Leaven Blog

Steppingstones to heaven

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

I have a framed quote on my desk that reads “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.”

Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote this 110 years before I was born, but I read it every day and I live by it.

It gives me a sense of peace when I doubt my value in this world where beauty, talent heroism and success are touted every day on my television and computer screens.

Like Newman, who saw God’s guiding hand even in his failures, I trust that “God is leading me through life in the way best adapted for His glory and my own salvation.”

That’s all that matters.

Newman was canonized in Rome this Oct.13. And last Sunday I had the honor, along with many people from our archdiocese, to hear Sister Kathleen Dietz, FSO, an expert on the saint, speak at Holy Angels Parish in Basehor.

Sister Kathleen reinforced my view of St. John Henry as a person we can easily relate to in our everyday struggles to be good Christians.

“Hyper-piety,” she said to begin her talk. “Let’s get rid of this way of looking at the saints and start looking at what they really were and what they did that made them saints.

“Today, the church doesn’t need the kind of piety that doesn’t have its feet on the ground.

“The church needs saints who are real.”

Sister Kathleen gave her audience a view of St. John Henry as a genuine person who became holy not despite his hardships and weaknesses, but often because of them.

An English theologian, writer and musician, Newman was raised in the Anglican faith and eventually became a priest.

But his life was a journey of constant conversion, often through illness and adversity, seeking truth.

“He prayed, he fasted and he studied,” said Sister Kathleen. “These three things he did to know one thing and that was the truth.”

The question weighing on St. John Henry’s heart was always: Lord where is the church that you founded?

On his long quest to find the answer, St. John Henry eventually resigned as a priest from the Anglican Church, and at the age of 45, was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Father Dominic Barberi.

“He broke the hearts of many people in joining the Catholic Church,” said Sister Kathleen.

But in the Catholic faith, St. John Henry found the truth he was seeking.

Sister Kathleen said the saint had a practice of looking back on his life, not with regret, but with “the eyes of God tracing the working of divine providence in his life.”

We can do the same. The path to sanctity is lined with a trust and understanding of God’s hand at work throughout our lives — in every tragedy as well as triumph.

When we recognize this, said Sister Kathleen, we will begin to see our weaknesses and struggles not as hindrances to our sanctity but “as steppingstones to heaven.”

That, she said, is the mark of a saint.

As we prepare to enter the Advent Season, lets take a page from St. John Henry’s book and trust God’s guiding hand in every aspect of our lives — leading us to do some work that has not been committed to another.

For an Advent meditation, Sister Kathleen recommended a particular sermon by Saint John Henry Newman called “Watching.” It can be found here.

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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1 Comment

  • Absolutely great article that captures what Sr. Kathleen’s presentation and message were and how the saint’s writings and life are so relevant for each of our lives today.