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Journal of a Soul — Book Club

September 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Journal of a Soul

A Man After My Own Heart

27 February, 1898

Considering that it is only a week since I finished the Spiritual Exercises, I must admit that I have spent the time very badly, because of my continual distractions during prayers…


6 March, Sunday

I have been less distracted at prayer, but still not always and entirely recollected. In these last days I’ve had little recourse to invocations, with the result that I have been less united with Jesus than hitherto…


 13 March, Sunday

So many failings this week too!


20 March, Sunday

A month has already gone by since I came out from the holy Exercises. Where have I got to now in the way of virtue? Oh poor me!

Having made a general examination of my behavior during these recent days, I have found good reason to blush and feel humble. I have found that all my actions are far from perfect…


28 March, Monday

What good indeed has come out of all these promises? Alas! I had already forgotten them. If I go on like this I shall end in trouble. I am still in the same plight…


4 April, Monday

This week I have done a little better, but not altogether well: some things have been neglected in the general flurry of the examination period….


22 April, Friday

Holy Week has gone by, the vacation also is over, and instead of moving forward I have continued to slip back. How can this be, after so many good resolutions?


1 May, Sunday

What a lovely day! What a heavenly day after a week of scant fervour, indeed of distractions, almost of indifference! 


15 May, 1898, Sunday, in retreat

This month, even I myself have been able to see how full I am of self-esteem, and when I went to see my director he made me see if even more clearly…

Who knows why this should be so? The good Jesus sees that I have no other desire than to serve him, and that I try to stifle the impulses of my self-love. And yet I still fall, and so frequently! – Journal of a Soul, pg. 18-22


This progression of books has taken me from virtual despair to an unbelievable amount of motivation!! Why? Because I’m now filled to the brim with the beautiful theological virtue of HOPE! Can you believe it?! Even I can become a saint!!!

Be honest – you’ve been thinking the same thing about yourself! I know it – we’re all in this together – we imperfect souls.

Seriously, though. I can identify with this precious man. Anyone who analyzes his progress or lack thereof from day to day, and who keeps lists of his resolutions is a man after my own heart.

I, too, am a list person. I make spreadsheets for family meals and I use an app to organize every minuscule step to cleaning my house.  I also have a schedule for every minute of school each day, so that I know where every child is and we make sure every item is completed. I even set my familial, social, intellectual, financial and spiritual goals each year (although often I’m just re-evaluating and re-writing what I’d written the year before), and I often list spiritual commitments I’d like to make. The problem is that I almost never follow through. I stick with lists and schedules for about a week, and then they fade away until I'm inspired by another plan. My children are so used to this that when I recently introduced my latest plan for motivating them, complete with incentives and stickers, my oldest son actually said to his brother, “Don’t get too excited – it’ll last a week and then she’ll move on to something else” – OUCH!

This lack of follow-through applies to my spiritual life as well. Because the new school year is a time for new schedules, it seems every school year we begin be praying the rosary each night as a family, praying the Divine Mercy each day, reading spiritual stories and pretty much placing God as top priority throughout the week. But as the weeks go on, the business of the day overwhelms me and these things too, fade away until next year. I’ll share a pathetic illustration of this concept in our home – don't laugh. EVERY year we celebrate my sons’ and my husband's feast days – which fall in September and October. But I can’t remember when we last celebrated the girls' feast days – because they all fall in Spring!

Like I said. I can identify.

Perhaps it’s a sad testament to the state of my own soul that I’ve been so excited while reading this spiritual journal. Is it simply that “misery loves company”? Or is it something more?

I think back to various saint books I’ve read. The one that first comes to mind is The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux. We all love her. And because she’s everyone’s favorite saint, perhaps it I shouldn’t share this, but in present company, I'm sure it's OK.

Here goes – I have a very difficult time identifying with Saint Therese. Certainly she inspires me, and that’s important. It’s also the reason I’ve read her autobiography four or five times. But when I compare the oceans of grace she received with the thimble-full I see as my own, I must say, I’m not particularly motivated. I think – “here is a rose, and I am a weed.” What do I do with that?

