‘I will go Lord where You lead me’

My biology students were learning the parts of the brain. I clicked to the slide showing the frontal cortex. I had often used math as an introductory example of how this region functioned. However, that day I looked into the smiling faces of a couple of my students who “hated math.” I asked God to provide me another big picture example of how this brain region is a decision maker. I found myself talking about the frontal cortex as the seat of compassion. 

Together, we explored the roots of the word. Essentially compassion is a choosing to walk with another who is suffering. Our frontal cortex first asks, “How would I feel if I experienced that?” Our emotional memories, life experiences, and analytical abilities then allow us to imagine how to support the person or perhaps even suggest a possible solution. Blended in with those thoughts are suggestions from and courage to act supplied by the Holy Spirit. The decision maker of the brain, that frontal cortex, allows us to decide how we choose to act to possibly aid in the relief of the suffering of another. 

In the story “Le Petit Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote, “On ne voit bien ce qui est avec le coeur. L’essential est invisible pour les yeaux.” Translated this means it is difficult to see that which is within the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes. Why is it God set up the world so that what is essential is at a first glance invisible? 

That seems so contradictory to what we might expect is needed. However, our sensory systems are set up to detect contrasts, signal them, and then fall to silence. It is only with our higher cognitive functions that we are capable of seeing deeper. That is truly understanding what we see. This is followed by analyzing what is essential and then freely choosing how to act. That overall system design of having to pause and look deeply provides for individual connection as well as free will. In addition, with such a system guiding our life’s journey, there is always a new opportunity to explore.

As an example, let us examine Jesus’ call to discipleship. Philip tells Nathanael, “we have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law.” Nathanael’s first response betrayed the anguish in his heart. He said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Mainly out of respect for his friend, Nathanael approaches Jesus. He hears Jesus call him a true child of Israel. A stunned Nathanael inquires how Jesus could possibly know him. Jesus responds, “Before Philip called you I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48).

Based upon Nathanael’s immediate turnaround as well as his remark about Nazareth, I imagine he was at a crossroads in his life. I imagine as he rested under the fig tree, hidden within his heart, he wondered: “What is it all for? What is the meaning of life?” Jesus’ words immediately touch Nathanael’s heart. Nathanael realizes this conversation is the answer to his hidden questions. He chooses to follow Jesus. Nathanael knows he will understand more as he continues the journey.

Jesus’ call to Peter is another example. Peter and his friends have been working all night and have caught nothing. It is easy to imagine Peter thinking, “What am I doing here? There has to be more to life than this. How do I find it?” Jesus first provides the fish haul of a lifetime. Peter rejects that answer. Peter’s heart has been read and his questions answered. Peter falls to his knees before Jesus. Jesus says, “Come follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). Peter leaves everything he owned behind and never looked back. His answer to Jesus was always in the present tense. He said, “Here I am. I will go wherever You lead me.”

There is a timelessness to God and the call to discipleship. God chooses to act in our world via the actions of His children. The Holy Spirit issues the call to one person’s heart. Through his/her actions, others are not only helped, but are also called to serve yet still others. When we choose to participate, as Thomas Merton said, “We all become doors and windows through which God shines.”

The journey of discipleship often begins and runs close to home. As was true for Nathanael and Peter, the journey starts with a question of the heart. That question does not have to be as dramatic as the meaning of life. It can be as simple as asking oneself: “What do I love to do?” Then, turn around and look deeply at the world immediately around you. The Holy Spirit will show you a new situation where God wishes you to make a difference. This week, step forth and give it a try. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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