True Grit: What Saints and Cowboys Have in Common

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Grit is found in the humblest of people, like Louise de Marillac.

A series of monthly reflections on the virtues presented in the new Values for Living 2.0 Character Development program for cadets of the Civil Air Patrol.  March’s focus virtue is grit.

by Chaplain (Captain) Lindsey Moser, CAP
Virginia Wing, Civil Air Patrol


“Grit” is a flexible term. During the month of March, we have been learning about how grit can be described as perseverance, determination, or a brand of “stick-to-it” behavior that helps us bounce back from failure. To be honest, when I think of “grit,” I think of a snowy day spent auditioning for a 2010 remake of the classic John Wayne western called True Grit. The movie (based on a 1968 novel by Charles Portis) follows young Mattie Ross as she hires U. S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn to bring in the man who murdered her father. Mattie wants Rooster’s help because she heard he has “true grit” and, joined by a young Texas Ranger, the unlikely team fights to find the murderer and bring him to justice. As most John Wayne movies are, the tale is full of harrowing brushes with danger: chases on horseback, smoking guns, poisonous snakebites, and moral dilemmas. When I heard the part of Mattie was up for those willing to audition across, I found the nearest audition location in Charlottesville, Virginia. I spent 3 hours in a car, stood in line with my dad bundled against the wind for another 3 hours, auditioned for 30 seconds, and drove 3 hours back home! I didn’t land the part but we had an adventure of our own that I will always remember.

True Grit is brimming with the tenacity and determination of Mattie and her rip-roaring friends. No matter how long the trail got or how hot the sun blazed, Mattie never gave up searching for the man who killed her father and fighting for her rights. It’s easy to see how Mattie shows grit against seemingly impossible odds. She also shares a lot in common with a 16th century widow who also fought against high stakes and stuck to her principles.

Louise de Marillac grew up without a mother and was adopted by a family who, in the long run, decided they didn’t want her anymore. When Louise was 12, her father died. Wondering what to do next, Louise applied to the Capuchin nuns in Paris, deciding that the cloistered life was where she belonged, but her application was denied and left her reeling with disappointment. Louise married at 22 but, a mere 10 years later, her husband began a battle with a debilitating disease, leaving her to care for both him and their special needs son, Michel. Her extended family wasn’t able to help: two of her uncles were involved with political debacles and died while she was nursing her husband. When her husband passed away, Louise fought with a sense of failure and depression: her life was much different than the one she had probably imagined as a young girl.

After her husband passed away, Louise vowed never to remarry and moved to a new home where she could care for her son in private. One day, Louise had a vision that she would receive spiritual direction from a priest. She soon discovered that one of her neighbors was a priest named Vincent de Paul and she instantly recognized his face from her vision. Louise reached out to him and began volunteering within his community, serving the poor and sick of Paris and caring for the basic needs that poverty had robbed from so many others. In 1632, Louise decided to pursue this work full-time: she trained young girls from the country to be nurses and showed them how to take care of others in simple but vital ways. With these women, Louise clothed, nursed, and fed the poor of Paris, gradually but systematically organizing the efforts of willing women into the nucleus of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The Daughters met the poor in their homes or on the street and cared for their most basic needs.

When Louise died at age 68, the Daughters of Charity had more than 40 houses throughout France. Louise was humble about these accomplishments; shortly before her death, she wrote: “Certainly it is the great secret of the spiritual life to abandon to God all that we love by abandoning ourselves to all that He wills.”

This Month’s Reflection

Mattie and Louise both faced impossible odds: the death of a loved one, the loss of their homes and social networks, and the stress of huge tasks that no one else wanted to do. However, their determination to see each circumstance through and their devotion to the bigger picture of their lives helped them succeed. What are you facing right now that seems impossible? What can you learn from the life of Mattie or Louise that inspires you to persist?

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