret history of their failings, of their temptations, of their combats, of their uneasiness, and of their remorse!
To those to whom it was given to assist at these catechisms, two things were equally remarkable-the preacher and the hearer. It was not words that the preacher gave forth, it was more than words; it was a soul, a holy soul, all filled with faith and love, that poured itself out before you, of which you felt in your own soul the immediate contact and the warmth. As for the hearer, he was no longer on the earth, he was transported into those pure regions from which dogmas and mysteries descend. As the saint spoke, new and clear views opened to the mind: Heaven and earth, the present and the future life, the things of time and of eternity, appeared in a light that you had never before perceived.
When a man, coming fresh from the world, and bringing with him worldly ideas, feelings, and impressions, sat down to listen to this doctrine, it stunned and amazed him; it set so utterly at defiance the world, and all that the world believes, loves and extols. At first he was astonished and thunderstruck; then by degrees he was touched, and surprised into weeping like the rest. No eloquence has drawn forth more tears, or penetrated deeper into the hearts of men. His words opened a way before them like flames, and the most hardened hearts melted like wax before the fire. They were burning, radiating, triumphant; they did more than charm the mind, they subdued the whole soul and brought it back to God, not by the long and difficult way of argument, but by the paths of emotion which lead shortly and directly to the desired end.
M. Vianney was listened to as a new apostle, sent by Jesus Christ to His Church, to renew in Her the holiness and fervour of His Divine Spirit, in an age whose corruption had so effaced them from the souls of most men. And it is a great marvel that, proposing, like the apostles, a doctrine incomprehensible to human reason, and very bitter to the depraved taste of the world--speaking of nothing but crosses, humiliations, poverty, and penance--his doctrine was so well received. Those who had not yet received it into their hearts were glad to feed their minds upon it. If they had not courage to make it the rule of their conduct, they could not help admiring and wishing to follow it.
It is not less remarkable that, though he spoke only in the incorrect and common French natural to the people brought up in the country, one might say of him as of the Apostles, that he was heard by all the nations of the world, and that his voice resounded through all the earth. He was the oracle that people went to consult, that they might learn to know Jesus Christ. Not only the simple but the learned, not only the fervent but the indifferent, found in it a divine unction which penetrated them and made them long to hear it again. The more they heard, the more they wished to hear; and they always came back with love to the foot of that pulpit, as to a place where they had found beauty and truth. Nothing more clearly showed that the Cure of Ars was full of the Spirit of God, who alone is greater than our heart; we may draw from His depths without ever exhausting them, and the divine satiety which He gives only excites a greater appetite.
The holy Cure spoke without any other preparation than his continual union with God; he passed without any interval or delay from the confessional to the pulpit; and yet he showed an imperturbable confidence, which sprang from complete and absolute forgetfulness of himself. Besides, no one was tempted to criticise him. People generally criticise those who are not indifferent to their opinion of them. Those who heard the Cure of Ars had something else to do--they had to pass judgment on themselves.
M. Vianney cared nothing for what might be said or thought of him. Of whomsoever his audience might consist, though bishops and other illustrious personages often mingled with the crowd that surrounded his pulpit, he never betrayed the least emotion, nor the least embarrassment proceeding from human respect. He, who was so timid and so humble, was no longer the same person when he passed through the compact mass that filled the church at the hour of catechism; he wore an air of triumph, he carried his head high, his face was lighted up, and his eyes cast brilliant glances.
He was asked one day if he had never been afraid of his audience. "No, " he answered; "on the contrary, the more people there are, the better I am pleased. " Then, to impose on us, he added, "A proud man always thinks he does well. " If he had had the pope, the cardinals, and kings around his pulpit, he would have said neither more nor less, for he thought only of souls, and made them think only of God. This real power of his word supplied in him the want of talent and rhetoric; it gave a singular majesty and an irresistible authority to the most simple things that issued from that venerable mouth.
