Jean-Baptiste Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, who is remembered today in the Church calendar was a remarkable French priest of the first half of the nineteen century. He saw, with a strong vision of the transcendence of God and the sinfulness of humanity, a sense of priestly ministry that centred on reconciling people with God. His commitment was entire to his village parish that he served for 41 years, and he is recognised by the Church as a man of unusually vivid insight, and a persuasive and heart-felt preacher. Many people, thousands in fact, made the journey to his village to hear him and be counselled by him. The village church was the quiet centre of his ministry; a prayerful waiting room before he met his visiting pilgrims.
He worked staggeringly long hours, rising at midnight to pray and counsel for twelve hours, returning for a shorter session later from 4.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m. The stress was so wearing that he attempted several times to retire, but was always persuaded to carry on. He died in office at the age of 73. A most memorable and dedicated priest. He was canonised in 1925 and made the patron saint of parish priests in 1928.
I mention all of this to lead into the story that he related of a local workman and his description of prayer, which I knew of but couldn’t locate until I read of it today. The story goes that a man came into the village church whose priest was the Curé d’Ars every day. He would leave his spade and pickaxe at the door and spend time in prayer. One day Jean-Baptiste Vianney asked him, “What do you say to the Lord in your long visits here?”. “Oh, I don’t say anything to him, Monsieur le Curé, I look at him and he looks at me….” Vianney remarked in response when relating the story to others, “How beautiful that is, my children, how beautiful that is!”