And they were gone. Once the Savior of the world had extended an invitation to join Him, many left their former lives and followed Him. If one were to gaze at the sand, only their footprints could be found. In our lives, such a call would likely possess the characteristics of uncertainty, excitement, and fear of the unknown. I am also certain that we would have many questions. What will happen to my family and friends? Will I ever see them again? How will I provide for myself? Do I completely trust the One whom I have chosen to follow?
In our day and age, how many times have we heard of individuals doing such a thing? Over the years, I recall stories of persons who suddenly decided to do one thing or another. While one person views a television infomercial and immediately orders whatever snake oil that is being promoted, still another experiences a mid-life crisis and moves their life in a direction that appears so strange to observers that they wonder whether the individual has lost all sense. I imagine that it was this latter impression that must have dominated those who knew the newly appointed apostles of Jesus.
On March 9, 1978, one such life-shifting experience happened to a Catholic deacon. Having been ordained just three years, Bill Steltemeier was a successful Vanderbilt Law School graduate and senior partner at the Nashville law firm of Steltemeier & Westbrook. On weekends, he served as a prison chaplain.
That morning, while attending a legal convention in Chicago, he stumbled upon a flyer in the vestibule of that city’s Holy Name Cathedral promoting a talk to be given by Mother Angelica later that evening. After a day of meetings, a tired Deacon Steltemeier checked back at the hotel and asked for directions to St. Margaret Mary Church. And he was off. But before long, he found himself in the midst of a blizzard. Having skidded past accidents and hazy interstate signs, his car eventually ran out of gas and puttered into a gas station. For the second time, he asked for directions to St. Margaret Mary Church. Fortunately, it was right around the corner.
Upon entering the church, he quickly made his way to the front pew and noted that only once did Mother Angelica look in his direction. But while seated there, he heard a voice.
Until the day you die.
According to Steltemeier, “It scared him to death. I knew my life belonged to her from that first instance, no question about it.” At a reception afterward, he recounted that Mother smiled at him from across the room but that they did not speak. And as he drove back to his hotel that evening, he kept telling himself that “he was not going to get involved.”
Upon returning home to Nashville, however, his prayer life kept repeating the words, “until the day you die.” After a month of this, he had enough and began to drive down to the monastery in Alabama. When he arrived and knocked on the door, Mother answered: “I wondered when you were coming.” (Adapted from Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, Raymond Arroyo, Doubleday, 2005, pp. 137-138)
In Mark’s Gospel (1:14-20), Jesus’ arrival in Galilee brought this proclamation: “This is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” In his Letter to the Corinthians (7:29-31), St. Paul reminds us of the urgency: “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out…the world in its present form is passing away.”
Not long ago, I helped coordinate some talks at my parish on the Sacraments of Initiation. I was blessed to have drawn several talented speakers to reflect upon Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. In each of their talks, the speakers focused upon the boldness and courage of the early Christians which enabled them to “walk the walk” of Jesus Christ. Often subject to persecution, these men and women approached their baptism after having prayerfully reflected upon the decision they were about to make. On that grace-filled day, they would enter the sacred and holy waters, be immersed by the deacon, and rise as transformed people. After all, they had just “put on Christ.” Forever changed, they would from that moment forward come to rely upon God’s Spirit as their compass in a world set against Truth.
Like the apostles and early Christians, we also receive unexpected calls. For given that the Spirit of God animates our lives, we become increasingly aware that God invites us to move forward, sideways, and sometimes even in reverse! And when He does, we are often asked to do something for, or to speak words of wisdom to, another person. It is also not that unusual for the Spirit to inform us that we should slow down so that we might listen, reflect, and hear God’s voice in the deepest sanctuary of our hearts.
In the end, you and I may not experience a dramatic call like Deacon Bill Steltemeier and be asked to use our talents toward the creation of the world’s largest religious broadcast network (EWTN). Nevertheless, each of us is called by our dear Lord to participate in His Divine plan in a very special way. Perhaps it is to become a great mother, father, wife, or husband. Or maybe He is calling us to priesthood, diaconate, or religious life. Whatever the case may be, each of us is asked to use our God-given gifts for the benefit of the entire Body of Christ. However this may transpire, we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear God’s voice calling us to a radically different way of life than the one we might presently be living. And after hearing this call, may we remember Jesus’ words and “be not afraid” to follow Him.
Until the day we die.