Modeling our lives after those of the saints can sometimes feel like a formidable task. We count the ways it seems impossible in the 21st century. We examine the action of the holiest saints and we wonder how we could ever compare. We’re juggling so many balls as it is – how could we possibly add “become a saint” to our to-do list?
I can recall going to my Dad for advice during those times I’ve been up against something that felt overwhelming. His words back to me always came in the form of a question, “Well, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This might not be a new concept, but I do think it is a good reminder on how we might approach our efforts toward sainthood. And, I think this is especially great advice when we look at St Julie Billiart. That said, if like me, you’re asking “who is St Julie?” then I’d love to introduce you to this dedicated and devout woman by sharing three bite-sized ways we can realistically strive to be more like her.
Desire to Be Close to God
St Julie was baptized on the day she was born in 1751 in Cuvilly, France. And, at a very young age, she fell in love with the Lord. By age 7 she had memorized her catechism and was sharing her expertise with other children. This knowledge prompted her priest to notice something different in this young girl so, despite the norm being age 13, he granted her permission to receive the Eucharist at age 9. Her desire to be close to God was so fervent that by age 13 she was confirmed and at age 14 she had consecrated herself to the Lord. She continued to grow in her faith and as a young adult it was common to see her spend several hours a day in prayer and contemplation in addition to receiving the Eucharist daily.
You might be thinking it’s too little too late for you based on St Julie’s childhood experience, but remember we’re taking small bites here. If we grow a sincere desire to be close to God, to spend time alone with Him in prayer and to grow in our knowledge of Him, we should then look for ways we can accomplish this in our daily life. Can you commit to daily Mass? (even if only one day a week) Can you carve out 15 minutes of your day for prayer? Can you commit to reading one book that would edify your life? In these small but significant ways, we can grow closer to God and closer to sainthood.
Find the ‘Goodness of the Good God’ in All Things
Julie was the seventh of nine children born into a simple farming life. Suffering and loss did not escape this family as six of her siblings died in childhood and adolescence. Her parents had a farm and a small store to meet the needs of the family, but after a robbery of the store they fell on hard financial times. Julie found work alongside the field laborers to help ease the burden. After a long days work in the fields, Julie and her father were in the family’s store when a rock broke through the window and a gunshot rang out. Neither Julie nor her father were injured but this caused significant trauma on Julie’s already physically taxed body and she eventually lost the ability to walk. This paralysis went on for more than 20 years and was coupled with an inability to speak for several years as well.
If you’re like me, you’re toying with the idea of throwing up the white flag of surrender if all of this happened to you, but Julie always sought to find the goodness of the good God in her life. When laboring in the fields, she did what she loved, teaching about her good God, by taking advantage of her lunch break and sharing the catechism with fellow laborers. When paralyzed and confined to her bed, Julie did what she could to glorify God with her life. Village children would come to her bedside to learn about God and even prepare for their First Holy Communion, she would spend time doing needlepoint to make altar cloths and spent upwards of 5-6 hours a day in prayer and contemplation. “The more difficult the times are, the more we must expect and hope everything from the goodness of the good God.” – St Julie Billiart
Again, taking small bites, how can you strive to always find the goodness of a good God even when life is difficult? I have been struggling with a back injury for nearly three months and it became all too easy to lean into the whiny side of myself. I couldn’t do all the things I’m used to doing and I was frustrated. It took time and intention for me to find the goodness of a good God in my circumstance. I began noting in my planner when my pain was less, when it was a good day at physical therapy or when I could manage to drive the thirty-five miles to the office. It wasn’t that I was miraculously healed on a Tuesday (surgery is still to come), but, it was more that I began to thank God for the small things that were good in my life and to maintain the ‘expectation and hope of everything from the goodness of a good God.’
Throughout her life, Julie took every opportunity to share about her good God. She catechized village children, adult women, laborers and more. During her time of paralysis, she had a vision of religious women circling around Jesus and she heard God say, “These are the daughters that I will give you in an Institute, which will be marked by my cross.” Julie began meeting with a group of young women who sought her for spiritual guidance. They began living in community and, at age 52, Julie established and became the foundress and superior of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. After 22 years of paralysis, Julie completed a novena to the Sacred Heart with her priest and unbeknownst to her, his prayer intention was that she regain the ability to walk and she experienced a miraculous healing. Before her death in 1816, she founded 15 convents in France and Belgium.
Julie rarely missed a chance to tell others about Jesus. The word ‘evangelize’ seems to stop some people in their tracks, but we are called to evangelize. By our baptism we are called to be ‘priest, prophet and king’ (CCC 1241), Matthew 28:19 says “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” and 2 Timothy tells us to “proclaim the word”. But remember, we are taking all of this in bite size pieces. I’m not saying you have to go on mission or go knocking on your neighbors door but, I am asking you to look for opportunities that present themselves where you can invite someone to church, ask/offer to pray for your family and friends or share how Jesus has impacted your life. Sainthood feels big and lofty but we can do this! After all, St Julie did it with the most difficult of circumstances.