On the other hand – I feel close to Pope John XXIII already! I could literally take this journal, and replace his name with mine on the cover. The only difference is that he was about 17 when he wrote these entries, while I am 41. I have a feeling by 41 he’d probably made some significant progress on his spiritual life. I try to pay attention now, but at 17, I was consumed with worldly pleasures – boys, clothes, school and friends.

I’ve never read this book before, so I’m looking forward to learning how Pope John XXIII's spirituality changed through the course of his life. Was he always disappointed in his progress? Or did he start to have a perspective like that of  St. Therese – content to be the flower Jesus wanted him to be, and satisfied with himself from that perspective?

Well, lets’ get on with it – I’m anxious to read. And I’m anxious to begin a modified version of his rules of life. Have I told you how excited I am?

This is me signing off to begin next week’s reading!

This Week:  Read Sept. 5, 1898 – Aug. 22, 1900


Discussion Questions:

1. What do you think of the reading so far? What do you think of the man?

2. Who are some of the saints who most inspire you and why? Were you surprised by Blessed Pope John XXIII? If so, how?


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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • Robert Kraus

    I am really with you on this one, identifying with John XXIII. I, too, am a ‘list’ person, and I have Word files on my computer with orders of Catholic prayers that I have planned/plan to do for morning, day, evening, night, etc. which I drew up since my conversion. I think that’s why I’m drawn to liturgy, prayers like the Rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours. At the risk of a complete lack of humility, it’s reassuring to see how this future Pope is methodical in the way he organizes his spiritual life, like I tend to be.
    Yet he’s clearly very spiritual. I see the agonizing effort that comes through from each page as he pushes himself not just to complete the prayers, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, saying his daily Rosary, but doing it with meaning, full attention, and fervor. I’m actually excited to see his development as he grows up into a priest, bishop, and future pontiff.
    I have literally flown through this book unlike the others so far in this club. This was truly an inspired choice. 🙂

  • Cecilia

    Just reading your comments, I can identify w/everything you wrote. I’m a list person, over the years have acquired tons of prayers & St. Therese seemed too perfect for me. However, as I hit my 50’s and 60’s my outlook changed. I’m still a list person, I love Pope John XXIII for his struggles in his simplicity and thru a series of events where St. Therese seemed to burst into my life at unexpected times I now see her in a new light. While raising my children my prayer life was a bit haywired. Mass and our family rosary were the only constants in our personal & family life. They were the foundations that held us together thru so many storms. When our children hit high school, everyone’s schedules became too crazy and the family rosary stopped even though many of us continued in our individual devotion of the rosary. I believe the saints teach us how to be friends with God. They had to grow in the knowledge that they were imperfect but that it was okay. They started to build a friendship with God as their friend who saw all their warts but also saw that they were trying. Just as I look at my children and grandchildren with great love as I watch and try to help them with their struggles so does God act w/us only with much more love and greater help if we allow Him. Those saints who have fallen or have struggled w/their spirituality (St. Paul, St. Mary Magdalen, St. John XXIII, etc.) actually give me great hope.

    • Vicki

      Thank you for your comments. They give me hope as well. I feel so privileged to be able to peek into the hearts and minds of Christ’s special friends. What an amazing gift we’ve been given!

  • abandon56

    It’s very heartening to read of his struggles. For me, St. Therese seems to speak most to my heart. Instead of climbing the rough stairway of virtue, as she says, she would rather remain a child (totally trusting and dependent especially in the face of her faults and weaknesses). At this time in my life, it seems there is no other way. Her simplicity and humility give me great HOPE. My pride always gets in the way when I make “plans”. This is where spiritual direction is so important b/c I need those objective “eyes” to help me see when I’m guilty of sloth and pride.

    • Vicki

      I agree. My pride gets in the way too – I think spiritual direction comes in very handy on this point. I love St. Therese’s elevator analogy, but I have a difficult time letting go as she did – that’s probably why John XXIII gives me hope – I know it must be possible if he started out like struggling like the rest of us:-)

  • LizEst

    Catholic school taught many to make ejaculations, or fervent invocations as the author calls them, such as: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” “Jesus, have mercy on me!” “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I give you my heart and my soul!” “Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, have mercy on me a sinner!”

