Follow where He Leads

Gladys Aylward was a missionary to China more than a half century ago. During World War II, she was forced to leave her missionary work when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng. Fleeing certain death, she led nearly a hundred orphans over the mountains to Free China. It was a frightening journey. At times, she was burdened by despair. One morning after a sleepless night, fearing they would never reach safety, she shared her hopelessness with the orphans. A 13-year-old girl reminded her of their much-loved story of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. “But I am not Moses,” Gladys Aylward replied. “Of course you aren’t,” the girl responded, “but God is still God!” (C. Neil Strait, Pastor . . . Be Encouraged)

It is hard for us to imagine the experience of Peter, James and John as it is described in the gospel today. Their friend Jesus shone with the glory of heaven, and he was joined by the two greatest figures in the religious history of Israel, Moses and Elijah. They were enjoying the experience so much that Peter suggested that he set up tents for them so that the experience could continue. But then the atmosphere changed. From the shadow of a bright cloud, the voice of God declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” All they could do was fall on their face in fear. And when it was over, as they looked up again, the gospel says they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

This season of Lent is meant to be a time of change. But, just like Peter, we would rather keep things as they are, because we are comfortable with the situation. We know we should be welcoming, but if too many people who are different come around, things will never be the same. We know we shouldn’t carry around a grudge, but every time we see the face of the one who offended us, the memory of what was said or done comes right back. We know that it has been too long since we last admitted our sins in confession, but look how long the line is today! It is easier to stick to whatever we gave up for Lent and let that be enough for this year.

But, the voice from the cloud still speaks to us. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Jesus has identified himself with each person we meet – whatever we do for them, we do it for him. His words speak volumes. We have to consider again whether we can simply pretend we don’t see someone with whom we don’t want to speak. We may need to change our attitude toward someone from another culture or country in light of the mind of Jesus. When a new possibility is presented to share our riches with someone in need, perhaps our first reaction cannot be that we have earned all we have on our own and we are not responsible for others.

To change, to give up old habits, to become more gentle and loving and caring is not always easy. But, as we remain faithful in our prayers, as we make the effort to come to Mass during the week, or spend an hour in Adoration, or pause to give our time to someone who needs us, we come to discover Jesus is there. God is still God – filled with love for us, always blessing us, guiding us with a Father’s love.

During this second week of Lent, our challenge is to consider whether we have decided to stay stuck up on the mountain, comfortable in keeping everything just the way we like it in our life. Jesus is inviting us to do more, because we only need to see Jesus alone – in the face of each person we meet, in the difficult moments, in the blessed moments – and we can be confident that we can be better than we expected. Jesus will change us to be more like him if we only follow him where he leads us.

–Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk