Will you stay?

Do you too want to leave? A simple question that can be interpreted in so many different ways. If you are ready to leave a place, it is simply a means of asking if the other person is ready to leave as well. In the Gospel, Jesus asks His disciples if they too want to leave after others found what He had to say too difficult and uncomfortable. Those who left returned to the life they knew, a life that may have held little or no promise, but it was a life they understood and felt safe in. 

Jesus’ teaching dares us to step outside our comfort zone. He wills us to follow Him, knowing very well that we may stand out in a crowd, we may be ridiculed or ostracized, but fully aware that our yes to Him will bring us into eternal life. His disciples probably did not quite understand what Jesus was truly saying, but they knew for what it was worth, that following Jesus was the way to the Father. Peter responds to Jesus’ statement, by saying “To whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life.” The Twelve knew that going back was not an option, they had been changed — with Jesus they found hope, love, and a sense of belonging — a coming home. 

We all know what following Jesus eventually meant for those first disciples, but yet through every trial and adversity, they stood fast. They remained true to the teachings of Jesus, going out and spreading the Good News to all those willing to listen. Jesus sent them the Spirit to guide them, give them the words to speak, and to be their strength when the enemy bore down on them. It was the Holy Spirit Who remained with them and in them, until they, too, were sentenced to death. And it was the Spirit Who guided them home after their earthly journey was complete. 

Are we willing to follow? A life in Christ does require sacrifice and a willingness to love a neighbor that may be hard to tolerate, to look beyond the surface and recognize the Spirit within, and to step outside our comfort zone. It is turning the other cheek, when all we want to do is strike back. It is saying “I’m sorry,” and granting forgiveness, when we would rather hold onto a grudge instead. It is welcoming the homeless, the less fortunate, the addict, and all those who are marginalized, accepting them, rather than passing judgment or snubbing our noses at them. To follow Jesus is to let go of who we are and to let in the person Jesus knows we can be. 

Ultimately we are being asked to “change” and allow the Spirit to work within us. We are not asked to become someone else, but rather to allow who we truly are to shine through. After all, we are created in the image and likeness of God, what we convey to the world, should bear witness to this fact. 

Think of your own personal relationships, with friends and companions, like the disciples, you saw something in them that attracted you to them. Often, it is how we are reflected in their eyes, and likewise, how they see themselves when they are with us, that draws people together. These are people who may bring you great joy, and sometimes pain and sorrow, but yet you would do just about anything to help them, and be there for them in thick or thin. It is pure love, a willingness to lay down one’s life for the sake of another. It is being yourself, but yet, part of something more because they are a part of your life. 

It was this that compelled the disciples to stay, it was knowing that their lives would never be the same if they went back. They knew that something would always be missing, and nothing would ever completely satisfy their needs or wants like Jesus could. This is the same as a woman or man leaving home to start a life as husband and wife. Like the bridegroom, Jesus is extending His hand and asking us to follow, to trust, to believe, and to be forever changed. The opening verse for “The Summons” says it all: “Will you come and follow Me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?” 

We are being challenged to follow. With all the challenges that one hears about, or reads about in the news or social media, I challenge all of you to dare to be different, to reach out beyond your comfort zone, and to allow the Spirit to guide you. My challenge for all of you is to actively look for Christ in everyone you meet — I mean, truly look at the person you encounter. When you learn to see past the exterior, the call to follow becomes an essential part of who we are. So I ask you, as Jesus did, “Do you too want to leave?” or are you willing to stay and “never be the same” again? 

Anchor columnist Rose Mary Saraiva is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Fall River and works for the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

Email her at rsaraiva@dfrcs.com

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