Many years ago when I was a novice in religious life I was missioned to a social service center in central Louisiana. The point was to spend a summer doing something outside my previous experience in order to stretch and grow. I had never been to the southern US and thought it would be good to spend time in an area and cultural heritage that would be totally new to me. Therefore, I went to live among and minister to some of the economically poor members of a particular Cajun-Creole community. Honestly, while I was the one who chose that particular ministry, I became increasingly anxious as the day to go came closer. The first few days after I arrived were in fact difficult, mostly because I was still anxious and uncomfortable; but once I let go of my fears and truly began to open up to the people and the place, I fell in love with all of it. It wasn’t always easy, but that summer turned into a life-changing experience that still brings joy when I think back on it. It touched my heart in ways I could never have imagined. In short, I realized that going there was actually a response to an invitation from God; had I not said yes to God’s call to follow Him I would have missed an opportunity for the new life, love, and joy which were present in the people there. An invitation to discipleship is often a challenge, but it is also an opportunity for entrance into the joy of new life offered by God.
The Gospel readings for the first Sundays in the Easter season are filled with stories about invitations given by God to fearful followers. Mary Magdalene met Jesus at the tomb without knowing who He was at first. But once she heard Him pronounce her name, she opened to His invitation. Jesus invited her to be an evangelist and missionary of love when He instructed her to go tell the others what she had seen and heard. Jesus invited Thomas the apostle to touch His hands and put his hand in His side. That is, He invited Thomas to truly enter into the life of the Risen Lord by first believing and then responding. Jesus walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus: He invited them to eat of the Word and then of the Bread He broke and shared, thus inviting them to inspire others through what they had seen, heard, and experienced. And finally, during their encounter on the beach at the Sea of Galilee, Peter was invited to love the way Jesus loves, “to feed my sheep.” Peter’s invitation was to lead the new Church, but also to give up control, following where the Spirit led.
All of Jesus’ followers were invited to leave their old lives behind and enter into a new way of living. The early disciples had no idea where the invitations given them by the Lord would lead, but filled with trust and hope, believing what they heard and saw, they went where He led, each to a different aspect of ministry according to their unique invitation. As people of faith, we too are invited to follow in new ways, not just at this strange turn in the road, but throughout our lives. Just as for them, the unknown can feel daunting at first; but if we truly trust in God, even if we undergo suffering, we know that His invitation always leads to life in the end, never to destruction. All new things involve having to let go of the old ways which worked for us in the past, but are no longer effective or even realistic now. The post-Resurrection disciples had to grapple with change in everything they knew, everything in their entire lives, over only a few short days. They had no more sense of what the next days, months, and years of their lives would be than we do now. But they trusted in the invitation of Jesus, in the light and power of the Resurrection, and in the love and mercy offered to them.
Of course, at present we cannot control what is happening either, but there is an invitation being offered. We are invited to be like Mary Magdalene, no longer sadly weeping because we do not know where Jesus is, but rather weeping for joy in His victory, responding by going forth to share the Good News. We are invited to be like Thomas, rejuvenating our faith by entering into the mercy of Jesus and going forth to help others do the same. We are invited to be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, called to change course in order to go toward God rather than away, living in the joy of the Resurrection. And like Peter we are invited to feed Jesus’ sheep through acts of loving-kindness and selfless giving. Everything ‘lost’ for them was changed through the light and power of the Resurrection. Perhaps at this point the invitation is to enter into that same light, allowing it to transform our hearts so that whatever is fearful, anxious, grieving, or lost may be filled with new life and new purpose in the love and peace of the Risen Jesus. Things may be different now, but He is with us and we can go forward.
May we be patient during this time of newness, trusting in the joy of knowing that Jesus has indeed conquered sin and death and remains with us always! May we accept God’s invitation into a new future filled with possibility for seeing and loving Him in new ways, experiencing Him again (soon) in the Eucharist! May we be able to ask for help if we are in need, trusting in the discipleship of others! And may we enter into newness courageously, sharing in deeper life in the Spirit! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Risen Jesus! Peace! Alleluia!
©Michele L. Catanese
1. My photo, Grand Coteau, Louisiana, taken in 1983 during the summer mentioned in the first paragraph.
2. Icon, Mary Magdalen Rabboni - John 20:16 by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in purchasing a copy it can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-mary-magdalen-rabboni-john-20-16-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. My photo, taken in Silverthorne, Colorado.
4. My photo, taken in Matamata, across the street from the movie setting for Hobbiton (the Lord of the Rings) in the north island of New Zealand.
5. Icon, The Risen Christ by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-risen-christ-014-william-hart-mcnichols.html
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart