Sunday, June 26, 2016

Forsaking All Others

From the time he was eight years old, Grant Desme knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a major league baseball player. With a focus rarely seen in such young children, he committed himself to learning the game, long hours of practice in the field and seemingly endless sessions in the batting cages.

Because of his hard work and dedication, he was able to excel at every level. He advanced from Little League through high school and into the minor leagues until he was finally drafted by the Oakland A’s.

However, in 2007, he was sidelined by a shoulder injury and had to sit out much of the season. During that time, he realized just how fragile his dream was. With a simple injury, he could lose his whole career. He began to think more about what was most important in life. Though he had always been a committed Catholic, he meditated more on what it was that God wanted for him.

During that time, he came to another realization. He had worked very hard over the years to get to where he was. He always thought that the fulfillment he was seeking was just around the corner. If he could just get to the major leagues, he told himself, then he would be happy. But no matter how far he advanced, he still felt the same emptiness inside. Though he had everything a young man could ask for - a career in professional sports, a huge bank account, a flashy car - he knew there was something lacking but he could not quite put his finger on what it was.

When Grant recovered from his injury, he came back stronger than ever. The pinnacle of his success occurred in 2009 when he was voted the most valuable player of the Arizona Fall League. It was just a matter of time until he would be called up to play in the big leagues. However, it was at the height of his success that he realized what it was that was missing in his life. God was calling him to be a priest and he knew that until he said “yes” he would never be happy. And so, in January 2010, he shocked the professional baseball world by announcing that he was terminating his contract with the Oakland A’s and entering the novitiate for the Franciscan friars.

One would think that, three years later, living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, a young man who had everything the world could offer would regret his decision to leave it all behind. However, in an interview with the National Catholic Register, he said that he did not miss his life in baseball at all. Though he had left everything behind, he found a new freedom and a new joy in serving Jesus. He had already experienced all that the world had to offer and found that it could not satisfy him. Now he was seeking after the treasure that only God can give him.

Grant Desme exemplifies what Jesus is looking for in his followers - someone who is willing to give up everything to follow him. As we see in the gospel reading today, our Lord seeks women and men willing to stop making excuses, leave everything behind and follow Him to Calvary. When we do find the courage to accept Jesus’ offer to follow him, we do not experience regret or grieve over what we have left behind. Rather we experience joy, we find fulfillment and the happiness we thought we could find in the world and its empty promises. If God asks us to leave something behind whether it be material possessions, relationships or bad habits, it is because He has something even greater to offer us. This is what Grant Desme experienced and that is what all those who find the grace to say “yes” to Jesus no matter what he asks also experience.

We do not hear anything else in the gospels about the three men who turned down Jesus’ offer to follow Him. We can imagine that they returned to their homes and went on with their lives. But we have to wonder whether turning down Jesus would have haunted them for the rest of their lives. Perhaps they wondered what their lives would have been like if they had said yes to Jesus. Perhaps for the rest of their days, they experienced a lack of fulfillment and peace because they were not living fully the life that God had called them to.

This has precisely been the experience of so many men and women who, feeling called by God to religious life, tried to put it off. They told themselves that it was just their imagination that they felt called to serve our Lord as a sister, deacon or priest. They told themselves that they were not worthy or that they were not able to meet the demands of religious life. Eventually, however, they realized that there was no other way to find fulfillment and happiness in life than to answer Jesus’ call to serve His people. They found true happiness and freedom in leaving everything behind to follow Christ more closely in religious life.

There are many ways to follow Jesus. Each of us has a role to plan in God’s plan of salvation. But as a Church, we depend on women and men who are willing to sacrifice everything to serve God’s people as sisters, deacons and priests. If you feel an attraction to religious life in your heart but are afraid to say yes, please continue to pray for wisdom and courage. Speak to a priest or sister you respect about what you are feeling and look into it. Feeling attracted to religious life does not always mean that one has a vocation, but until it is tested you will always wonder what could have been, like the men in the gospel.

God is calling each of us - no matter what our condition in life is - to follow Him. What excuse do we have for not accepting His offer with all our hearts? What is keeping us from experiencing the freedom and joy that He has prepared for us. As we offer up the gifts of bread and wine, let us also offer up everything in our lives that gets in the way of our yes to God. And as this bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, let us pray that our weakness will be transformed into strength, our fear into faith and our sinfulness into grace.

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