How I Believe St. John Vianney Worked to Bring Me Here
By Father John
There are times in our lives where God brings us to exactly where we need to be, he often uses his Saints to accomplish these designs.
I was ordained over 16 years ago June 2, 2001 and my friend from the Diocese of Lake Charles, Very Reverend Marcus Johnson was ordained a year after me. When he was ordained I told him that he needed to go to France to see some of the Shrines, since in France there is a direct spiritual link to Louisiana. I planned the trip to take him to see some of the important shrines: Paris, the Rue de Bac, where Mary appeared to Sister Catherine Labouré and where the Miraculous Medal was first struck, and to Notre Dame, and to the Sacre-Coeur; to Lourdes, the grotto where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette; to Paray-le-Monial, the place where the Sacred Heart apparitions occurred near the historical abbey of Cluny; and to Ars, where the Cure of Ars, our own St. Jean-Marie Vianney was pastor.
Nevertheless, this was quite an ambitious trek to take trains and to drive all around a country nearly the size of Texas. What I had not planned on is how difficult at times it would be to navigate to all of these places in the short period of time that we had. We took the TGV or Train à Grande Vitesse to Lyon from Paris and from there we rented a car to drive to visit the Val D’Or where the Great Abbey Cluny and the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Margaret Mary Alacoque are. Ars was somewhere around there but all we could do was locate it on the map --- there were actually two or three “Ars” in France, this one being Ars-sur-Formans, no one told us the right one but we guessed it. My friend, the newly ordained priest, who was still in shock from the radical life change of ordination, and the fact that the day after his very first mass, his adventurous friend whisked him off to France, was not fully conscious as I drove (Zzzzzz, Zzzzzzz), and so at times we were lost on the road. I have a good sense of direction though and we made it as far as Cluny to see the ruins of the greatest monastery of the Middle Ages, and we then happened upon Paray-Le-Monial to see the very spot in the chapel where Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary revealing his Sacred Heart to her, but it was getting late in the day and we were running out of time. What I had wanted to see most of all was the Basilica at Ars where St. Jean-Marie Vianney was stationed but we could not find it. This was before google-maps, and so though we had found it on the Michelin map, we could not see where to exit from the French equivalent of the interstate. No matter how we tried we went back and forth on the road and just as we were about to give up and return to Lyon, we got off the road for the last time. There was a sign we hadn’t seen before along the road saying “ARS SUR FORMANS”. I screamed, “THERE IT IS!” and we exited the main road. It was about five in the evening, there was no chance the church would be open. As we came up to the church, which appeared very small, we tried the door and it opened. We heard one of the sweetest sounds I ever heard. Eucharistic Adoration was going on and the people were singing in three-part harmony, not the choir, but the people in the pews! I almost lost it and started to tear-up; we had found what we had been looking for! At the end of mass some people led us to the sacristy where an Italian priest approached us speaking to me in Italian. He somehow knew I understood Italian and he handed Fr. Marcus and me a chalice saying “Il calice de Santo Cure!” Fr. Marcus looked at me and said “what did he say?”, and I told him he said “THIS IS THE CHALICE OF THE CURE OF ARS!!!” I did not believe it at first, but then he led us under the Basilica down a spiral staircase to an Altar and told us we could celebrate mass there on the very Altar that St. Jean Marie-Vianney had used. I was still in disbelief! It was obvious they were closed and we just had made it in --- the priest was very kind to us and I bought a book about the Holy Cure of Ars. On the way back home, while in the plane, we confirmed in the pictures section of that book, that in fact we had celebrated mass with the very Chalice of the Cure of Ars, St. Jean-Marie Vianney. What a blessing! I believe doing this years ago, set the stage for things to come.
And so like that trip, by just getting off of the main roads, I believe I was able to make it in at the last-minute, coming to this parish of the Holy Cure of Ars in Bell City. It was the hands, the altar and the chalice of the Curé of Ars. It is amazing how Fr. Marcus was the one I had taken to Ars and now he helped me to find Bell City, fully awake by the way! He drove me down here even though he had never been here himself.