The power of his word was also increased by the high opinion the pilgrims entertained of his sanctity. "The first quality of the man called to the perilous honour of instructing the people, " says St. Isidore, "is to be holy and irreproachable. He whose mission it is to deter others from sin must be a stranger to sin; he whose task it is to lead model of perfection. " In the holy catechist of Ars, virtue was preaching truth. When he spoke of the love of God, of humility, gentleness, patience, mortification, sacrifice, poverty, or the desire of suffering, his example gave immense weight to his words; for a man who practices what he teaches is very powerful in convincing and persuading others.
He used to put his ideas into the most simple and transparent form, letting them suggest the expression that best suited them. He could bring truths of the highest order within the reach of every intellect; he clothed them in familiar language; his simplicity touched the heart, and his doctrine delighted the mind. That science which is not sought for is abundant; it flows like the fountain of living water, which the Samaritan woman knew not, and of which the Saviour taught her the virtue. Thus, his considerations on sin, on the offence it is against God, and the evil it inflicts on man, were the painful result of his thoughts. They penetrated him, they overwhelmed him; they were like a burning arrow piercing his breast; he relieved his pain by giving utterance to it.
It was a wonderful thing that this man, so ready to proclaim his own ignorance, had by nature a great attraction for the higher faculties of the mind. The greatest praise that he could give anyone was to say that he was clever. When the good qualities of any great person, whether an ecclesiastic or a layman, were enumerated before him, he seldom failed to complete the panegyric in these words: "What pleases me most is that he is learned. "
M. Vianney appreciated the gift of eloquence in others; he blessed God, who for His own glory gives such privileges to man, but he disdained them for himself. He had no scruple in utterly neglecting grammar and syntax in his discourses; he seemed to do it on purpose, out of humility, for there were faults in them that he might easily have avoided. But this incorrect language penetrated the souls of his hearers, enlightened and converted them. "A polished discourse, " says St. Jerome, "only gratifies the ears; one which is not so makes its way to the heart. "
His manner of speaking was sudden and impetuous; he loosed his words like arrows from a bow, and his whole soul seemed to fly with them. In these effusions the pathetic, the profound, the sublime, was often side by side with the simple and vulgar. They had all the freedom and irregularity, but also all the originality and power of an improvisation. We have sometimes tried to write down what we had just heard, but it was impossible to recall the things that had most moved us and to put them into form. What is most divine in the heart of man cannot be expressed in writing. We have, however, set down a few words, in which we find more than a remembrance. We find the Cure of Ars himself, the simple expression of his heart and of his soul. These are some of his lofty and deep thoughts:
"To love God! oh how beautiful it is! We must be in Heaven to comprehend love. . . . Prayer helps us a little, because prayer is the elevation of the soul to Heaven. . . . The more we know men, the less we love them. It is the reverse with God; the more we know Him, the more we love Him. This knowledge inflames the soul with such a love, that it can no longer love or desire anything from God. . . . Man was created by love; therefore he is so disposed to love. On the other hand, he is so great that nothing on the earth can satisfy him. He can be satisfied only when he turns towards God. . . . Take a fish out of the water, and it will not live. Well, such is man without God.
"There are some who do not love the good God, who do not pray to Him, and who prosper; that is a bad sign. They have done a little good in the midst of a great deal of evil. The good God rewards them in this life.
"This earth is a bridge to cross the water; it serves only to support our steps. . . . We are in this world, but we are not of this world, since we say every day, 'Our Father, Who art in Heaven. ' We must wait, then, for our reward till we are at home, in our Father's house. This is the reason why good Christians suffer crosses, contradictions, adversities, contempt, calumnies--so much the better! . . . But people are astonished at this. They seem to think that because we love the good God a little, we ought to have nothing to contradict us, nothing to make us suffer. . . . We say, 'There is a person who is not good, and yet everything goes well with him; but with me, it is of no use doing my best; everything goes wrong. It is because we do not understand the value and the happiness of crosses. We say sometimes that God chastises those whom He loves. That is not true. Trials are not chastisements; they are graces to those whom God loves. . . . We must not consider the labor, but the recompense. A merchant does not consider the trouble he undergoes in his commerce, but the profit he gains by it. . . . What are twenty years, thirty years, compared to eternity? What, then, have we to suffer? A few humiliations, a few annoyances, a few sharp words; that will not kill us.
