Today is the memorial of Saint John Vianney, and I only had to read one line about the character of this saintly priest to become utterly and completely hooked:
“A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible.”
Personally? This is precisely both how I would most like to be remembered and how life currently feels: a woman with vision who performed deeds that seemed impossible.
Saint John Vianney, born in Dardilly, France, in 1786, had the desire to become a priest from a young age. But because of his meager formal schooling, he wasn’t exactly cut out for seminary studies. Apparently, Vianney was as good at Latin as I was at biology (fun fact: I failed biology). This, however, didn’t keep him from pursuing his dream. In fact, as his story goes, despite encountering one obstacle after the next, he pressed on, and so here we are today, celebrating his sainthood; recognizing his assistance to the poor, his fervent celebration of the Eucharist, and his incredible gift of leading parishioners to the Sacrament of Penance. As for me? Well, I didn’t pursue biology after the 8th grade. Not because I was a quitter, but because biology was never my dream. Nor was it God’s vision for me.
I wonder, sweet sisters…
Do you have a God-given vision you’ve given up on because you do not feel qualified?
Do you look around at what everyone else is doing, and worry that you don’t measure up?
Has God handed you a cross that you have been trying to hand back because you are convinced it is nothing more than an impossible obstacle keeping you from performing good works and deeds?
If you answered yes to any of these, listen up.
That vision you are unqualified for? That’s actually not for you to decide. Vision, by definition, is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. And the last time I checked, wisdom, along with common sense and understanding, comes from God (Proverbs 2:6-8)—our God whose hallmark is seeking out and calling the completely ill equipped and equipping them. Don’t believe me? Look at His apostles.
The worry you feel when you look around and are convinced that everyone and their mother is doing way more that matters than you ever could? That’s a lie. Saint John Vianney will tell you that “it is not the size and greatness of deeds which give them merit, but the pure intention with which they are undertaken.”
And how about that cross—that obstacle in your life that if God only removed, you’d be able to accomplish so much more for His Kingdom? Another lie. In fact, that obstacle is your invitation. These crosses we try so hard to lose? These, my friends, are our pathway to heaven. Resist the urge to kick your cross, and embrace it instead.
You might know all of this in your head, but do you believe it in your heart? I struggled, myself, with each of these lies for a long time. Despite knowing they were untrue, it was not until I put into practice two specific things that I began to live out of my true identity, feeling wholly capable to withstand any obstacle or battle I faced. Curious what they are? I’ll tell you: receiving the Eucharist as often as I can and frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
It took removing the sacraments from my life during quarantine to recognize how badly I needed them; how they are the exact remedy to all that ails me, and the necessary source of strength that keeps me persevering in the race. And it was in returning to these with new appreciation that I was able to see how dull and weary I had grown. It also became clear to me how delighted the enemy was at my inability to confess my sins to a priest or to receive the actual body and blood of Christ; how hard at work he was behind the scenes, doing all that he could to disturb, confuse, frighten, and frustrate me, all in the name of preventing me from approaching this fountain of grace.
On this memorial of Saint John Vianney, patron saint of priests, I am so grateful for the good and holy priests in this world who stand in the person of Christ and offer us all that we need: the hope, peace, strength, remedy, and redemption we long for. Let us pray today for all priests, especially our Walking with Purpose chaplains: Father Dave Sizemore, Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, Father John Hopkins, LC, and Father John Riccardo. Let us mirror the praise of Thomas A. Kempis when he writes, “How great and honorable is the office of priests, who have been empowered to consecrate with sacred words the Lord of all majesty, to bless Him with their lips, to hold Him in their hands, to receive Him with their mouth, and to administer Him to others!”
As we hurdle our impossible obstacles, fueled by the sacraments, may we never give up on our vision. And today, let us pray in a special way, through the intercession of the great Saint John Vianney, “a man on a journey, with his goal before him at all times.”
Saint John Vianney, pray for us!
With you on this journey,
 The Magnificat, August 2020, Vol.22, No.6, p.66
 Thomas A. Kempis, The Imitation Of Christ (Catholic Book Publishing Corp.,1993), p.267
My heart has been so heavy.
What started as a normal day was sideswiped by news that was not new, but nevertheless dredged up feelings of deep sadness. When the latest New York Times article broke chronicling sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I don't think any of us were surprised that more has come to light and that it is still an issue. These wounds are deep- they go to the level of the soul- and the confession of sin and unearthing of stories of unspeakable pain will no doubt continue to come to light as people find the courage to speak out.
But the way I heard about it- with friends bursting in to my office and looking at me as a part of it- as a part of “the institution” because of my role at Walking with Purpose- perhaps that was new. As they spoke with anger and disgust, I felt shame. This may seem strange, since I have never personally been involved in this scandal. But because it involves my family, my faith family, I do not feel a disconnect or a lack of personal responsibility.
It's led me to think about the prophet Daniel. There's an interesting part of his story, recorded in Daniel 9. In it, he turned to the Lord, and pleaded with Him in prayer and fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes- an outward sign of inward grief. He prayed, “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws…Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame…”. He said “we," yet any reading of his story confirms that no one was more righteous than Daniel. But he stood with his people and confessed their collective sin.
I don't want to make any justifications for the behavior of people who have been given the tremendous privilege of representing Jesus to us all. There are no excuses. But nor do I place myself on a higher pedestal, pointing to them as the biggest sinners and myself as the offended and saddened.
Because here is the truth- my sin- their sin- it all matters. Our witness to a watching world has everything to do with our integrity and holiness. I want to point the finger and say their sin is worse than mine. Yet I know too well the wrestling that went on in my heart just yesterday- sitting at Mass and feeling God convict me of the bitterroot that was growing in my heart toward a loved one. God pointed out my sin, and I was so tempted to just ignore Him, to minimize the importance of this small compromise within my heart. I remember thinking, “Does it really matter that I be that serious about my holiness? Every little thought? Does God seriously care that much?”
Today, I see it clear as day.
As a leader, yes.
As a mother, yes.
As a bearer of the name Christian, yes.
It all matters. Our holiness in matters big and small is so critical and there is no grey zone. There is no area where we get to play around with integrity.
National attention has turned to the Catholic Church as the sexual abuse scandal remains in the spotlight. But may we never forget, we are being observed. Our children, our neighbors, our friends and family are watching us. What do they see? Compromise? Or radical holiness and self-sacrificing love? Each word, each action, each attitude- it all matters. We are witnesses of who Jesus is- His ambassadors- and it is critical that who we are, to the core of our being, is consistent with who He is.
On my knees…in confession…with humility…yet still filled with hope that even with our collective brokenness, we can still show Jesus to the watching world.
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