Day 18 – Lyons and Ars

As I mentioned yesterday, we had an early departure time to leave Lourdes. Breakfast was at 5am, and the bus left at 6am for an 11 hour bus ride across France. It was a long day, but many of us slept for at least the first few hours, so that was a blessing.

We stopped along the way in Lyons, France. Lyons is a good size town, with about a million people, and has some historical significance. During the Roman days Lyons was a larger and more important outpost than Paris, and so has a lot of connection with the early church. We received a tour of the Basilica of
Notre-Dame de Fourviere. It is a relatively new church, built only about two centuries ago, but there has been a shrine to the Blessed Mother on this spot since at least the 12th centuries, and it has long been a place of pilgrimage.

We also visited the Church where the remains of St. Irenaeus are located. Irenaeus was the second Bishop of Lyons at the end of the second century, when he was martyred by the Roman Empire. He was a great apologist and one of the early Fathers of the Church. We studied St. Irenaeus in our Patristics class earlier in the year, so it was a great experience making a connection with this saint. Unfortunately, Irenaeus’s tomb was destroyed in a war with the Huguenots in the 1500′s, and his remains were mixed in with a bunch of other remains and destroyed tombs. So we know he is here, though not exactly which grave site or tomb he is in. But we can still pray to him.

After our rainy tour of Lyons, we travelled the final hour or so to Ars. Ars is a tiny farming village in this region that was home to St. Jean Vianney, the CurĂ© d’Ars. Fr. Vianney was sent here to be the pastor at the tiny little parish here, in a town that, as he was told, had no love for God. He spent over 40 years of his life as their priest, reaching out to them, admonishing them to pray and live lives of virtue. He did many penances on behalf of his people, eating tiny meals of only potatoes and sleeping only a few hours each night.

He worked tirelessly for the people. They did not like him at first, and actually circulated a petition saying that he was unfit to be their priest (which this saintly priest signed as well). But ultimately they came around and came to love him.

Over the years, word got out about this holy priest, and people came from all over Europe to see him and have him hear their confession. By the end, he would spend 16 hours a day hearing confessions.

He is entombed here in the Church of Ars (which has been added on to with a beautiful basilica) above a side altar in a glass tomb. His body is incorrupt; it has not decomposed in the 150 years since his death. Today, he is the patron saint of all priests, making him a very important saint for us. As Msgr. Trapp told us, he is not a priest of another age, he is a model for all pastors. He said the prayers his parishioners would not say, and did the penances they would not do. We can all learn from this holy man.

After checking in to the hotel, we celebrated Pentecost Mass at the altar of the tomb of St. Jean Vianney. Such an incredible experience, being in the presence of this holy saint, this great example to us. We will have Mass here several more times in the coming days, as well as plenty of time to pray here.

After Mass was dinner, and then off to rest after a long day of travel. Tomorrow we have a day of prayer here in Ars.

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