"It is glorious to be able to please God, so little as we are! Our tongue should be employed only in praying, our heart in loving, our eyes in weeping. We are great, and we are nothing. . . . There is nothing greater than man, and nothing less. Nothing is greater, if we consider his soul; nothing is less, if we look at his body. . . . We occupy ourselves with the body, as if we had it alone to take care of; we have, on the contrary, it alone to despise. . . . We are the work of a God. . . . one always loves one's own work. . . . It is easy enough to understand that we are the work of a God; but that the crucifixion of a God should be our work! that is incomprehensible.
"Some people attribute a hard heart to the Eternal Father. Oh, how mistaken they are! The Eternal Father, to disarm His own justice, gave to His Son an excessively tender heart; no one can give what he does not possess. Our Lord said to His Father: 'Father, do not punish them!' . . . Our Lord suffered more than was necessary to redeem us. But what would have satisfied the justice of I His Father would not have satisfied His love. With- I out Our Lord's death, all mankind together could not expiate a single little lie.
"In the world, people hide Heaven and Hell: Heaven, because if we knew its beauty, we should wish to go there at all costs--we should, indeed, leave the world alone; Hell, because if we knew the torments that are endured there, we should do all we could to avoid going there.
"The Sign of the Cross is formidable to the devil, because by the Cross we escape from him. We should make the Sign of the Cross with great respect. We begin with the forehead: it is the head, creation--the Father; then the heart: love, life, redemption--the Son; then the shoulders: strength--the Holy Ghost. Everything reminds us of the Cross. We ourselves are made in the form of a cross. In Heaven we shall be nourished by the breath of God. . . . The good God will place us as an architect places the stones of a building--each one in the spot to which it is adapted. The soul of the saints contained the foundations of Heaven. They felt an emanation from Heaven, in which they bathed and lost themselves. . . . As the disciples on Mount Thabor saw nothing but Jesus alone, so interior souls, on the Thabor of their hearts no longer see anything but Our Lord. They are two friends, who are never tired of each other. . . .
"There are some who lose the faith, and never see Hell till they enter it. The lost will be enveloped in the wrath of God, as the fish are in the water. It is not God who condemns us to Hell; it is we ourselves who do it by our sins. The lost do not accuse God; they accuse themselves. They say, 'I have lost God, my soul, and Heaven by my own fault. ' No one was ever lost for having done too much evil; but many are in Hell for a single mortal sin of which they would not repent. If a lost soul could say once, 'O my God I love Thee!' there would be no more Hell for him . . . but, alas, poor soul! it has lost the power of loving which it had received, and of which it made no use. Its heart is dried up like grapes that have passed through the winepress. No more joy in that soul, no more peace, because there is no more love. . . . Hell has its origin in the goodness of God. The lost will say, 'Oh, if at least God had not loved us so much, we should suffer less! Hell would be endurable. . . . But to have been so much loved! what grief!"
Besides these deep thoughts, he had some that were forcible and startling. He called the cemetery, the home of all; Purgatory, the infirmary of the good God; the earth, a warehouse. "We are on the earth, " he said, "only as in a warehouse, for a very little moment. . . . We seem not to move, and we are going toward eternity as if by steam.
"A dying man was asked what should be put on his tomb. He answered, 'You shall put, Here lies a fool, who went out of this world without knowing how he came into it.' If the poor lost souls had the time that we waste, what good use they would make of it! If they had only half-an hour, that half-hour would depopulate Hell. In dying, we make restitution; we restore to the earth what it gave us--a little pinch of dust, the size of a nut; that is what we shall become. There is, indeed, much to be proud of in that! For our body, death is only a cleansing. In this world we must labor, we must fight. We shall have plenty of time to rest in all eternity.
