Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Saint Jean-Marie Vianney: Attacked by Satan

From His Excellency, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix:

Satanic attacks were commonplace in the life of Fr. John Vianney.For 35 years, the devil taunted and harassed him, not only in spiritual ways but even in tangible and audible ones. These latter, demonic acts normally are quite rare. But, by the influence of the devil, the Cure of Ars’ bed was moved about, crashing noises resounded, fires were ignited, and other harassments occurred, all in an effort to stop or at least to curtail the priestly ministry of Fr. Vianney. Why did God allow these to occur? How did the saint respond? We shall examine these questions today. We shall also look, in subsequent parts of this series, at other defining characteristics of his life, namely his love for beauty, and his pastoral service of hearing confessions.

Infestations by the devil
Fallen angels, also known as devils and evil spirits, try to hinder all of us in our pursuit of holiness. Their ordinary ploy is by means of temptations, which God allows so that we can make good use of our freedom in resisting them and thus growing to fuller maturity in Christ.

In addition to these ordinary ploys, demons resort to other extraordinary acts, on rare occasions, with the same intention of thwarting the plan of God and undercutting our filial trust in Him. These harassments can be of three kinds: infestations, obsessions and possessions.

With infestations, the devil makes use of noises, outcries, rattling, apparitions and other extraordinary outbursts of some sensible nature aimed at terrifying people, intending to undercut their confidence in God. He used these repeatedly on the Cure of Ars, sometimes to keep him from getting badly needed sleep, at other times to disturb his peace of mind and to try to shake his trust in God. All these were aimed at disrupting the effective ministry of this holy priest.

Early on, Fr. Vianney became aware that these infestations were most outrageous just before an outstanding action of grace was about to occur through his priestly ministry, usually the conversion of a sinner. In fact, he remarked that the worst assaults of the devil happened when he was on the verge of “landing a big fish,” by which he meant welcoming back a baptized person who had fallen far into the darkness of despair. With this insight, Fr. Vianney calmly ignored the infestations, and looked forward with joyful hope to the next victory of grace about to occur through the Sacrament of Penance. If we ever have to deal with similar harassments, we should follow this saintly priest’s good example of calmly ignoring the devil, confidently turning to God in prayer, and deepening our communion with Christ through the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

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