Love and hatred for motivational memes

Have you stopped to think about the truth behind those memes which float around Facebook and Twitter? Jon Cornwall shines a theological torch at the often misguided use of quotes.

I spend more time on social media than I care to admit, and occasionally in my 3am efforts to finish reading the internet I will come across an inspirational quotes, just like the one pictured.


You may have just looked at that image and thought to yourself… “that’s nice, let’s move on”. If you did then you are a far better person than I am. It seems that this is one of my great triggers. What is wrong with it? Let me count the ways, in no particular order.

Sin 1: Totally unrelated picture of a minion, a cartoon character really quite famous for not actually saying anything quotable!

Sin 2: It’s Saint Teresa of Calcutta!!

Sin 3: And Saint Teresa of Calcutta never even said this!!!


If you use social media as a Christian, you will likely spend a good portion of your life seeing such pithy quotes written over a jarring, and often unrelated stock picture of sunsets, kittens and minions. For anyone already expecting me to finish this blog with an image and a quote you are absolutely right, but I will ask for your patience before scrolling down.


These inspirational and poignant quotes from Nelson Mandela, Saint Augustine, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Fulton Sheen will often be presented with a lovely frame, some flowers or a background containing an appropriate emoji. The academic in me is always challenged by these ‘brainy quotes’ and I am often frustrated that they have not been referenced properly, if at all. So, in recent years as an academic in the world of fake news, I have set about trying to get myself unfriended by all associates by fact-checking their inspirational quotes.  


If we have a favourite quote from St Vincent de Paul, have we sought to read it in context? There is an excellent chance that in the very next breath St Vincent would go on to expand further. When we find ourselves thinking about a principle set out for us by Blessed Frédéric, do we check to make sure we understand it correctly? Are we carrying on the vision of the founders of the Society or are we the well intentioned next players in an almost 200 year-long game of Chinese whispers?


The more we are immersed in Louise de Marillac, Blessed Frédéric and others, the more we become familiar with the Vincentian tone, its warmth and often, I have to say, quickness to tell the reader off and remind them to fix their priorities on those we serve.


And what of the background, what picture should my motivational poster have? A cat hanging from a washing line? The grotto in Lourdes where the veil between Heaven and Earth is at its thinnest? No, not this time. If I know anything from motivational posters the quote and the picture do not have to relate.

For those who have met me, it may not surprise you that I am not a surfer. But I have often been awed by those incredible pictures of a surfer riding through a vortex, water above them, crashing over them as they barrel through a wave. What must that moment feel like? How wonderful a gift it must be for the created to be surrounded so inextricably by swirling, powerful creation. How desperate they must be to stay in that moment, to seek the thrill of it and to find themselves there.

Our profound moments, meanwhile as Vincentians, are to be found in Christ and most especially when we bring Christ to those most in need.


As previously promised, I leave you with a jarring, inspirational poster with a quote from Saint Vincent de Paul, our patron.


Jon Cornwall is the SVP’s Director for Membership.

SVP Poster