As a child, I played a favorite game with my friends called “follow the leader” where everyone did exactly as the name suggests – followed the leader. If you didn’t do what the leader did you would be eliminated from the game. This game correlates to the Christian life: when we follow Jesus and do what He did, we reach our heavenly destination. We are wise to remember and heed Matthew 18:3-4: “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” How important it is as an adult Christian to always have the willing mindset of a child – to follow the leader with joyful expectation and simple trust. This reminds me of a remarkable event in my life that illustrates this concept.
Several years ago, when our four youngest children were still living at home, we embarked on one of our family camping vacations. Having a large family, we had chosen camping as a way to enjoy a vacation together while on a budget. It removed all the distractions of our life of modern conveniences and afforded us time in the great outdoors to relax and build memories. This particular adventure took us to Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain, on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, a glorious place high in the mountains with astounding stargazing at night and amazing hiking trails during the day. One day we chose to traverse the Waterfalls Trail. The sign at the trailhead read “Steep grade ahead, use caution. Stay on marked path.” That should have been my moment of truth, my opportunity to bail and choose to sit on a bench and enjoy the 1780 ft vista and await my family’s return. But I ignored the queasiness in my stomach and forged ahead with them as they vivaciously marched down the canyon on a slim, winding trail. My stomach began to ride higher into my chest, my breathing was becoming fast and bordering on gasping and my feet were becoming heavy and unsure on the many twists and turns. After we passed under an enormous rock overhang, my body halted and I literally could not take another step.
I was paralyzed with fear. Did I forget to mention, I’ve suffered from overwhelming fear of heights ever since I was a teenager? It was alive and acutely crippling on this day. As I watched my children bounding ahead and walking precariously near the rim of the steep trail, the fear gripped me to the point of panic. My husband kept telling me to look ahead, not down, and to follow his footsteps so that I would be safe and secure. The more I thought about moving forward, the stiffer I became. Moving at all in this way was sure to make me more apt to stumble. On my own steam, I could not go any further. I was at an impasse. With wisdom and child-like trust, my husband gathered our children all around me and asked each of them to lay their hands on me and to pray for all fear to cease so that I could be free to walk with joy and confidence. They did not want to leave me behind or to turn around and abandon the hike to the waterfalls. After several minutes of prayer, my breathing slowed to normal, my heart stopped racing, I unclenched my fists, and my legs relaxed. I felt a distinct release of tension in my body and my mind – so much so that I knew that I could resume the hike without fear. It was a healing miracle I claim to this day, as I can now hike steep mountains and enjoy magnificent views from heights that I could not before.
My husband and children were instruments of faith who infused the peace of Jesus into me so that I could follow the leader and enjoy the boundless beauty nature had to offer on that hike. Later that night, my husband commented that Jesus healed me and gave me sure feet to traverse the steep path with assurance. I will never forget that manifestation of God’s love for me and I am willing to continue to follow the leader on all the paths He takes me because I know He will give me strength and guidance every step of the way. I am comforted by the instruction in Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” As humans, we cannot find and walk this path on our own.
We need a leader, but we also need to be aware of all the people God places in our lives who provide guidance and leadership when we need it. It is part of the mystery and beauty of living in community with others in this life. If I had not yielded to the assistance of my family, I would have remained in bondage to crippling fear. I received help to navigate off the wide road of self -doubt and irrational panic that is destructive. With simple child-like trust and prayer, I was able to stay on the narrow path that led to a glorious adventure and freedom! My prayer is that each of us practices the obedience of following the leader so we can navigate the path that leads us to eternal peace. It is certain to be rough, but instruction is always available to us. We have to be humble and have child-like trust to adhere to the direction He provides.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Matt. 16:24
Susan A. Fowler was born and raised in Maryland and has been a lifelong Catholic actively involved in parish ministries for over 43 years. She has been married for 40 years, raised 6 children with her husband, and currently resides in Georgia.
As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic eventually allowed for opportunities to leave the home, one of the most meaningful greetings which welcomed my return to Mass were the familiar words, “Peace be with you.” The calming presence of the parish priest eased the troubles of my mind, soothed the restlessness of my heart, and enlivened my soul to sing, “Let us go unto the House of the Lord!” While the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of our Lord in Holy Communion immediately made up for the lost time during the pandemic, there were other reminders that we had been away: new priest assignments, reminders to exchange the weekly offering envelopes, many parishioners enthusiastically greeting each other in happy parking lot reunions, our pastor sporting a new beard, and someone even observing, “You’ve lost some weight, Father!”
The place our parish priests hold in our hearts is a treasured one. We depend on them to teach us through homilies, expose the Blessed Sacrament, listen to our sins and offer absolution, preside over the nuptial Mass, baptize our children, anoint the sick, and console us through times of death. And that’s just the minimum. While the rest of us are busy at work, school, or caring for our households, our parish priests are meeting with the church leadership, making rounds at schools or hospitals, organizing retreats and special services, offering spiritual guidance, and working at the rectory.