    I believe Pope John XXIII is on to something in his resolve to make more of these throughout the day. Or, rather, this is a timeless practice of saints that has kind of fallen by the wayside and we would do well to brush it off and use it during our day. It helps keep our focus on God when the cares of this world threaten to make us forget our goal and our purpose in this life. “Oh, my God” then becomes not the most common three letter acronym on social media which takes the name of the Lord in vain, or borders on it, but a true invocation of God and a call for help, an expression of awe at God’s creation, a deeply spiritual recognition of the presence of Jesus in our midst.

    I like the reading so far because it is very authentic. That’s the surprise of John XXIII’s book. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind if, by the grace of God, he overcame his faults a bit more quickly. But, if this wears on me a little bit, then I can only imagine how much my own sins and resolve wears on the Lord. And yet, the words of St. Peter resound, “Consider that our Lord’s patience is directed toward salvation.” (2 Peter 3:15a).

    Many, many saints inspire me including Sta. Teresa de Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Augustine. Why? Because they have all struggled against the ways of the world, because they have been fine examples of picking up the cross and following Jesus. It’s hard to pick one saint over another. They all have something to teach us about the spiritual life, carrying out God’s will in our lives and being docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

    • Robert Kraus

      I know what you mean about overcoming his faults a bit more quickly. I had an initial reaction that he was very repetitive in the early entries about how he was constantly failing in the quality of his Rosary or his visit to the Blessed Sacrament. And I remember thinking, “was it really like this?!” Then I realized I was privileged to read a very well documented spiritual struggle in which a soul fought day after day to push through the distractions of the world and truly focus on the contemplation of God. It was very stirring…

      • Vicki

        Yes – it moved me precisely because it was repetitive. We are so blessed to have a week by week account of his struggles with “self” – perhaps he read Spiritual Combat before beginning his journal:-)! Regardless, he clearly follows the advice of that book, and the fact that he doesn’t quit, but rather keeps coming back – that is inspiring. I think in his position, I would have been tempted to stop writing in my journal if I wasn’t seeing changes in “my time” – as in the microwave vs. the crock pot. But he obviously had faith that his diligence would help him grow in sanctity. I think the old adage is true – the tortoise wins every time. In my spiritual life, I tend to be the hare – I get overzealous, and I wear out. His commitment is admirable – and so worth emulating.

    • Lizest, I think you may be talking about one of my favorite books by Brother Lawerence as well: ‘Practicing the Presence of God’. Great read about doing all things for God, in each moment and each activity with prayer and ejacualation and focus. I think this is probably the way I pray the most. I of course, still have times of forgetfulness, but through the grace of God and like Pope John XXIII, I get back up and try again.

      • LizEst

        Good for you, Jeanie! Actually, I was not talking about Brother Lawrence’s book. But, now you’ve piqued my interest. Will have to look into it some day. God bless you, Jeanie. You are on the Way!

  • Once again, on this one I will follow the Weekly Readings and I have no doubt I will benefit immensely from your illuminating Comments. May you all be blessed.

    • Ann

      I have started reading the book and am in awe of John 23. To think how young he was when he wrote this is just amazing. I relate to his yearning to serve God–in fact I am being much strengthened in that resolve reading what he writes. But his failings are so far beyond where I currently am, I am also humbled. I also found it repetitious, as some others mentioned, but that’s what it is like when we live this life trying to improve our virtues and grow closer to God. I feel really blessed to have gotten this book at the library. I am reading a little each night. It helps me to understand how we can grow in virtue. I’m quite undisciplined so his discipline is unbelievable to me. How can a person be so holy so young, I keep asking myself.

      What saints I admire? I’ve only read a few so far but John23 is definitely going to be near the top for me.

  • Cecilia

    Two points came to mind as I read the comments regarding the repetitive nature of the diary: 1-John XXIII probably never thought his diary would be read by anyone other than himself. He wasn’t writing a novel for others to see. He was a simple man struggling in a very honest way as so many of us do. I went back to read some of my diary—very boring but interesting to notice a bit of growth at times and God’s great patience w/me. 2-Once in confession as I began to list my sins the priest stopped me & said choose one & let’s focus on that one–look at the root cause & where we can improve. Another time as I asked the Lord how he wanted me to fast during Lent. He indicated I should focus on a certain sin area. In both of these situations, I became aware every time I committed the sin or was about to do so. The progress was very slow & repetitive and very long. That is the reason I find reading the struggles that saints go thru so very hopeful. When I teach a child how to draw, their struggles make beautiful works of art and I rejoice in their journey.

