Has anybody ever said something to change your life, to alter the path which you were on, to wake you up, and make you come to your senses? Has there been a significant person, place, event, conversation or even an invitation that you can recall that changed your life around? Is there a date that you can say to yourself, ‘yes, such-and -such a thing happened to me on that date, ‘what he or she said changed my life’, ‘that thing I saw opened my eyes.’
During the week I read in the life of the foundress of the Presentation Sisters, the Corkwoman, Nano Nagle. She spent 10 years in Paris to finish her schooling. As a teenager she had the opportunity to attend all night-balls and parties. Coming back from one in the early hours of the morning in her carriage, she spotted a number of people waiting outside unopened doors of a church, waiting for morning Mass. This was the first time she began to contrast her comfortable life with that of the less fortunate, as well as the fact that they were more devoted to God than she was. It was some time later living in Dublin that she asked her sister Ann to make a dress from some silk that she ordered from Paris. Ann confessed that she had already cut up the silk and used it for clothes for the poor. This came as a surprise to Nano but she wasn’t upset by it. But it was Ann’s death shortly afterwards and Nano’s reflection on the charity of Ann that changed her and she dedicated her life to the relief and education of the poor, especially children. It was what we might describe as a ‘wake-up call’.
Every saint has a moment in their life, or a series of small seeming insignificant steps that change their lives. In the 20th century there are two people the whole world heard of:
For people like soon to be ‘Blessed Pope John Paul’, who was so multi-talented as a young man, but whose love for the stage made him aspire to be an actor by profession, it was the deaths in turn of his mother, father and older brother that led him into deep prayer and reflection about his true vocation and purpose.
For Blessed Mother Teresa it was a fateful train journey in India as a Loreto Sister when the Lord revealed to her directly that He wanted her to dedicate her life to the poor of India and found the Missionaries of Charity.
Down through the centuries it was the same: something changes a life forever:
For St Patrick, it was a dream; For Francis of Assisi it was a chance encounter with a leper; For others it is a sermon (St Antony of Egypt), a book (St Ignatius), an inspiring talk, good example(martyrs), even an inspiring TV programme, good advice from a friend. For some of us it is a challenge to our conscience that turns us around – the example of someone else who in their charity, kindness, or patience or forgiveness in a given situation challenges us to better than we are, to be ‘all that we can be’. Finally, it can be the untimely diagnosis of illness or the death of someone we know that wakes us up to the shortness of our lives and the resolve to seek out what God wants of us.
We may even have forgotten the exact moment our lives changed, all we know is that we are here in church today because it matters, it is important, and I know that God wants it and He has a plan for me.
Today (coincidentally in the English translation of Scripture), Jesus invites people with 10 words. There are only two statements of Jesus; what he does is more significant, it seems (that leaves a deeper impression) than what he does.
Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand (10 words)
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (10 words)
Matthew is keen to point out the fulfilment of Scripture: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ . Jesus is the light. Sometimes we use the phrases like: ‘it dawned on me’ or ‘I saw the light’.
To change direction, to stop going in this direction, to do a U-turn because I am going down a blind alley, one word sums it all up – repent. Why? Because God is near, and to follow His will rather than my own all the time, is important right now.
What or who in my life has changed me?
What in my own life needs change and improvement?
What am I leaving out? What should I be doing that I am not already doing, that God may want of me?
These are questions worth reflecting on. The four fishermen left everything at once not knowing where their paths would take them, but the fact that Christ was doing the asking was all that mattered. What does Christ want of us and me now, today?
Let us take the time to ask Him.