If I were ever going to get a tattoo, it would be a toss up between St. Julian of Norwich’s “All will be well” or St. Julie Billiart’s “Live the Good.” Probably one of those script ones, either on the inside of my wrist or along the top of my foot or something. I feel like either of these two phrases would stand the test of time and would have something to say to me for years to come. However, I am also a chicken, so it also probably won’t be happening anytime soon! I have known about St. Julian for a while, having studied some of her writings in school. Only recently have I heard about St. Julie, her Order, and her story.
St. Julie was born in Cuvilly, France, on July 12, 1751. Her life was full of unpredictability. She spent almost half of her life paralyzed, and once even had to be hidden in a hay cart by friends for her safety. Her physical limitations did not stop her from speaking the truth during the French Revolution. She was still paralyzed when she and a friend founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. A short while later, a priest who knew the community asked Julie to pray a novena to the Holy Spirit with him, his silent intention being her complete healing. At the conclusion of the novena he asked her to stand up and walk – and she did!
Julie felt God’s call to care for the poor girls of the community by opening schools where they could receive a free education. She walked for miles, teaching and caring for anyone she met. As the congregation grew, their local bishop at Amiens believed that he should be able to assert total control over them and force them to work only in his diocese. St. Julie fought back, and ultimately the congregation was expelled from the diocese. But, after finding a home in the diocese of Namur in Belgium, they were able to begin truly expanding their work across Europe.
Through all these ups and downs, St. Julie consistently bore witness to the goodness of God. She is often called “the Smiling Saint” because of her cheerfulness and never failing trust in God’s goodness. She wrote: “The more difficult the times are, the more we must expect and hope everything from the goodness of the good God. He will sustain us in his work which we cannot continue without his constant assistance.” She was also known in one town as the “walking love of God.”
As a mom, and a homeschool mom at that, St. Julie’s story resonates with me. An integral part of motherhood is being a teacher. We spend nearly every waking moment teaching, even if we don’t mean to. We teach how to cross the street, how to use a fork, how to cook, how to read, how to tie shoes, how to do multiplication. We teach patience, joy, love. Sometimes we inadvertently teach anger, frustration, anxiety, or worry. It’s all eyes on you, all the time.
But, and thank goodness for this because after that I’m not sure I can cut it as a mother, I don’t mother alone. I don’t teach alone. God is in my motherhood. He is working through me each and every day, helping me to be the woman, wife, and mother He has designed me to be. This is what St. Julie’s story is really getting at. No matter what comes our way, no matter what the trials, tribulations or triumphs, the goodness of God will always reign. Our choice is whether or not we will participate in that goodness.
This is where that little phrase of St. Julie’s sisters comes into play. “Live the Good.” This doesn’t mean “live all the stuff that makes me feel good.” It means to be, like St. Julie, “the walking love of God.” We know that St. Paul said to the Romans, “We know that all things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
All things – good, bad, right, wrong, happy, sad – all things can and will be used to bring about God’s glory and God’s goodness for us. The trick is keeping our eyes fixed on God. St. Julie put it this way: We ought to be “like the sunflower, which follows all the movements of the sun and ever turns towards it.”
Copyright 2018 Kate Taliaferro