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
She was up, dressed and out the door by 6am. “Bye!!” she joyfully shouted from the bottom of the staircase. My husband couldn’t believe that our 18 year old daughter, who is never out of bed before noon, was not only awake and dressed but happy about it. What got her up? Love.
My daughter was offered a job as an assistant make-up artist on a bridal photoshoot, and she was over the moon excited. Art is her gift and passion. It is where she thrives, becomes animated, and feels her most comfortable self. Art is her love, and no question about it, love is what got this girl out of bed.
I thought about this as I blow-dried my hair, mentally preparing myself for the day ahead. I wondered, what gets me out of bed in the morning?
There was a long stretch of time, which felt like forever and could possibly kill me, when I dreaded opening my eyes to see another day. My focus was on my circumstances, which were not very good, so I greeted each sunrise with fear and anxiety, worry and despair. I started sleeping in later just to avoid waking up, and going back to bed was the thing I looked forward to the most. It was a dark season of suffering that came with a cross I was unwilling to accept. Wanting the pain to just go away, I refused to love my cross.
And I know. You read that and think, who loves their cross? That’s crazy talk! You are right. It is crazy talk. But here is the thing: God is love, right? And this God who is love did some crazy things out of love for us, like taking on the whole world’s sins and willingly getting nailed to a cross. And after dying and being buried, three days later, He rose. Turns out, death could not hold Him. Why? Because love got Him up.
It’s just what love does. When my husband and I started dating, I came back from a business trip one winter night to find him standing outside of my upper east side apartment in below zero weather, holding a giant Christmas tree. He was freezing and tired, the tree was heavy, and the street was dark, but he didn’t care because he was in love. Love got him up.
When my child needed help that required the logistics and strength of a superhero, I didn’t think twice. I got in my car, and I drove in the dark, pouring rain for six hours. I never stopped once, and I prayed the entire time. Yes, I was scared, but that didn’t matter because I love my child. Love got me up.
And it’s funny, because in my head I struggle with love. I grasp onto the thought that God’s love for me is based on something I did to deserve it. I dwell on all of my past sins, convinced that it was something I did or did not do that has caused present sorrow. And so I pray those rosaries and recite those novenas and coordinate that program, all the while wondering, “Is this enough to be worthy of His love?” In his book Unbound, author Neal Lozano writes, “In our pride and self delusion we often believe that God loves us and forgives us because of something we did, that we somehow deserve the mercy of God. This deception leaves us in a very vulnerable place. We have been set up for the fall. The results? Every time we fail, we face the whisper of the accuser: “Does God love me?” (1)
Recently, in the midst of confessing my sins, the priest asked me, “When your children were born, what did they need to do for you to love them?” I laughed because the answer is obviously nothing. He pushed deeper and asked, “But why?” As grace poured down, my laughter turned into tears as I whispered, “Because they are mine.”
It was when that dark season led me to surrender that I was able to understand the depth of my sin and the meaning of God’s sacrifice. How can one love their cross? Because it was the suffering that led me to the reality of God’s love. And so I wake up early again. 5:00 AM. No matter the present trial, no matter the long suffering, no matter how tired or afraid. I get up. Not to pray all those rosaries, recite those novenas, and get to work on ministry. But simply to be with my Love. To sit with coffee in the presence of the One who loves me so much that while still a sinner, He died for me. To abide in the One who calls me His own.
What gets me up? Love.
It’s the answer to everything, really.
(1) Neal Lozano, Unbound: A Practical Guide To Deliverance (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2003), p. 74.