The Saint who could read hearts
Despite learning difficulties, John Vianney was eventually ordained. In Ars, he began a radical programme of renewal, and was living a life of equally radical commitment himself. Eventually the crowds were flocking to him and amazing miracles were being reported, many were associated with the making of a good confession.
A highway robber, having ruined his body with excesses of every kind, presented himself before Fr. Vianney seeking a bodily cure. Fr. Vianney quickly told him where to go. The man was furious. Although a violent robber, the man believed in God and said prayers. Seeing him in the church praying Fr. Vianney called him into the sacristy, the man thought he would impress the father by offering to go to confession. But when he was finished Fr. Vianney told him what he had left out – including his major crimes complete with place and date! It had a big impact; the former highway robber repented of his ways and experienced a restoration of his physical health. Going home he became a model of Christian life in his community.
Other miracles involved the healing of children who had been crippled from birth. One poor soldier had lost his wife and was left with a crippled child aged six. He was a very devoted father and was willing to leave the army to care for his only child – only then he would have nothing to live on. Eventually he decided to make the lengthy pilgrimage to Ars with his child, believing that Fr. Vianney would heal the boy, on the way he was ridiculed. But the soldier persisted and Fr. Vianney told him “Your child will be cured”. No sooner were the words uttered than there was a cracking sound, the crippled limbs were loosed and the child began to walk.
In 1857 a peasant woman carried her 8 year old son in her arms to Fr. Vianney. Her son had never walked. For 24 hours the mother hung around with her child, seeing to it that everywhere Fr.Vianney had to go she was there waiting. That night the boy said to his mother: “Mammy, will you buy me shoes as Fr. Vianney has told me that I shall walk tomorrow.” The mother hadn’t heard him make any such promise, but the people where she was staying with advised her to get the shoes as there might have been a silent communication between them. The next day, the boy, now equipped with his shoes, suddenly jumped from his mothers arms and ran through the church like a hare, shouting, “I am cured! I am cured!”
In 1858 a sudden cure took place which was witnessed by many people. A young man who could walk with difficulty on crutches asked Fr Vianney: “Father, do you think that I may leave my crutches here?” “Alas, my friend,” was the reply, “you seem to have great need of them.” But the cripple was not repulsed and came back again and again. Finally, Fr. Vianney said to him “Well, my friend, yes you have faith.” And to the amazement of all, the young man stepped forward, left his crutches on the altar and never needed them again.
Fr Vianney by no means promised a cure to all. There was one long-term invalid who had born her illness with great faith and courage. Several times he was asked about her and would always reply, “It is a cross well placed.” One time he was questioned further, “But she suffers so intensely; is there no hope of relief?” “Yes, my friend, in Heaven.” Fr. Replied.
There was also a religios superior who sent his invalid priest to Fr. Vianney to be cured. But Fr. Vianney told the invalid priest “You will see at the hour of death that you have saved far more souls through this cross than by all the works of zeal which you could have performed in health.” But the superior wasn’t pleased and sent word to Fr. Vianney that he badly needed the priest. And got the reply “God does not need anyone. We must see things in God. We must enter into the ways of God.”
Many miriacles in Ars were miracles of conversion, and usually centred on the forgiveness of sins. One man who did not believe in religion went with his wife and sick child. Fr. Vianney led him to the confessional and commanded him to get in. “I don’t want to go to confessional,” the man replied. “Get in anyway”, Fr. Vianney told him. When he very reluctantly did so, Fr. Vianney read his heart & quickly told him enough about himself and the things he had been doing contrary to God’s will, to lead to his complete conversion.
With unrepentant sinners, Fr Vianney was quiet blunt. He would simply say, “Unless you repent you are damned. How frightful!” And then he usually burst into tears. His tears often had a greater impact than his words and regularly gave the grace of repentance. There is a saying, “God pardons nothing to those who pardon themselves everything, but to the repentant sinner his mercy is infinite.”