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Holiness – Do You Will It? – Book Club

October 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Holiness – Do You Will It?

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The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur
(Week 11 of 12)


In the Morning:

Whenever I can, I will go to Mass and Holy Communion.
I will communicate at least spiritually when, owing to
illness or circumstances beyond my control,
I am unable to go out.
Meditation on my new resolution.
Preparation for death.
Read a chapter of the Imitation.

In the Afternoon:

Examination of conscience.
Special resolution.
Read a chapter of the Imitation.

In the Evening:

Read a chapter of the Imitation.
Say the Miserere.
Prayer to our Lady.

– The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, p. 211-212,

(Monthly Spiritual Retreat: Paragraphs Three through Five.)


Monthly Spiritual Retreat: 

First Month: Silence
Second Month: Mortification
Third Month: Humility
Fourth Month: Renunciation
Fifth Month: Love of Souls
Sixth Month: To Meditate Upon, Love and Serve our Crucified Savior
Seventh Month: Detachment of Soul
Eighth Month: Obedience
Ninth Month: Poverty of Spirit
Tenth Month: Prayer
Eleventh Month: The Spirit of Penance
Twelfth Month: Abandonment to God

 – The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, Topics on Which to Meditate Monthly, p. 212-224


Our son's high school cross-country team is rather impressive, having won state last year and the honor of second the year before. So far this year, they’ve won five out of six meets (wherein they've competed against several schools at once), and they continue to be a strong team.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with cross-country, each meet consists of only one 5k (3.1 mile) race for Junior Varsity and one for Varsity. During the school week, the team runs approximately three to five miles per day. A few highly motivated runners run six.  I promise, this is going somewhere.

A few days ago, my husband had the opportunity to speak with the father of our top runner – perhaps the top Class B runner in the state. After chatting for a while, my husband asked him about his son’s training this past summer. I think my husband would have been impressed to hear that this young man ran maybe five or six miles per day, five or six days per week in the off-season. But in the end, he was stunned to hear that this man’s son ran no less than twelve miles per day, seven days per week all summer long. This athlete's training regimen was more than double what my husband would have guessed, and my husband is a runner!

It’s interesting how often we mistakenly think that top competitors are just “talented.”  Sure, maybe he works at it – but of course, he has talent, and it's not nearly as hard for him as it would be for the rest of us. Really? How many young men would be willing to run twelve miles per day, seven days per week, rain or shine, to train – in their off-season – for a 5k race? God may provide the “talent,” but how many actually put their “all” into the game?

Only those who really want to win!

When I went through the Monthly Spiritual Retreat portion of Elisabeth’s journal this week, the above kept coming to mind, and I began to relate this concept to the saints. Don’t we sometimes approach them with the same mistaken preconceived notions? Sure, she was holy, but I’m sure she was born more holy than I’ll ever be! It couldn’t have been nearly as difficult for her as it would be for me…

Fortunately for us, the facts fly in the face of that assumption.

Elisabeth Leseur’s is the second journal we’ve read over the past year. Earlier, we read the Journal of a Soul, by Blessed John XXIII (soon to be Saint John XXIII). Each of these precious souls maintained a very disciplined, orderly program for growing in holiness.

In Journal of a Soul, Pope John XXIII entered page upon page of notes regarding his spiritual regimen. Sure, he fell again and again. But he persevered.  Entrusting his soul to God's grace, he never gave up.  As we read through his journal, we literally witnessed the transformation of his soul over the course of sixty years.

Elisabeth, likewise, refused to leave her spiritual growth to chance. On virtually every page, we witness her commitment. What is her journal but a series of resolutions, spiritual guidelines, and examinations of conscience? We know from our reading that she constantly re-committed herself to a regimen for her spiritual growth. She described to her mother the importance of such discipline:

Whoever wishes to lead a truly Christian life must first exert his will, and so regulate his existence as to put the most important things foremost. I think that nothing is more important in the use of our days than the time given first of all to God (p. 192).

After providing her mother with a recommended regimen for her spiritual growth (found on p. 192-193), she continued, taking special care to mention the perseverance necessary for this mission:

If you, dearest mother, wish to make progress in the Christian life, and at the same time to give me much happiness, force yourself daily to do as I have just said. Do it without any anticipation of finding delight in it, but do it regularly. I would be so glad if the things of the soul and of the inner life became gradually familiar to you, and took complete possession of your good, loving heart, which is restless because God has not yet filled it sufficiently with Himself (p. 193).

When it comes right down to it, it’s not so much about “talent” or about being born “holy.” Blessed John XXIII and Elisabeth Leseur made holiness their life’s mission.

They took seriously the words of Saint Paul:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).


I must ask myself, How badly do I desire to win the prize?  Am I willing to run so that [I] may obtain it?


NOTE:  ANNOUNCING OUR NEXT BOOK: An Introduction to the Devout Life by Saint Francis de Sales (Beginning on October 22 – will last approximately 12 weeks). Please invite your friends to join us – this is guaranteed to be a life-changing book!


