In the Gospel of Matthew (4:18-22), we are told that “As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”
And they were gone. Upon receiving their call from Jesus, the brothers left their nets and followed Him.
Leaving. Given the vast range of human realities, leaving is one of the most disconcerting. Leaving tugs at our heart strings and pulls at our sense of belonging. By leaving, we say goodbye to the ordinary daily and repetitive actions that we once cursed as monotonous and boring. We all know them: working, paying the bills, preparing the meals, and caring for the home. But with the passage of time, a change occurs. While once there were many meals to prepare, now there are fewer. And where once we took for granted the footsteps of our children rustling about the house and calling for our help and assistance, now there is silence. For our children have grown and left. And in this aftermath, a new reality has been cast upon us.
Now whether it is we who have left or it is others who have left us, leaving leaves us feeling uncomfortable. In gazing upon this emptiness, it is though we have been cast into the “valley of the unknown.” We ask: What should we do? In which direction should we walk? During my formation as a permanent deacon (one that continues to this day), a most profound experience occurred during a summer when I was assigned to a nursing home. At the beginning of my assignment, my supervisor encouraged me to “get to know the people who reside there.” As far as job descriptions go, that was a fairly broad one. For several months, I sat beside “senior” men and women as they shared with me their life stories. In listening, I was granted the unique privilege of hearing the many ways that God had blessed them.
For my wife and I, that summer was also a time of blessings. With the arrival of young lady number four, we had been blessed with our fifth child. At the time, her birth provided us with needed healing, as well. For just eighteen months earlier, we had experienced the delivery of our full-term stillborn son, his funeral Mass, and Rite of Committal that I prayed over his grave. To this day, I remember a priest friend’s soft words to me shortly after that lifeless ultrasound. “As a father, you will instinctively worry about your son. But don’t. For although he is gone, he is now in the best of hands.”
That summer, among the many stories that were told at the nursing home, one of mine was especially intriguing to the ladies: the story about a new baby in my home. One morning, with the permission and blessing of my wife, I brought her with me. In entering their home, the women collectively gazed at my infant daughter as though she was a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament. As she was carefully passed from seasoned mother to mother, each held her. And with their every coo came a most wonderful smile. And in their eyes, I could see tears of remembrance.
As this Lenten season continues, each of us has been called to leave our sins behind. Like the sinners who have gone before us, the Lord calls us to move on, trust, and follow Him. In doing so, even though our house may be different and quieter than in days past, may we embrace the change that has befallen us. May we also know that in this mix, it is Jesus who quietly whispers our name.