A favorite Old Testament story of mine tells of a time when Joshua confronted the people of Israel with an imperative choice. He stood before them and said: “Decide today whom you will serve. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
That seems to me to be an accurate statement of the option that faces every human being, especially parents. We all have a choice as to whom or what we will serve. But choose we must, because it is inevitable that we will serve something or someone. From the day we come into this world, all sorts of things start reaching out with strong hands trying to take hold of our lives. And sooner or later, something gets us. With some people, it’s drugs, alcohol, sexual exploitation, the inordinate love of money, and a growing futility of life. With others, it is devotion to family, loyalty to friends, a high vocation, a worthy cause and a radiant philosophy that all life is sacred and eternal. Something gets us – if not faith, then fear; if not hope, then despair; if not love, then selfishness; if not the best, then the worst. Something always gets us. That is one of the realistic facts of life.
When faced with the choice of turning away from the Lord, the twelve apostles made a startling discovery. Leaving Jesus was not as easy as it seemed. St. Peter, as always, spoke for the others: “Lord, to whom shall we go? We have come to believe; we are convinced that you are God’s holy one.” Jesus had taken hold of their lives with a gentle grip that could not be easily broken.
But let us never forget that to be thus captured by Jesus is the most liberating experience that any person can know. At first, it may sound confining and oppressive. To be captured seems to most almost synonymous with the loss of freedom, but of course that really depends on who or what is our captor.
To be held in the grip of any great person or any great cause is so liberating an experience. For example, Bach was captured by music and it released all of his powers. Michelangelo was captured by art and it called out all of his genius. A symphony orchestra is never so free as when it is held in the grips of a great conductor. This is indeed one of the strange paradoxes of life – we are released only when we are possessed; we are liberated only when we are captivated. A life without deep and profound loyalties turns into a stagnant swamp. A life poured into a channel can flow with the freedom of a mighty river.
Such has been the influence of Jesus, born into this world in that little town of Bethlehem many centuries ago, upon our human spirit. An intelligent devotion to Jesus has called out the highest and the best in all sorts of people. Ask the apostle St. Paul the secret of his life and he will answer: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me.”
So, our message today is that even ordinary men and women like you and me can be captivated by the greatest things. The twelve apostles were mostly ordinary people. They became great men because they belonged to something far greater than themselves. They had been captured by Jesus. The same can, and hopefully will be, true about you! It is my prayer for each and every one of you.