"If we understood our happiness aright, we might almost say that we are happier than the saints in Heaven. They live upon their income; they can earn no more, while we can augment our treasure every moment. The Commandments of God are the guides which God gives us to show us the road to Heaven, like the names written up at the corners of the streets and on guideposts, to point out the way. The grace of God helps us to walk and supports us. He is as necessary to us as crutches are to a lame man.
"When we go to confession, we ought to understand what we are going to do. It might be said that we are going to unfasten Our Lord from the Cross. When you have made a good confession, you have chained up the devil. The sins that we conceal will all come to light.
"In order to conceal our sins effectually, we must confess them thoroughly. Our faults are like a grain of sand beside the great mountain of the mercies of the good God."
M. Vianney made great use of comparisons and similes in his teachings; he borrowed them from nature, which was known and loved by the crowd whom he addressed, from the beauties of the country, from the emotions of rural life. The recollections of his childhood had kept all their freshness, and in his old age he could not resist the innocent pleasure of recalling for a moment the lively sympathies of his youth. This return of the thoughts to the brightest days of life is like an anticipation of the Resurrection. After the manner of Our Lord, he used the most well known events, the most common facts, the incidents that came before him as figures of the spiritual life, and made them the theme of his instructions. The Gospel is full of symbols and figures, fitted to lead the soul to the comprehension of eternal truths by a comparison with what is more evident to the senses. In like manner, allusions, metaphors, parables and figures colored all the discourses of the Cure of Ars. His mind had acquired the habit of raising itself, by means of visible things, to God and to the invisible. There was not one of his catechisms in which he did not often speak of rivulets, forests, trees, birds, flowers, dew, lilies, balm, perfume and honey. All contemplatives love this language, and the innocence of their thoughts attaches itself by predilection to all the beautiful and pure things with which the Author of creation has embellished His work. A good man, Our Lord says, brings forth good things out of the good treasures of his heart. The sweet writings of St. Francis of Sales are a model of this style, dear to all mystics; and we are not surprised to find these graces of language and this exquisite taste in the Bishop of Geneva. But where had this poor country cure learnt his flowers of eloquence? Who had taught him to use them with such delicate tact and ingenuity? Let us listen:
"Like a beautiful white dove rising from the midst of the waters, and coming to shake her wings over the earth, the Holy Spirit issues from the infinite ocean of the Divine perfections, and hovers over pure souls, to pour into them the balm of love. The Holy Spirit reposes in a pure soul as on a bed of roses. There comes forth from a soul in which the Holy Spirit resides a sweet door, like that of the vine when it is in flower.
"He who has preserved his baptismal innocence is like a child who has never disobeyed his father. . . . One who has kept his innocence feels himself lifted up on high by love, as a bird is carried up by its wings. Those who have pure souls are like eagles and swallows, which fly in the air. . . . A Christian who is pure is upon earth like a bird that is kept fastened down by a string. Poor little bird! it only waits for the moment when the string is cut to fly away.
"Good Christians are like those birds that have large wings and small feet, and which never light upon the ground, because they could not rise again and would be caught. They make their nests, too, upon the points of rocks, on the roofs of houses, in high places. So the Christian ought to be always on the heights. As soon as we lower our thoughts towards the earth, we are taken captive.
"A pure soul is like a fine pearl. As long as it is hidden in the shell, at the bottom of the sea, no one thinks of admiring it. But if you bring it into the sunshine, this pearl will shine and attract all eyes. Thus, the pure soul, which is hidden from the eyes of the world, will one day shine before the angels in the sunshine of eternity. The pure soul is a beautiful rose, and the Three Divine Persons descend from Heaven to inhale its fragrance.
"The mercy of God is like an overflowing torrent--it carries away hearts with it as it passes. The good God will pardon a repentant sinner more quickly than a mother would snatch her child out of the fire. The elect are like the ears of corn that are left by the reapers, and like the bunches of grapes after the vintage. Imagine a poor mother obliged to let fall the blade of the guillotine upon the head of her child: such is the good God when He condemns a sinner.
