France, after the Revolution, was exhausted, secular, suspicious, and lukewarm in faith. John Vianney (1786 1859), came to Ars, a town where faith was weak and where people "worked hard and played hard" in a fashion similar to our own day. They were too busy to pray regularly or come to Mass on Sunday, but they had plenty of time to get drunk and revel all night.
St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, created this pastoral plan to recover his flock.
- He set out to save his own soul first. His "spirituality" was simply that of being a priest. He took his vows seriously. He didn't start his career by being a saint, but he started it with the intention of sanctity.
- He tried to be approachable and available. He walked around his parish, often in prayer, and would approach everyone, discussing everyday matters of interest to the people. He found out about the lack of faith of the children, the causes for the social ills of town, and everyday worries of the people. He didn't have an abstract idea of his parish, nor did he set out to change the world: he was only concerned about individuals.
- He lived ascetically with a deep prayer life. His inspiration was the Desert Fathers: he lived simply, wore a coarse cassock and plain shoes, had bare furnishings, and ate simple food. He knew that he was powerless, and that only God would work through him. He was committed to regular prayer life and penitential practices. His goal was to do the Father's Will and he prayed for the conversion of his flock.
- He put most of his energy into the already faithful families; they would then help spread the fire of faith.
- He beautified his church, even spending his own money to have an exquisite altar and vestments of the finest materials. He wanted his church to be attractive as possible. The liitle expense of having a beautiful church led to a great increase of alms-giving to the poor. He had a great love of the Mass and showed it. He was precise and reverent. He strove to put the same love of the liturgy in his parishioners. His spent many hours a week working on his homily; his preaching was on the basics of the Faith, and he used everyday descriptions of life and colloquialisms that would be familiar to his flock. He personally taught Catechesis; he didn't consider it just a formality.
- He addressed the root problems, not the symptoms. People considered Sunday to be a day of work, and he would refuse to accept absence for Mass due to work, he did this also for Holy Days of Obligation. Too many people spent most of their free time in taverns, and he worked hard to close them down, even to the point of paying tavern owners to close them. As a result, poverty and dissolute life decreased
- He developed in his parishioners a strong prayer life and works of mercy. He founded women's groups dedicated to regular prayer in homes and promoting charity. He depended on the women to convert the men and boys. He had evening prayer meetings for those too busy in the morning. He organized parish missions and it was here that he discovered his gift of being a Confessor. At his own expense, he sent girls to school to become teachers. He built a home for orphans and street children.
- He had a strong priestly identity. He spent himself in the service of others, without counting the cost. He was not a social worker, manager, psychologist, or center of a cult of personality, but a Priest in the service of God.