Often, I am asked why I became a deacon. There was a time when I seriously considered the priesthood, and after much prayer I realized that God was calling me to be a husband and a father. After my wife, Leti, and I married in 1998, I continued to feel that God was calling me to serve Him in religious life. When I began the five-year diaconate formation program, I had no idea where God’s call to serve Him would lead me. Part of the call to be a deacon that most intrigued me was how to serve God in my daily life; at home, at work, at the grocery store or any number of places. Every Christian is being called to serve God and to turn his or her life over to Him. Jesus is not asking us to respond as Levi did, but He wants us to let go of anything that is holding us back from growing closer to Him. God is calling you at this very moment, your future is a blank slate, and the past is the past. How will you respond?
God calls us because He wants us to discover the many ways in which we are created in His image and to share that knowledge with others. It does not matter what we have done in the past or those sins that we feel are unforgivable. It does not matter if we are doubtful or fearful. God knew that we would not respond to His call, which is why the Bible, God’s inspired word, contains variations of the expression “do not be afraid” throughout the 73 books. Saint John Paul II’s first public words as Pope were, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ.” Speaking at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis’ message was, “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.” The message for more than 2,000 years has been the same, because God continues to call His people. There is no doubt that Jesus is calling Levi, telling him, “Follow me.” If we feel even an inkling of a calling or desire to step out of our comfort zone and to serve God in some way, it is because He is calling us.
The Jewish people despised a tax collector because he was a reminder of the many ways in which the Romans, who levied taxes on many aspects of life, mistreated the Jewish people. Yet, Jesus chose Levi to follow Him, and later sits down with him at a banquet. The Pharisees express their consternation that the “King of the Jews” is dining with tax collectors and others who are considered sinful. Jesus’s response is as important today as it was when He said the words: “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” In other words, Jesus is calling us, regardless of what we have done or will do to Him or to others.
As we continue on our Lenten journey, Jesus calls us to be with Him every day, but how we will we respond? Will we allow our human frailty to persuade us to stay the course, content with a relationship that can be so much more, or will we respond in love and in hope, seeking ways to discover how our lives can personify the many ways in which Jesus is alive within us? God commands us to love Him with our heart, because it is the center of our desires; with our soul, because it is who we are; and with our mind, because it is the center of our intellect. May these 40 days of Lent remind us of the many ways in which we can love and serve Him and each other.
Deacon Mike McGrath is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Savannah. He ministers to the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities at St. Matthew Catholic Church (Statesboro, GA). He is married to his beautiful wife Leticia, and they are the parents of Matthew, who is 14, and Luke, who is 12. Deacon Mike is the editor of the book Answering the Call: How God Transformed the Lives of Nineteen Catholic Deacons.