I am always intrigued by the last line in today’s Gospel, “. . . they left everything and followed him.” I am awed by the power of the Word of Jesus to inspire. I find in it - hope and encouragement - that I too may, through the power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, find the courage to stand up each day and say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”
Do we have many examples in our lives that show this kind of courage and strength of belief - to follow the Lord, leaving everything behind? I was fortunate at one time to meet a young priest who was such a person.
“Fr. James” is a member of a religious order that seeks vocations in others to the priesthood and religious life. He is a living story of the power of God and an inspiration to those of us who may be ‘Doubting Thomas’ or from Missouri.
Fr. James grew up in Philadelphia, PA, the youngest son of a Baptist minister in a large close-knit religious family. He, along with his brothers and sisters, and all his aunts, uncles and cousins, attended church each Sunday and were all very involved in the life of their faith community. He studied the Bible and could quote scripture with the best of them. He sang the praises of the Lord in their church choir and helped served the poor and needy in their neighborhood. He was a solid member of the church and his father had hopes the James would follow him into ministry.
Because the Catholic school in their neighborhood was far superior to the public school, James attended both the Catholic elementary and high school taught by the religious Brothers. In their teachings and lives dedicated to the Lord, James found comfort and inspiration. He admired the Brothers, their simple lives and strong faith in Jesus.
Upon graduation from high school James’ father expected him to attend a Baptist college to study for the ministry. But James had other plans, which he kept from his family until graduation day. At his graduation party James announced that he was entering the religious order of the Brothers who taught in his high school and hoped to become a Catholic priest.
It can be assumed that this news was greeted: first with stony silence and then chaos. James was finally ordered out of his family home and told to never return.
Throughout his years in seminary all his letters home went unanswered and no one in his family made any attempt to contact him. When it came time for James to be ordained to the priesthood he sent invitations to his father and mother and other family members. Not one of them came or called or sent him a card and to this day, many years later, he has still not heard from his family.
While this appears to be a sad story without the expected happy ending of reconciliation and reunification – it is a happy story of the power of God through the Word made Flesh and the Spirit. It is a story that inspires us to do as Jesus asks, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catchers of men.”
Fr. James is a tireless worker in the vineyard of the Lord: seeking others who will, like Isaiah, when the Lord asks, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?” Will stand up and say, “Here I am Lord! Send me!”
Deacon Don Ron