Recently I was listening to a podcast meditation about the gospel where Jesus calls the Apostles (Matthew chapter 4) and they dropped what they were doing and followed him into a life of discipleship and public ministry. I often try to imagine this scene, and cannot get past two things; why he chose who he chose, and why they went. I always wish I could consider myself the kind of person that God would shine a little spotlight on and say “MY CHILD! THIS ONE! HER!” but it never plays out in my meditations that way. I am always one of “the crowd” the way I visualize it, usually just a bystander. I also wonder after all of the blunders and mistakes the apostles make, how they managed to make the cut? Peter was always seeming to misunderstand the point, James and John were “Sons of Thunder” (another meditation I heard described them as “hot heads” with anger issues although that may be exaggerated to make a point), Matthew a tax collector, Thomas was doubtful, and Judas seemed always to be a bit disagreeable. In other words, they were human.
In a reflection during a daily mass at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis remarked on the nature of the apostles, “These were good people, who wanted to follow and serve the Lord. But they did not realize that the path of service to the Lord was not an easy one.” They had temptations to overcome as we all do, and our sinful nature and character flaws do not discount us from God’s call on our hearts. What was pinpointed in the meditation that gave me such hope, was that the very thing that qualified them all to follow Jesus, the common thread among them, was that they had a heart that was searching for God, and they knew the power of obedience to Him.
We can be sure of the fervor of their waiting for the Lord in their lives by their readiness and the way they respond when they see Jesus. “At once they left their nets and followed him”, as fisherman working for their dad, and relying on their catch to live, this was certainly a grand act of obedience to God, and probably seemed crazy to everyone around them. So, the math seems to be: feverish searching for God + supersized obedience=apostle at the ready. Hmmm…I may after all, be able to switch my part in my meditation of this scene from “supporting cast” to “Apostle 3”. The problem is imagining how that kind of rogue obedience plays out in my life.
The search for God in our lives is really an entrance ramp on the path to sainthood, to which, by the way, we are ALL called. I really want to know Him and love Him, and be a good person, but that alone doesn’t make me a saint complete (we have up until the end to work on that). You see, He made us to love Him in a responsive way to the love He first gave to us. He put that seed in our hearts before we were born (Psalm 129:13) “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb“, and “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..” (Eph. 1:4).
If He created me to search for Him and love Him, then I am off to a good start! The next step is getting myself to respond the way I should. If you look at obedience solely in a dictionary definition, you will see the word “obey” and “authority”. If you consider it in a biblical context, you will see it associated with words that indicate a response from love. We love our children, and as such are happy to care for them in response to that love. If we love our friends, we respond to their friendship in a sense of honor and appreciation. Why wouldn’t it be exponentially greater response out of love for our Creator, who made us to love Him, but gave us the freedom to reciprocate? A creator who has wisdom far beyond our own, and like a parent with a child, knows what will benefit us and make us happier and better. I think the reasons we don’t respond obediently to God are as varied and complicated as we are as human beings, and deserve some serious prayer and meditation time on our own.
Recently at the end of our Spiritual Exercises, we picked cards for the year that highlight and saint and a virtue to focus on for the year. These cards are “divinely” chosen by the priest or one of the staff of the retreat. They are pulled from a basket, face-down, with a prayer for individual who is about to receive the card. Twice in a row I received “HUMILITY”. I always laugh out loud when I get this card because I have this overwhelming struggle with pride at times, and I have received it more than twice. The funny thing is that last year I took that card and put it in my folder from the retreat, and honestly, hardly looked at it throughout the year. This year, I decided that method was, um, not effective, and I knew I would continue to get this card every year until I spent a little time grappling with what the Lord was really trying to say to me about this virtue in my life.
The funny thing was, as always, in God’s perfect timing, I read that card after a moment of personal struggle to which the statement on the card was the perfect answer. In my understanding, God was telling me it wasn’t about me blaming myself for messing up, or getting snaps for doing a good job, it was about that I need Him, and I cannot make sense of things unless I continually place Him in the center of my heart, life, and works. Humility; it’s just not about me. Now I have the card as my bookmark in whatever spiritual book I am reading, so that I am several times a week reading over the definition of humility and finding ways to get it down in my spirit for good.
I am going to continue have a heart that is searching for God in my life, even when I feel I feel maybe I have been completely misunderstanding His word, or I have been a doubter, or unpleasant, or even a “daughter of thunder”. Obedience will not be so difficult of a jump to the rest of the call to be an apostle in my life, because it isn’t about me. It’s about Him in me, and that’s a huge distinction.
Question to meditate on: What am I doing on a daily basis to KNOW God better, so that I can LOVE HIM more?