In this era of late vocations, it is worthwhile meditating on the extraordinary life of St. John Vianney, who was not ordained until he was nearly thirty, having his studies delayed by his own difficulties with learning Latin, and by the Napoleonic Wars. His prospects were so unpromising that he was given his first assignment at the country town of Ars, population 230. St. John, a farmboy, got lost on his way there.
Yet he would go on to be such a renowned confessor that the French government constructed a special railroad line to accommodate the 20,000 pilgrims who visited this gentle soul every year. It is tempting to think that his bishop and formators were mistaken in making St. John wait for ordination and giving him an unimportant assignment.
Or perhaps is was St. John’s knowledge of his own weakness and insignificance that was his great secret. Going to confession is a humbling act, a beautiful one to be sure, but not always easy. It can be especially difficult when the confessor is critical, or, oddly enough, too lenient and dismissive of one’s heartfelt sorrow for sin. What drew people to the Cure of Ars? Was it his own ability to be humble with the humble, weak with the weak, one with his penitents in their need for forgiveness and gratitude for redemption?