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 workday begins at 9 AM, so at 8:59, I commute up the stairs to my home office, formerly known as the guest bedroom. At Walking with Purpose, employees work remotely, which is a blessing and hugely convenient for working moms like me who tend to spend their morning hours searching for their kids' lost sneakers, water bottles, and homework assignments while packing lunches, and, in my case, removing cat fur from the kids' clothes with that sticky roller thing. Once my youngest son climbs on the bus at 8:35, I have 24 minutes to pull myself together enough so that when my boss invites me to a Zoom video conference call at 9 AM, I'm ready (ish).
That scenario played itself out recently, when my boss (WWP's CEO, Julie Ricciardi) Zoomed me at 9 AM from Denver, CO. It was two hours earlier for Julie, but she had been up for hours anyway.
“I went to Mass at 6 AM,” Julie told me that morning. Knowing Julie, she had also exercised, enjoyed an extremely healthy breakfast, answered 100 emails, and maybe even solved world hunger before our 9 AM call. As we spoke, we could see each other via video connection, and I was hoping I was sitting far enough from the camera so Julie couldn't see the cat fur on my shirt.
When that Zoom call ended, I realized I was feeling something unusual-I was feeling envy. Or more exactly, an emotion somewhere between envy and longing. It was envy-longing for what Julie had. I'm not talking about her peaceful and productive mornings. I wasn't envious that she went to 6 AM Mass; I was envious that she wanted to go to 6 AM Mass.
Does that even make sense? Is there logic in that-in feeling envious of a relationship with Christ when that relationship is a thing that I am equally entitled to? No one is keeping it from me, purposefully dangling it out of reach. If it is within my reach, a fruit I can easily pick, I should feel no envy over it.
But I do wish I possessed a faith so strong that waking up before the sun in order to be present with Him in the Eucharist wasn't a chore but a blessing.
The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart was written to help women like me open their hearts to Jesus Christ. I participated in an Opening Your Heart parish program study not long ago and my heart was opened, but now that I really think about it, and now that I'm being honest with myself, perhaps it wasn't opened all the way.
That was really bothering me for a few days last week; that and the fact that envy is a sin.
But as I got caught up in the day-to-day of my hectic life and the kids' activities on Friday and Saturday, my faith envy got back-burnered.
Then Sunday came, and Father Joseph Akunazeri (a newly-ordained priest of the Archdiocese of New York) celebrated the 10:15 AM Mass at our parish. His first Mass as a priest.
Sisters, he was BEAMING; smiling from ear to ear, so full of joy and the Holy Spirit, he was practically glowing.
Me? I was envious, again. I don't know that kind of joy, I thought to myself as I sat bookended in the pew by my two sleepy children.
Suddenly, I was struck with a thought. God knows I don't want to feel envious. He wants me to do something to get rid of that useless feeling.
Joining another Walking with Purpose Bible study group would do wonders for my soul, but the closest WWP parish program is pretty far from where I live. Perhaps I should double my efforts to bring Walking with Purpose to my own parish? Problem is, that would be more of a give than a get, if you know what I mean. Maybe what I really need is a spiritual mentor...
As I was contemplating these questions (while blowing cat fur off my computer keyboard), I decided to turn to my Opening Your Heart study guide in search of answers.
Would you believe that the first page I opened to (Lesson 12, Day 4 introduction) contained these words, written by author Lisa Brenninkmeyer:
“Do you want to become a saint? I'm not talking about wanting recognition for your holiness. A saint is simply someone who has been radically transformed by Christ. She has pursued Jesus wholeheartedly, and in that pursuit has been changed for the better.”
My answer is yes! I do wish to be radically transformed. It is likely that my pursuit of Him has not been entirely wholehearted. How do I open my heart all the way? I'll continue to pray about it, and I hope you'll pray for me too.