"What happiness will it be for the just, at the end of the world, when the soul, perfumed with the odours of Heaven, shall be reunited to its body, and enjoy God for all eternity! Then our bodies will come out of the ground like linen that has been bleached. . . . The bodies of the just will shine in Heaven like fine diamonds, like globes of love! What a cry of joy when the soul shall come to unite itself to its glorified body--to that body which will never more be to it an instrument of sin, nor a cause of suffering! It will revel in the sweetness of love, as the bee revels in flowers. . . . Thus the soul will be embalmed for eternity!"
We see that the Cure of Ars was a poet, in the highest sense of the word; his heart was endowed with exquisite sensibility, and he gave expression to it in the simplest and truest manner.
"One day in spring, " he said, "I was going to see a sick person; the bushes were full of little birds that were singing with all their might. I took pleasure in listening to them, and I said to myself, 'Poor little birds, you know not what you are doing! What a pity that is! You are singing the praises of God. " Does not this recall St. Francis of Assisi?
"Our holy Cure, " writes one of his most intelligent hearers, "is always equally admirable in his life, his works, and his words. This may perhaps surprise you, but it is perfectly true. There is something astonishing in the satisfaction, or rather the enthusiasm, with which the crowd of all classes presses in to hear his so-called catechisms. I have heard distinguished ecclesiastics, men of the world, learned men, and artists, declare that nothing had ever touched them so much as that expansion of a heart that is contemplating, loving, and adoring. A collection might almost be made of the Fioretti of the Cure of Ars. Nothing could be more graceful and brilliant than the picture he drew, a few days ago, of spring. "
A few lines further on, he added, "Yesterday, our old St. Francis of Assisi was more poetical than ever, in the midst of his tears and of his bursts of love. Speaking of the soul of man, which ought to aspire to God alone, he cried out, 'Does the fish seek the trees and the fields? No; it darts through the water. Does the bird remain on the earth? No; it flies in the air. . . . And man, who is created to love God, to possess God, to contain God, what will he do with all the powers that have been given to him for that end?'"
He liked to relate the simple and poetic legend of St. Maur, who, when he was one day carrying St. Benedict his dinner, found a large serpent. He took it up, put it in the fold of his habit, and showed it to St. Benedict, saying, "See, Father, what I have found: ' When the holy patriarch and all the religious were assembled, the serpent began to hiss, and tried to bite them. Then St. Benedict said, "My child, go back and put it where you found it. " And when St. Maur was gone, he added, "My brethren, do you know why that animal is so gentle with that child? It is because he has kept his baptismal innocence. "
He also repeated with great pleasure the anecdote of St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the fishes. "One day, " he said, "St. Francis of Assisi was preaching in a province where there were a great many heretics. These miscreants stopped their ears to avoid hearing him. The saint then led the people to the seashore, and called the fishes to come and listen to the Word of God, since men rejected it. The fishes came to the edge of the water, the large ones behind the little ones. St. Francis asked them this question, 'Are you grateful to the good God for saving you from the deluge?' The fishes bowed their heads. Then St. Francis said to the people, 'See, these fishes are grateful for the benefits of God, and you are so ungrateful as to despise them!'"
M. Vianney mingled with his discourses some happy reminiscenses of his shepherd's life: "We ought to do like shepherds who are in the fields in winter--life is indeed a long winter. They kindle a fire, but from time to time they run about in all directions to look for wood to keep it up. If we, like the shepherds, were always to keep up the fire of the love of God in our hearts by prayers and good works, it would never go out. If you have not the love of God, you are very poor. You are like a tree without flowers or fruit. It is always springtime in a soul united to God. " When he spoke of prayer, the most pleasing and ingenious comparisons fell abundantly from his lips: "Prayer is a fragrant dew; but we must pray with a pure heart to feel this dew. There flows from prayer a delicious sweetness like the juice of very ripe grapes. Prayer disengages our soul from matter; it raises it on high, like the fire that inflates a balloon.
