What would it take for you to drop everything in your life and do something so completely different that nothing about your life will ever be the same? I mean a life so radically different that you would walk away from your job, your home, your friends, maybe even your family. It would have to be pretty enticing right?
Would it be lots of money? Fame? Your dream job?
For the saints, the answer was Jesus Christ.
In a men’s group meeting last week, a few icebreaker questions were tossed out to help the men get to know one another. One of the questions was, “Who is your favorite saint and why?” As I listened to the answers a couple that stuck in my mind were Saint Damien of Molokai and Saint Teresa of Kolkata.
It is easy to admire such great saints who immersed themselves into the terrible suffering of people who would otherwise be shunned, forgotten and left to die in utter misery and pain. It is very difficult to imagine ever walking out of our comfortable first-world lives and doing that work for even a month, never mind for the rest of our lives.
Father Damien ministered to the leper colony on Molokai in the 19th century, offering compassion and love to a people banished to die in isolated quarantine. His great love overcame any sense of revulsion or fear of the disease. He eventually contracted leprosy and died of it on Molokai in 1889 after 16 years of ministry there.
Upon his arrival at the leper colony Father Damien told the lepers that he was "one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you.”
The man at my meeting who had named Father Damien as his favorite saint pointed to his Christ-like compassion and selfless love. Father Damien had love for others like our God has for us, our God who chose to humble himself to become one of us, to live with us, and to die for us.
So Father Damien answered the call to serve.
Mother Teresa was fascinated as a child by the lives of missionaries and became a nun at the age of 18 to serve the poor. After she left home, she never saw her mother or sister again. In 1946 she heard a call from God to help the poor by living among them. She said of the call, “It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.” She founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta and began to live among the poorest of the poor, the outcasts and the suffering people of the streets.
What does it take to answer that call?
It takes a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It requires the openness to hear and know the voice of the Good Shepherd, to know the truth of his words and the message of the Gospel deep within your heart. It requires the courage of faith.
I can wager that Father Damien and Mother Teresa didn’t hesitate or wonder if they were making a great mistake. They simply chose to be Christ to those who needed him. They chose to serve God by serving the lowest of their brothers and sisters.
Many today continue to answer the call. The Missionaries of Charity continue the work of their founder in the depths of the slums. Many in religious life, but also lay workers and missionaries, serve in areas impacted by drought, disease, poverty and despair around the globe.
Still the voice of the Lord calls out for workers.
Fishers of Men
Two brothers working on their fishing boat hear the voice of Jesus call out, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew, hard at work at their livelihood, cast aside their nets, leave their boat behind and follow the one who called them.
A little further on Jesus sees James and John hard at work in their boat, their family business where they were working alongside their father. He calls them to follow him and they leave their work and their father behind and follow.
They leave behind the very thing that put food on their table and roofs over their heads to follow a man who had “no place to rest his head.” (Luke 9:58)
Jesus sees a tax collector sitting in his office working, a man despised by the people. He calls out, “Follow me.” Matthew gets up and follows Jesus, a tax collector no more.
Now he would be a collector of souls for the Lord.
These responses to the call of the Lord to follow, to serve, to evangelize and to minister echo through the lives of the saints. Saints get up and follow. Saints go where the Lord needs them to go, without hesitation.
Peter doesn’t say, “Well, let me finish up my work for today and go home and speak with my wife about this.”
John doesn’t say, “But we need to finish mending these nets and helping our father.”
Matthew doesn’t say, “Let me lock up the money and close up the shop for the day.”
Jesus called to another man whose name we don’t know saying, “Follow me.” The man replied, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus replied, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Another who was called says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-62)
These are tough responses from Jesus. It may be that these two would-be disciples are not named in the Gospel because they clung to the things of this earth, to worldly responsibilities, and found the call to leave it all and follow much too difficult.
Not everyone answers the call.
Not everyone has such faith or such trust in the Lord.
Some fill their lives with so much noise that they can’t hear his voice calling. And among believers there are many who say, “I will follow you, Lord, BUT first…”
I am guilty of that myself.
Sometimes humility is lacking in us. Oftentimes we find it very difficult to say, “Not my will, but thy will be done,” especially without adding in our own, “but first.” We find our things and our people, even our time, more valuable to us than doing the Lord’s work.
He may not be calling us to leave everything at this point in our lives, but he is calling us to some level of sacrifice of our personal time and pleasures in order to be his light and his hands in a world of need.
We know that at the end of time the Lord will come and separate the sheep from the goats, the ones who did his work among the poor, the sick and the needy from those who did not show that love and compassion to others. We may find ourselves saying that even if we are goats today we can still be sheep tomorrow. We still have time.
Who knows how much time we have?
Or maybe we just have fear. Fear of stepping outside of our comfort zone, fear of losing the security of a job, fear of losing possessions or money, or fear of not being understood by those in our lives.
When Jesus tells his disciples how difficult it is to enter into heaven, Peter asks, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?”
Jesus tells them, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life. But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:23-30)
We can look to great saints like Father Damien and Mother Teresa with admiration and respect. We know their reward from the Father. They are canonized saints and are with him in heaven.
There are two things we need to bear in mind.
The words of the psalmist, “O, that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts…” (Psalm 95:7-8)
The words of the Lord who repeatedly tells us, “Fear not.”
Lord, help us to not be afraid to follow where you call us to go.
Kevin Theriault is a Lay Dominican writer, freelance journalist and photographer.
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