Summary of The Grace of Ars by Fr. Frederick Miller

Fr. Miller considers this book to be, “strictly speaking, neither biography nor theology but, rather, a spiritual reflection based on the life and work of the Curé of Ars as seen through the lens of the theology of the priesthood” (9).

Chapter 1: The Pilgrimage to Ars

“Each Sunday, he mounted the pulpit in his humble parish church and called the people to faith and conversion. Although he fearlessly confronted sinful behaviour, challenging his people to change, the pulsating central motif of his sermons was the merciful love of the Heart of Jesus present in the Eucharist” (4).

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Chapter 2: The Call of Christ

“The apostles accepted the challenge [of Christ’s call] and brought the ancient pagan world to the feet of Christ. John Vianney responded and brought hundreds of thousands of people to a little backwater village in France to experience the mercy of Christ in confession. What might a wholehearted response to the call of Christ accomplish in the world today?” (18)

  • “A question to ponder in prayer: How was and is God working through these personal trials to form me into his priest specifically for this particular moment in the life of the Church in the Archdiocese of Vancouver?” (24)

Chapter 3: Consecration to Christ: Priestly Ordination

“The rite of ordination is a kind of Eucharist within the celebration of the Eucharist” (29).

  • The prostration of the candidate in front of the altar = the presentation of the gifts.
  • The bishop offers the candidate to Christ for ordination = the offering of the gifts.
  • The bishop lays his hands on the head of the candidate = the epiclesis.
  • The bishop says the solemn prayer of consecration for the candidate = the candidate is substantially changed, analogously speaking, into an alter Christus. 

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Chapter 4: The Priest: A Man Configured to Jesus Christ

“The saint of Ars shows the faithful what happens in a man’s soul when he is ordained a priest. John Vianney displays the priest’s capacity to change the world by transforming a small corner of it through preaching and the sacraments” (33).

  • The character of holy orders = the capacity the priest receives in ordination to render the Paschal Mystery of Christ effective and fruitful in people’s lives.
  • The sacramental grace of holy orders = the infusion of pastoral charity (flowing from the character to serve it) through preaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments, and giving pastoral care to God’s people.

St. John Vianney is an icon of priestly zeal. He heard nearly 1,000 confessions per week during the last decade of his life, gave catechetical lessons nearly every day of the week, and spent long hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

  • “The Eucharist was at the very centre of Saint John Vianney’s spiritual life and pastoral work. He often spent long hours in adoration, before daybreak or in the evening. He often preached at the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the reason why he, so poor in his presbytery, did not hesitate to spend large sums on embellishing his church” (37-38).

“All the good works put together are not equivalent to the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men and the Holy Mass is the work of God” (St. John Vianney)

  • “How well a priest does, therefore, to offer himself to God in sacrifice every morning!” (St. John Vianney)

“Holy Communion and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are the two most efficacious actions for obtaining the conversion of hearts” (St. John Vianney).

  • “The cause of priestly laxity is not paying attention to the Mass!” (St. John Vianney)

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Chapter 5: Saint John Vianney: A Rich Man without a Penny

Although the diocesan priest does not profess the public vow of poverty, the Church invites the diocesan priest to imitate Christ (cf. Mt 8:19-20, 19:16-22) and pursue gospel poverty. St. John Vianney confirms that detachment from material possessions and a simple lifestyle facilitates pastoral charity. He gave whatever money, food, or material possessions that were given to him to the poor. Like Christ, the Curé wanted to die owning nothing. He said: “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back.”

  • “Filling one’s life with “stuff” as a priest, feverishly seeking honours, and promoting the cult of self may indicate a lack of trust in the Providence of God and, at a deeper level, a defect in the virtue of faith. The crucial question is: Why isn’t Christ enough?” (52)

Chapter 6: Saint John Vianney: A Celibate Man with Scores of Children

“First, a man rightly chooses celibacy for the sake of a personal and intimate relationship with Christ” (56).

  • In line with St. Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 7:32-33, the celibate should be wholeheartedly devoted to prayer and indefatigable in his endeavours to build up the Church, Christ’s body, in every way possible.

Second, celibacy is a means of sharing in Christ’s life-giving passion and death for the salvation of his Church.

  • Celibacy, lived well, is never easy… precisely because celibacy is a participation in the passion of Christ for the salvation of souls.
  • Tip: Whenever a celibate is tempted to violate his promise of celibacy in any way, he should consciously reject the temptation, offering the victory over self to God for those parishioners who are struggling with chastity.