"The more we pray, the more we wish to pray. Like a fish which at first swims on the surface of the water, and afterwards plunges down, and is always going deeper, the soul plunges, dives, and loses itself in the sweetness of conversing with God. Time never seems long in prayer. I know not whether we can even wish for Heaven? Oh, yes!. . . The fish swimming in a little rivulet is well off, because it is in its element; but it is still better in the sea. When we pray, we should open our heart to God, like a fish when it sees the wave coming. The good God has no need of us. He commands us to pray only because He wills our happiness, and our happiness can be found only in prayer. When He sees us coming, He bends His heart down very low towards His little creature, as a father bends down to listen to his little child when it speaks to him.
"In the morning, we must do like the little child in its cradle. The moment it opens its eyes, it looks round the house for its mother. When it sees her, it begins to smile; if it does not see her, it cries. " Speaking of the priest, he made use of this touching simile:
"The priest is like a mother to you, like a nurse to a child of a few months old. She feeds it--it has only to open its mouth. The mother says to her child, 'Here my little one, eat. ' The priest says to you, 'Take and eat; this is the Body of Jesus Christ. May it keep you, and lead you to life eternal. ' Oh, beautiful words! 'A child struggles against anyone who keeps it back; it opens its little mouth, and stretches out its little arms to embrace her. Your soul, in the presence of the priest, naturally springs towards him; it runs to meet him; but it is held back by the bonds of the flesh, in men who give everything to the senses, who live only for their body.
"Our soul is swathed in our body, like a baby in its swaddling-clothes; we can see nothing but its face. " Everyone will be struck with the truth and aptitude of this last simile. Besides these touching comparisons, some of M. Vianney's were original and energetic. To exalt the benefits of the Sacrament of Penance, he made use of metaphors and parables: "A furious wolf once came into our country, devouring everything. Finding on his way a child of two years old, he seized it in his mouth, and carried it off; but some men, who were pruning a vineyard, ran to attack him, and snatched his prey from him. It is thus that the Sacrament of Penance snatches us from the claws of the devil. "
When he had to draw a parallel between Christians and worldly people, he said, "I think none so much to be pitied as those poor worldly people. They wear a cloak lined with thorns--they cannot move without pricking themselves; while good Christians have a cloak lined with soft fur. The good Christian sets no value on the goods of this world. He escapes from them like a rat out of the water.
"Unhappily, our hearts are not sufficiently pure and free from all earthly affections. If you take a very clean and very dry sponge, and soak it in water, it will be filled to overflowing; but if it is not dry and clean, it will take up nothing. In like manner, when the heart is not free and disengaged from the things of the earth, it is in vain that we steep it in prayer; it will absorb nothing.
"The heart of the wicked swarms with sins like an anthill with ants. It is like a piece of bad meat full of worms. When we abandon ourselves to our passions, we interweave thorns around our heart. We are like moles a week old; no sooner do we see the light, than we bury ourselves in the ground. The devil amuses us till the last moment, as a poor man is kept amused while the soldiers are coming to take him. When they come, he cries and struggles in vain, for they will not release him.
"When men die, they are often like a very rusty bar of iron, that must be put into the fire. Poor sinners are stupefied like snakes in winter. The slanderer is like the snail, which crawling over flowers, leaves its slime upon them and defiles them. What would you say of a man who should plough his neighbour's field, and leave his own uncultivated? Well, that is what you do. You are always at work on the consciences of others, and you leave your own untilled. Oh, when death comes, how we shall regret having thought so much of others, and so little of ourselves; for we shall have to give an account of ourselves, and not of others! Let us think of ourselves, of our own conscience, which we ought always to examine, as we examine our hands to see if they are clean.