  • Sam Perez

    This is my first read ever on the life of a Saint. I’ve always heard the we should read on the lives of the Saints and Church Fathers, honestly I thought how boring, they are Saints and I am a sinner. How & what I can possibly learn. I am sorry LORD for being so closed minded. Iike always I was so wrong… In fact I am fascinated to read that a Saint more importanly a Pontiff had similar struggles with thier spirituality. I too feel priviledged to see the heart of this great man of God, what a refreshing example of humility and of hope. What an awesome gift, book. and too all my fellow readers thank you for comments they too have been so helpful! Happy Reading God Bless!!!

  • $1650412

    Oh Vicki! This really speaks to me, what you have written here! I loved these journal entries too because he struggles with the same things over and over—(just like me!); I can also excel at planning but, in my case, totally blow out at follow through; and I can’t track with the Little Flower at all- I love her to death, but I cannot really identify with her ideas or insights and how things affected her, at all! -she is so very different from me. John23 is helping me too with HOPE-( you hit that squarely on the head!), and patience and also piety- I say piety because the Lord convicted me not long ago to be VERY respectful- with reverential awe of the work that HE is doing in my life, and in the lives of others.

  • Victoria Campbell

    This book which finally arrived today is quite different from the last however like the last I find myself pausing every few sentences to reflect or in this case look something up. I have through these first pages been introduced to many prayers that were not familiar to me. It is a I will relate at my next cursillio grouping a very fruitful place for study.

    It is hard to imagine that the man who would become a beacon for the church struggled so intensely in his desire to be more pious and to live with humility. The author’s struggles remind me of the struggles of Mother Theresa in her book, Come Be My Light, in that they are so personal in nature and that for an observer looking at the author not something that would be apparent from the outside. It is astonishing to think that he suffered so much during this period of his formation. I am surprised by the degree of self loathing and disapointment that he is experiencing during this period.

    For me, I am inspired by St Ignatius of Loyola, Blessed Mother Theresa, and Blessed John Paul II.

  • Jennifer Burton Brannon

    I can relate to you here, sister! I, too, am a list and schedule abiding woman… down to the last detail. Probably why I am continually frustrated with my lack of spiritual progress over the last year or two… I don’t just seem to have hit a plateau, I’m in a valley… stuck in mud, spinning my tires!

    So, reading about this holy Pope’s struggles and feelings of failure is very refreshing. I am very inspired by saints like Catherine of Siena (because of her courage and persistence), St. Jerome (because cranky as he was, he told the TRUTH no matter what!) and saints who were devoted to the Eucharist, like Peter Julian Eymard.

    This book is really inspiring me to start a spiritual journal myself.

  • Sandy

    In Pope John XXIII’s Journal of a Soul, I see the day to day struggles of trying to follow the Christian way. At the beginning I felt like I was invading a person’s privacy. I also journal and have done the Spiritual Exercises. In the beginning I would go back to see where I have been and where I’m at now. I could see the little steps that were leading to spiritual growth and I saw the times that I would take two steps forward and three steps back. I came to realize that trying to live a virtuous life is pure grace. It can’t be accomplished on my own, so that is why I go to Reconciliation weekly and daily Mass. I like this book because it shows the humanity of this saint.

  • Sandy

    The more I read, the more human Pope John XXIII becomes. It is his humility that makes him a saint.

  • I’m behind everyone else, but I still want to follow as I can. So, here is my response to your post. 🙂 I prefer St. Therese! I have tried Pope John XXIII’s method, and had the same results. I cannot maintain. I do the same as you with school each year. This year I have already fallen away from my beginning plans. At this stage I am currently muddling through; praying and trusting in God’s Providence and grace, that I am exactly where God wants me to be. That is all I can handle right now.
    However, by the time I had finished reading this first section I began to think: Maybe I can institute just one act of piety each day as John XXIII has done. Maybe I should.
    Now I smile as I think of what may be preparing me for next as I finish reading this book. 🙂

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