Third, celibacy is a powerful source of spiritual fatherhood.

  • In a mysterious way, celibacy contributes to the priest’s capacity to be the instrument in the healing of the wounds of human nature and in the generation of divine life in souls.

Chapter 7: Saint John Vianney: Model of the Obedience of Christ

John Vianney believed that in obeying his diocesan bishop, he would discover and accomplish the will of God. When the bishop assigned him to Ars, the poorest and most remote parish in the diocese, Vianney believed that God was sending him there.

  • “Note well that the word obedience in its root means “to listen”, “to be attentive.” The priest must be convinced that Christ will assign him a specific mission through his bishop. On occasion, this listening will necessitate a frank discussion between bishop and priest and, on the part of the priest, the willingness to express himself honestly to the bishop and then obey” (66).

“While acknowledging that the bishop can be mistaken in his judgments, Vianney recognized that the priest never makes a mistake in obeying his bishop. Dying to self by the renunciation of his will, the priest obeys the bishop for the love of God. This renunciation causes him to grow in personal holiness. His obedience became a powerful source of pastoral fruitfulness in his ministry” (68).

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Chapter 8: The Sacrament of Reconciliation as a Re-presentation of the Passion of Christ

“Saint John Vianney heard confessions so devotedly because he believed and experienced that the sacrifice of Calvary is somehow made truly present in the sacrament of penance” (74).

The penitent’s contrition for sin, his confession to the Church’s minister, and the willingness to do penance are nothing less than a share in the contrition, confession, and satisfaction of the crucified Lord. The absolution of the priest completes and perfects the acts of the penitent by joining imperfect acts of contrition, confession, and satisfaction to Christ’s perfect work of charity on Calvary. Through this real communion with the sufferings of Christ, the penitent passes through the Cross to experience forgiveness in the mystery of the Resurrection.

  • Satisfaction: Christ’s suffering in its totality is satisfaction for sins.
  • Contrition: Taking each transgression of God’s law as if it were his own, the innocent Lamb of God’s sorrow for sin took the form of contrition. 
  • Confession: His intimate appropriation of the sin of every person took the form of confession… Christ confessed every sin, pleading with the Father for forgiveness… Christ’s confession is undoubtedly the source of the Christian’s desire to confess his sins. In the confession of sins, the Saviour’s confession on Calvary and the sinner’s confession become one.

St. John Vianney’s deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional (77)… the Curé of Ars understood that his mission was to complete the work of grace by re-presenting the sacrifice of the Cross, first for the forgiveness of sins in confession, and then in the Eucharistic sacrifice.

  • John Vianney “created a “virtuous” circle. By spending long hours in the church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness” (77).

John Vianney imposed light penances on those who confessed their sins to him. He then did the rest of the penance himself… he recognized that the personal holiness of the pastor affects the receptivity of his people to Christ in the Word and in the sacraments… he sanctified himself so as to be more able to sanctify others… He was truly a pastor, completely at one with his sinful people.

  • “It is not the sinner who return returns to God to beg for forgiveness, but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him” (St. John Vianney).

Chapter 9: The Sacred Alliance of the Blessed Virgin and the Priest

Since the priest is the minister of salvation and God willed and continues to will the personal involvement of the Mother of God in the mystery of salvation, there is a “sacred alliance” between Mary and the priest, in which Mary shows a special concern for priests and has an interest in their work since they are the channels of the grace of her Son’s redemptive sacrifice.

  • Consecration to Mary makes the priest’s ontological alliance with her conscious and intentional. It unites him in a special way to the intentions of her heart.

John Vianney dedicated his priesthood to the Mother of God and lived every day in her presence. The Curé of Ars had a childlike relationship with Mary and envisioned her as centrally involved in his priestly ministry. To discuss his daily trials and joys with her was his consolation. Mary was his queen and his Mother, but surely, in the words of Saint Therese of Lisieux, she was “more mother than queen.” To preach about Mary gave him new life and energy.

  • “The Blessed Virgin was the object of my earliest affections; I loved her even before I knew her” (St. John Vianney).

Chapter 10: Saint John Vianney: Icon of the Divine Bridegroom of the Church

St. John Vianney had the special grace promised to priests who have and spread devotion to the Sacred Heart: “I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.” 

  • “Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office til he is in heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love” (St. John Vianney).

St. John Vianney understood that the priest, through the character and grace of holy orders, shares the pastoral charity of the Good Shepherd and the love that Christ the Bridegroom has for His Bride, the Church.

  • “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” (St. John Vianney).

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