"We always have two secretaries: the devil, who writes down our bad actions, to accuse us of them; and our good angel, who writes down our good ones, to justify us at the Day of Judgment. When all our actions shall be brought before us, how few will be pleasing to God, even among the best of them! So many imperfections, so many thoughts of self-love, human satisfactions, sensual pleasures, self-complacency, will be found mingled with them all! They appear good, but it is only appearance, like those fruits which seem yellow and ripe because they have been pierced by insects. "
We see by these fragments that M. Vianney was one of those contemplatives who do not disdain to soften the austerity of their ideas by simple graces of expression, whether out of compassionate kindness to their disciples, or from the natural attraction felt by those who are good for what is beautiful. He found in beautiful creatures Him who is supremely beautiful; he disdained not the least of them. At peace with all things, and having returned in a manner to the primitive innocence and condition of Eden, when Adam beheld creatures in the divine light, and loved them with fraternal charity, his heart overflowed with love, not only for men, but also for all beings visible and invisible. His words breathed an affectionate sympathy for the whole of creation, which no doubt appeared to him in its original dignity and purity. He looked upon it as a sister, who expressed the same thoughts and the same love as himself in another manner. This is shown in his apostrophe to the little birds. Where other eyes perceived nothing but perishable beauties, he discovered, as with a sort of second sight, the holy harmony and the eternal relations which connect the physical with the moral order--the mysteries of nature with those of faith. He did the same in the region of history. Ages, events, and men were to him only symbols and allegories, prophecies and their accomplishment. \ Nothing could be more beautiful, touching, and pathetic, than the application that he made of the legend of St. Alexis to the Real Presence of Our Lord. At the moment when the mother of St. Alexis recognises her son in the lifeless body of the beggar, who has lived thirty years under the staircase of her palace, she cries out, "O my son, why have I known thee so late?" . . The soul, on quitting this life, will see Him whom it possessed in the Holy Eucharist; and at the sight of the consolations, of the beauty, of the riches that it failed to recognize, it also will cry out, "O Jesus! O my God! why have I known Thee so late. "
The Cure of Ars sometimes made edifying reflections on recent events and circumstances which had made an impression upon himself; and, though he did it with reserve, we have in this way gained some valuable information, which would otherwise have been lost. "Because Our Lord does not show Himself in the most Holy Sacrament in all His majesty you behave without respect in His Presence; but, nevertheless, He Himself is there He is in the midst of you. . . . So, when that good bishop was here the other day, everybody was pushing against him . . . Ah, if they had known he was a bishop! . . .
"We give our youth to the devil, and the remains of our life to the Good God, who is so good that He deigns to be content with even that. . . but, happily, everyone does not do so. A great lady has been here, of one of the first families in France; she went away this morning. She is scarcely three-and-twenty, and she is rich-very rich indeed. . . . She has offered herself in sacrifice to the good God for the expiation of sins, and for the conversion of sinners. She wears a girdle all armed with iron points; she mortifies herself in a thousand ways; and her parents know nothing of it. She is white as a sheet of paper. Hers is a beautiful soul, very pleasing to the good God, such as are still to be found now and then in the world, and they prevent the world from coming to an end.
"One day, two Protestant ministers came here, who did not believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord. I said to them, 'Do you think that a piece of bread could detach itself, and go, of its own accord, to place itself on the tongue of a person who came near to receive it?' 'No. ' 'Then it is not bread. ' There was a man who had doubts about the Real Presence, and he said, 'What do we know about it? It is not certain. What is consecration? What happens on the altar at that moment?' But he wished to believe, and he prayed the Blessed Virgin to obtain faith for him. Listen attentively to this. I do not say that this happened somewhere, but I say that it happened to myself. At the moment when this man came up to receive Holy Communion, the Sacred Host detached Itself from my fingers while I was still a good way Off, and went off Itself and placed Itself upon the tongue of that man. "
We will not undertake to give a consecutive view of the teaching of the Cure of Ars. There was indeed a sort of connection between the parts of it, but it would be impossible to describe the sudden inspirations that burst forth and ran through it like rays of light. His Catechisms in general defied analysis; and we should be afraid of disfiguring them by reducing them to the formality of a theological system. We shall therefore confine ourselves to offering to our readers an abridgment of some of the most remarkable discourses.