Reading Assignment:

Week 12: The Little Treatise on Hope – End of Seek and Follow Your Vocation (p. 235-262)


Discussion Questions:

1. What steps can you take today to engage your entire will toward becoming a saint? Are there things you are already doing that you can share with the rest of us? If so, how can you improve upon them?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!



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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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  • I love this woman. She has a holy passion for Christ that will not be quenched. Running is, in part, a controlled falling forward. Elizabeth has this holy imbalance that keeps her ever falling forward towards heaven.

    • Camila


      Maybe you can create a Navigating the Interior Life website with online spiritual direction. Here’s how it would work:

      – you lead everyone through the book, id root sins, form rule of life
      – we enter the rule of life online
      – on a monthly basis we post our struggles/concerns/ideas/etc….
      – you give us feedback on how to work on ares of struggles (and, hold us accountable to the rule of life)
      – we move forward
      – all confidential of course
      – all from the comfort of our homes
      – you can meet with directees via skype/facetime for some face-to-face meeting
      – a fee can be charged – just like you would pay a doctor for a diagnose and prescription on your physical health – how much more important and of great value is a precise diagnose and prescription to the ailment and remedies for the spiritual life….

      Think of it as “spiritual coaching” 🙂

      • I really do like the idea and have considered such a thing but I would need to bi-locate to create the time! As well, we might want to provide you with much higher quality support than I would be able to give…

        • Alexandra Campbell

          Camilla! I have had the same idea about Skype recently.


          Perhaps there are students in the Avila Institute who need to practice on someone! I am actually not joking. I would love to be able to find a holy priest to be willing to spiritually direct me on Skype, but if not that perhaps the students?

          Sort of an internship not unlike the one I went through to obtain my PhD in clinical psychology. I would see the client and then go to supervision to a much more experienced therapist who offered oversight and correction if necessary.

          Could not students of spiritual direction do something similar. Perhaps I don’t know enough about the Avila Institute. Is it involved in training spiritual directors? Guess I better check out the site and find out.

          I feel really desperate to find a director as I feel God is trying to lead me into areas of possible ministry to the divorced, especially as I read about the Synod on marriage and the Sacraments the Pope is planning to have next year. I don’t feel safe really doing much in this area without a director…

          If you do know of any resources for actual one-on-one spiritual direction through Skype please let us know.

          Thank you.

          • DianeVa

            Alexandra, I too have felt that need to help with the divorced and have felt encouraged by the Pope’s Synod next year. I have just signed up to “interview” a person for possible spiritual direction. I feel many inspirations to help others but not sure where to start. Thus I think a spiritual director is essential.

          • Alexandra Campbell

            Hi Diane,

            Have you ever heard of Solitude Myriam? It is a group of divorced people consecrated to supporting each other in the common life. Based out of Canada…under their Bishop…very sweet…you can google…


        Camila: I am interested in your idea of spiritual direction. I have been searching for a spiritual director for several years. My priest recommended one and we met a few times, but nothing really came of it. He has never done spiritual direction. I like him but I am not getting the direction I need but I don’t want to say anything or cause any hurt feelings. I pray your suggestions can become a reality.

  • Camila

    So true. I have been thinking a lot about this too. Just this weekend my boys participated in a tournament and I saw some kids there were downright impressive – I checked their training and just like your husband I was stunned.

    I kept asking myself – boy, if they are willing to train this hard for a perishable crown…. aren’t I suppose to be training much harder for a non-perishable one? I am truly challenged by this thought. The questions I’ve been having are these: How do I strengthen my will? If I fall on a resolution, where do I pick up again? Do I start from ground zero or try to pick up where I dropped off?

    I can’t really set spiritual goals – the goals I can set are resolutions of time I”ll spend in time (regardless of feelings) the ACTS of love I’ll do (ie serve family) – the deliberate stirring of my will to forgive someone – even if the joy of forgiveness is a grace. I’m challenged by your post and Elizabeth.

    This too was one of my struggles with spiritual direction. I need accountability, the director doesn’t really need to be holiness par excellence, but I want him to ask me – “so, how are you coming along in your rule of life” and then troubleshoot with me my areas of struggle….. and follow-up….

  • Jeanette

    It really is all about God’s grace… but it is our heart and our will combined with God’s grace that leads us on to desire heaven and to desire to become a saint. We were born with a God-shaped void in our hearts and once we have tasted God’s love, there is no turning back…we want to fill that void to overflowing.

    I want to share what I do, as you have suggested Vicki, but I don’t want to list everything…just a few points that may be of interest: When I awaken in the morning, I praise, thank, worship and thank our God and then I spend much time (an hour or more) asking God for many, many spiritual favours, increase in virtues, gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit (as the Holy Spirit leads me) and listening to Him. I believe this allows my prayers (rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplets and other types of prayer) to be efficacious before the Lord when I concentrate on praying for others for the rest of the day. I try to talk to the Lord and listen to Him all day long. My prayers at night are thanksgiving and examination of conscience and listening to the Lord. The Sacraments of the Church are vitally important to me…I have an ardent love for the Eucharist. I participate in service to others in Church, family and friends. I have a good spiritual director which is vital as I wish to advance in holiness and become a saint.

