Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Beauty of the Edifice

The feast day of the unforgettable Cure of Ars brings to mind many stories about the humble and extraordinary parish priest. I have always been especially touched by the remarkable and perhaps unlikely friendship between St. John Vianney and another great French priest - who is not a saint (not yet, at least) but who was the great pioneer who helped bring about the restoration of religious life in post-revolutionary France, Fr. Henri Lacordaire, O.P.

Sometimes called "the French Newman," Lacordaire refounded the Dominican order in France, and dedicated himself to a vigorous and erudite apologia for the Catholic faith in his famous discourses given at Notre Dame to crowds of believers and unbelievers alike. He was the towering Catholic figure in the midst of the positivistic French intelligentsia of his time, and he lit the spark that began the Catholic intellectual, literary, and cultural revival of France in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Lacordaire's talents and education, however, were accompanied by a genuine humility and a devotion to the Church, and in Vianney he saw one of the saints that he knew the Church in France so desperately needed in his time. The Cure, in turn, recognized the value of great Dominican's brilliant preaching.

When it was remarked that Lacordaire's conferences had produced few conversions, St. John Vianney spoke up on behalf of his friend. Lacordaire's work with skeptics and unbelievers was important nonetheless, said the Cure, because "we must make them admire the beauty of the edifice before inspiring them with the desire to enter."