It’s the end of August. Already. Summer is my time to accomplish those projects I put off for the rest of the year. I begin well-- with a prioritized to-do list. But then I start working, and things seem to fall apart. For example, I decide to organize THAT closet, the one that is always a mess. So I start sorting out the things that don’t belong. That pile quickly becomes bigger than the one left on the shelf. And when I go to put those things in their proper places, I find I have to reorganize the new spots to make room. So I end up with, instead of one project to cross off the list, ten more projects that are unfolding. I never finish one of them. Starting is one thing, but finishing is something entirely different.
It takes determination to finish what I’ve started. Marathon runner John Stephen Akhwari can teach me something about determination. In 1968 the Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City, Mexico. A total of 75 competitors from 41 countries raced in the challenging altitude. Eighteen of them did not finish: Tanzanian John Stephen Akhwari finished heroically. In the early stages of the race, he began cramping from the effects of high altitude. At the 19 kilometer point he was hit by some runners and fell. He badly wounded and dislocated his knee and injured his shoulder. Medics repeatedly tried to persuade him to quit, but he continued on the course. When Akhwari finally limped into the stadium an hour after the winner had crossed the finish line, there were only a few thousand people left in the stadium and the sun had set. A television crew was sent out from the medal ceremony when word was received that there was one more runner about to finish. When interviewed later and asked why he didn’t give up, Akhwari said: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” https://hub.olympic.org/news/tanzanias-most-inspirational-athlete/
"Not all the saints started well but they all finished well." ~Saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney
Focused on the Finish
Just as John Stephen Akhwari limped his way through a marathon, our featured saint trudged his way into and through the priesthood. Saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, otherwise known as the Cure d’Ars, was a youngster during the persecutions of the French Revolution. He discerned as a young man a call to the priesthood, but had to overcome many obstacles, including his father’s objections, to reach ordination. As one author put it: “Vianney did things thought to be impossible and did them with innocent blatancy.” http://www.catholictradition.org/Priests/priests2.htm
Saint Vianney’s years in priestly formation are a testimony to determination--amid a series of unfortunate events. Due to inconsistent formal schooling, Vianney was barely literate when he began his priestly studies at the age of 19. He started with a local priest, Abbe Balley, at a small school in the rectory at Ecully, France. In 1808 he was drafted into Napoleon’s Grand Army, but his draft left without him because he was ill in the hospital. When he attempted to meet another draft, a young man volunteered to lead him to the group but led him to a camp for deserters instead. So Vianney lived there until Napoleon granted amnesty in 1810. At that point he was free to pursue the priesthood, and he entered the seminary at Lyons, France. Despite the help of tutors and hours of studying, Vianney failed his studies and was dismissed. Almost in despair, he returned to Abbe Balley at Ecully, who sent him back for an examination for the minor orders and the diaconate. This time he was examined in French rather than Latin, and so he passed. Ordained in 1815, he was first denied the faculties for confession. In 1818 he was sent as parish priest to a tiny village in France called Ars, probably with the thought that he could do the least damage there.
Saint Vianney did some damage at Ars alright, but only the very best kind. After twice getting lost along the way, he arrived at Ars and began his work of converting his indifferent, uncatechized parishioners. Believing that it was the surest way to save souls, he spent hours in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, lived in a state of poverty, fasted strictly and practiced self-mortification. It is known that St. Vianney would spend up to 18 hours a day in the confessional. His parishioners observed that he practiced what he preached, and eventually took him seriously. It took him a few years to close down the taverns, eight years to stop the Sunday buying and selling, and twenty-five years to get people to dress modestly. After 41 years of determined service, he converted 80,000 hardened sinners.
“Nearly refused admittance into the seminary due to "his ignorance," then denied ordination for failing the exam, a good bishop finally recognized the sanctity of our simple Saint. "He has devotion to Our Lady? He knows how to say the Rosary? He is a model of piety? Very well then! I summon him to come up for ordination! The grace of God will do the rest." And the "rest" is history! Denied the faculties of hearing Confessions until later, this magnificent Saint was to spend three-fourths of his life in the Confessional, with lines up to 8 days long waiting to confess to him and to hear him preach.” http://www.catholictradition.org/Priests/priests2.htm
In 1929 Pope Pius XI made Saint Jean Vianney the patron saint of parish priests.
John Stephen Akhwari finishes the race
Pro-life warrior David Daleiden’s fight to expose Planned Parenthood https://www.catholicvote.org/external_content/pro-life-investigator-gets-court-victory/
Five Paths to the Priesthood http://www.sign.org/articles/education-articles/five-paths-priesthood
The Brooklyn Bridge Story http://moralstories26.com/brooklyn-bridge-inspirational-story/
Back to School time is a good time to grow some determination. People aren’t born with virtues--they learn then. How do you improve in a sport? By practicing, of course. The same is true for growing in virtue. You get better at it as you practice. When you commit to a sport, and then stick with it even when you lose, you grow a little more determined. The same thing happens when you practice a musical instrument, study for tests and do your chores.