St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars. Not just one time, either, but multiple times. He wanted to leave Ars for the peace and solitude of a monastic life. And while I lack the great holiness and fervor found in the Cure d’Ars, I definitely identify with his desires to leave the world behind and live quietly removed from the chaos.
My spiritual director reminded me that St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars as we meandered down the sidewalk.
“So this high school is my Ars, huh?”
“Yes,” he replied, “there are a few similarities there it seems.”
“He died there, didn’t he?” I said, in an attempt at wry melodrama.
He paused for a moment as my imagination latched onto the idea of decades spent at this one high school, right up until the moment of my death. (I’m a melancholic–we consider death often.)
“You might not physically die at school, but, yes, I think you will die there.”
The lightness of the joke was quickly replaced by the reality of what he was saying. It is not my hope to remain teaching at this high school forever, most of the time I take it year by year. Someday, I do hope to leave and I never plan to remain until I die. Yet Father’s short reply made me remember that regardless of my length of tenure, I should be dying here. Every single day.
Culturally, we run from death. Eternal youth is sought after through an abundance of natural remedies, artificial shots, or the next no-fail fad diet. The invisible death of being purified from our own self-will is, naturally, another thing we avoid. I don’t want to die, particularly not the achingly slow death to myself. Instead, I would prefer to move on to some glorious job, one that highlights all of my strengths and none of my flaws. I am uninterested in having my patience tested, of turning the other cheek when students are unkind, or attempting to convince them that while they know Jesus loves them, they do not know His love. Co-worker tension, looming deadlines, and the million daily decisions? I’m uninterested in those, too.
Yet, here I am in Lent, resisting death, when I should be embracing it. St. John Vianney stayed in Ars even when his heart longed to be alone with the Lord. This death of self, though, is what transformed him into a saint, a man who was known to give himself for others. The Lord is using my current situation, a place that is less than ideal, to move in my heart, to push me into death and, thus, into eternal life. He is asking me to stay in my Ars and to push through the temptation to run away to the ideal…or at least my imagined ideal.
Lord, let me never leave the place where you desire to encounter me. May I always be attentive to your will and seek you in the present, despite the fact that it requires the death of self-love and my own stubborn will. May this death be wholly embraced and give rise to freedom and life.
Just as the Lamb had to be killed to be raised upon the throne of glory, so the path to glory leads through suffering…all who want to be married to the Lamb must allow themselves to be fastened to the cross with Him.St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Hidden Life: The Marriage of the Lamb
What is your Ars–the place you find yourself fleeing yet to which you are called to return? Consider: how might the Lord be using this place of discomfort to work in your own heart?