    Dan Burke’s book: Navigating the Interior Life helped me with finding out my root sin (so that I could work on this) and also with a Rule of Life. I review and change my Rule of Life every six months. I have written out my personal prayers for myself (desires for increase of virtues or spiritual favours) and intend to review these every six months and make changes as required (my spiritual director is quite impressed with this and wants to do this himself). Too much to relate, so I will stop here hoping that I have revealed a little bit of myself that may be helpful to others. God bless you!


      Jeanette: Thanks for your testimony. I share the need to read the stories of others who have found the joy of Christ through the spiritual life of prayer and meditation. Elizabeth Leseur’s journal in tandem with Navigating the Interior Life and Journal of a Soul are my anchors. My prayers are with you and all others in the Spiritual Book Club.My copy of Elizabeth Leseur’s Journal was donated to me by a member of the club and she is a special one in my prayers. God bless you all.

  • Robert Kraus

    It’s interesting how this journal is one of my favorites so far in the Book Club along with Journal of a Soul. There’s something about the diary/journals of holy people, and seeing their prayer regimens, reading about their struggles, that inspires me to want to emulate them.

  • DianeVa

    WOW Jeanette! Sharing your list of what you do during the day was helpful, yet honestly a bit overwhelming and a little discouraging to me, a novice. I too want to grow in holiness and spiritually. I need to start smaller because I love to read a lot of spiritual books yet at the same time I feel I have no routine. I hope I can find a good director who will set me on the right routine.

    • LizEst

      DianaVa – Dan’s book Navigating the Interior Life has instructions on how to find a good director, what questions to ask a potential director, etc, etc. You owe it to yourself to read it. And, if you already have it, I recommend you reread it.

    • Gabrielle Renoir

      One of the best books you could read is Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ.” Another is “The Cloud of Unknowing,” especially if you are of a contemplative nature.

      • Gabrielle – Good recommendation on Kempis. The Cloud can be and is more often than not, misinterpreted/misunderstood which I covered a bit in this post:

        • Gabrielle Renoir

          Thank you for the link, Dan. I do agree with you that there are better books than “The Cloud of Unknowing” for the vast majority of persons. It was just such a perfect book for me that I think I tend to become over-zealous where it’s concerned and forget that unless studied with someone very spiritually advanced it can be misleading. However, I should point out that I studied that book with a priest and shared all my experiences with him.

          I don’t think there’s really anything in the book to be frightened of, though. Perhaps wary would be a better word. One should not embark on mysticism without an excellent spiritual guide. I am always skeptical and wary of mystical experiences – mine and those of others – until I can discern their origin as being from God and not the evil one, who is very clever or until the Church declares them valid as in the case of Fatima, etc. Even then, I believe we are free to reject private revelations, though I would not reject what the Church has approved.

          I think, too, that mysticism and contemplation – not meditation, that is something different from contemplation, I think – is more a grace and gift from God than it is a sign of spiritual advancement in the person who experiences it. I think it has more to do with what God wants of us, and I also think a vast minority of persons are called to experience this type of union with God while still here on earth. Thus, “The Cloud of Unknowing” would not be a useful book for most people and could lead them to experiences that are false and potentially harmful. I grew up in a cloister among nuns and priests, and I sometimes forget that this is a foreign way of life for most people. In one of my theology classes, one very devout woman told me she’d never spoken to a priest beyond confession and a “Hello, Father” after Mass and that she’d never even met a nun. She was amazed that I have close friendships with many nuns and priests. Most people, I think are called to a more active vocation than those who practice the type of contemplation detailed in “The Cloud of Unknowing.” I probably should have recommended the ancient practice of lectio divina, instead. It is accessible to all and not fraught with the danger mysticism can hold if one is not careful.

          I have not yet read your book since I only recently found this site, however I intend to do so soon. I am grateful for the guidance you provide and for the many other writers here. Thank you and may God send you his richest blessings!

  • DianeVa

    Looking forward to “An Introduction to the Devout Life” one that I read years ago and still have on my shelf. I look forward to reading it with you all and gleaning new and deeper insights for I know I am not the same person spiritually that I was when I first read it. Thanks to all!

  • DianeVa

    Thanks for the advice friends! The IMITATION OF Christ was probably one of my very first devotionals 10 years ago and has been “pushed” behind by many others over the years. I never read the Cloud of Unknowing, but it sounds familiar, but I don’t own a copy. Divine Intimacy is one of my favorites now! In Conversation with God replaced Imitation of Christ for quite awhile. Yes, I have Dan’s book Navigating…and love it and I will reread it as I begin spiritual direction.

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