The Saint’s constancy amid such trials was rewarded by the extraordinary power God gave him to cast out devils from the possessed. Nevertheless, horrible as may be the condition of one whose body is possessed by the devil, it is as nothing by comparison with the wretched plight of a soul which, by mortal sin, sells itself, as it were, to Satan. The holy priest may be said to have spent the best part of his priestly career in a direct contest with sin through his unparalleled work in the confessional. The Cure’s confessional was the real miracle of Ars, one that was not merely a passing wonder, or the sensation of a few weeks. Great as were his penances, assuredly the greatest of them all was the endless hours spent by him within the narrow confinement of a rugged, comfortless, unventilated confessional. This miracle went on for forty years. The astonishing thing about M. Vianney is that he himself personally became the object of a pilgrimage, people flocking to Ars in hundreds of thousands just to get a glimpse of him, to hear him, to exchange but a few words with him, above all, to go to confession to him.
It is said that the Devil told St. John Vianney, “If there were three such priests as you, my kingdom would be ruined.” The Saint, for his part, developed a remarkable sense of humor about the supernatural assaults, saying, “Oh! the grappin” – his nickname for the Devil – “and myself? We are almost chums.”
It’s not likely that we’ll ever have to struggle with Satan the way St. John Vianney did, but we should be familiar with who he is and what he does – and why he must be resisted. That begins with acknowledging that he exists and that he wants to destroy us. It means knowing that although he is powerful, Satan is limited and he is already defeated (CCC 2852, 2864).