But caring for the spiritual needs of hundreds of parishioners does not end at 5 PM. Starting from the sacred occasion of ordination, a priest is always on-call. Who rushes to the side of the dying, cares for those who have lost everything, counsels those in conflict, or ministers through any number of crises? Who faces the mounting expenses and bills of the parish, limited Sunday collections, possible stagnation of new family registrations, and who perhaps lacks as many helpful hands as he would like to keep the place running smoothly? Especially through this pandemic, the parish priest again and again is called to bring us into an encounter with Jesus Christ as best he can with whatever resources are at his disposal. If caring for our household’s needs presents a challenge, just imagine how the parish priest feels overseeing his parish!
As the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Vianney, we can see how so many of the priests in our lives emulate the example of the Curé d'Ars, who himself followed the example of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The French Revolution resulted in an increase of the population’s ignorance of and indifference to religion. As a result, St. John Vianney went about his priesthood by spending at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional in the winter; longer still in the summer. The simple piety of this holy priest not only brought about many conversions for the Church, but reinvigorated the faith in areas where secularism had long dominated the culture. Likewise, by immersing themselves into the daily lives of our communities, our parish priests “serve ‘in the trenches,’ bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in [their efforts] to care for and accompany God’s people.”
Pope Francis continued, in his 2019 letter to priests commemorating the 160th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, to express his closeness and solidarity to priests. He also expressed personal gratitude “for your fidelity to the commitments you have made… [and] for the joy with which you have offered your lives.”
The Holy Father concluded his letter by praising the witness of their shared vocation:
For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new.” … May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.
Let us strive to show the priests in our lives our gratitude and support. May many men continue to discern and answer the call of our Lord to the sacred work of ordained ministry. As we answer the universal call to holiness in our own lives, may we also support those who have dedicated their lives to answer, “Here I am. I come to do Your will.”
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Thomas Wong is a young professional in Washington, DC.
I stumbled into entrepreneurship in 2016 after studying philosophy, theology, and anthropology for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Ending up in the business world felt like a long and winding road filled with sleepless nights, much discernment, and many conversations. In the few years after graduating from college, like many early 20-year-olds, I felt untethered and unsure of my direction. What was my direction in life? What was my mission? How did the Lord want me to use my gifts and talents to serve him?
At the time, I attempted to answer these questions by searching for women who had accomplished work in the same field that I was going into. I spent endless hours looking for women on LinkedIn in their 40s and 50s who had achieved a successful career while also being married and raising a family. My search was futile. Although I did find a couple of single Catholic female entrepreneurs to connect with, for years, I felt like I was “making it up as I went along”: trying to weld married and family life while scaling a business, hiring and firing employees, serving clients, and trying to keep God in the center of it all.
Every vocation for women within the Church is beautiful and worthy, but being a Catholic entrepreneur in particular has been challenging. Although I have developed some great friendships with secular business women, I can’t connect with them fully about discerning business decisions with my spiritual director or praying a daily rosary for my employees. Within the Catholic sphere, I can’t completely relate to stay-at-home mothers or women who are working a 9-5. I desperately needed a mentor but could not find one who was willing to devote time and effort to my growth.
Speaking to women’s particular vocation, Pope John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem spoke to every woman’s calling to love:
“The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way - precisely by reason of their femininity - and this in a particular way determines their vocation”.
Here, Pope John Paul II illuminates women’s ability to “receive the other” because of the design of their femininity. Through their motherhood, spiritual and physical, women are capable of receiving, knowing, and loving others in a manner different to men. God entrusts humanity to women, knowing that she is uniquely made to care for those around her.
This act of entrusting carries through to every aspect of our modern world, including the sphere of business. Just as a mother nurtures her family, every woman in business has the mission to nurture those in her care: her clients, her employees, her colleagues. In a special way, Catholic women entrepreneurs co-create with God to create something out of nothing. Every woman-owned-business begins as merely a dream placed on her heart. Her mission is to share with the world her services and products—glimpses of God’s own heart and a genius that only she can share.
This is why mentorship is essential: so that women who are called to practice business can find and live out their own unique mission in this world. Women are called to cultivate the gifts and talents of others, to foster the dreams that only they can bring forth. A mentor provides guidance, critique, and reassurance as a young person matures. This is crucial to the formation of any woman, entrepreneur or not, but also fulfills the role of each Christian to evangelize the world. Without this relationship, one might not have the tools and resources to realize their full potential.
By fostering the gifts and talents of others through mentorship, women are living out their feminine genius. My Co-Founder, Emma Moran, and I created Catholic Women in Business in 2018. CWIB is an online resource of Catholic women who are seeking to live a life of faith while striving for excellence in their careers. We hope that it’s a space for women to cultivate mentorship and connection.
My dream is to initiate a movement where there is more mentorship available within the Church, for women and men. In encouraging these relationships, I believe we will be able to activate the missions of those within our communities, answer the Church’s call to a New Evangelization, and to bring forth the Gospel into our society.
Elise Crawford Gallagher is the Founder and CEO of RINGLET, a marketing agency based in Washington, D.C. that serves women-owned businesses. She is married to her college sweetheart, and together they live in Maryland.