When it comes to following God’s will, the most challenging task can be figuring out just what His will is. Of course, prayer is a vitally important tool in this discernment process. Best case scenario: we ask God to disclose His plan for us, and circumstances fall into place, quickly and effortlessly, to lead us in the right direction.
Just when things are going along swimmingly, though, something unexpected can push us off track, causing us to restart the discernment process in search of a new direction. It’s as if God has changed His mind about our life course and – sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically – invites us along for the ride.
At times like these, we can take heart in the knowledge that we are in some very imposing company. A glimpse at the lives of two holy people offers insight into this unforeseen challenge – following God’s will when He changes His mind.
Saint Anthony of Padua was born late in the 12th century into a wealthy Portuguese family, yet he chose a life of extreme poverty and serious scholarship as an Augustinian priest. God’s call initially seemed to be leading him into a secluded life of prayer and study.
Anthony’s course-changing experience was set into motion when the bodies of Franciscan priests martyred by the Moors were returned to Portugal. Anthony was so greatly moved by this that, with his Order’s permission, he became a Franciscan and traveled to Morocco, intent on preaching the Gospel there himself; however, serious illness headed him back to Portugal. His homebound vessel veered way off course in stormy Mediterranean waters, eventually landing on the island of Sicily, off the Italian mainland.
Anthony’s life course took on a far different direction from the one he had envisioned, and not only geographically. Solitude and study were no longer what God had in store for him, nor was he meant to evangelize the Moors. Italy became his new homeland; his vocation, preaching and teaching. He spent the rest of his life employing his exceptional spiritual and intellectual gifts to illuminate countless souls with the message of the Gospel; in short, following the new course set for him – when God changed His mind.
When we fast-forward down through the centuries, we can find similarities to St. Anthony’s life story in that of a beloved woman of our own time, Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Born in 1910 into a devout Albanian family, she discerned a religious vocation which led her at age 18 to the Sisters of Loreto, missionaries in India.
Sister Teresa spent fifteen rewarding years at a Calcutta girls’ school, content with her students and her religious community. Striving thus to fulfill God’s will for her life, she was unprepared for her famous “call within a call”. In a series of intense spiritual visions, Jesus spoke to her soul, entreating her to serve Him in the poorest of His poor. Teresa understood that her life must change drastically in response to Jesus’ thirst for these souls.
Leaving her original community, Teresa founded the new Order which Jesus desired, the Missionaries of Charity. In blue-bordered white saris, Mother Teresa’s Sisters gained renown for groundbreaking work among the desperately poor, first in Calcutta and then in multiple locations worldwide. Mother stayed her redirected course, never losing her conviction that her Order ministers to Jesus Himself, alive and present in every soul of the unloved and unwanted – souls for which He longed.
The redesigned paths of Saint Anthony and Saint Mother Teresa were fraught with significant challenges – new religious Orders, homelands, and life work. Gender, geography, and centuries separated these holy people; shared in common were lives grounded in prayer and extraordinary openness to God’s will.
These saints exemplify evangelization of the highest order to slake Jesus’ thirst for souls, revealed to them in prayer. Their life stories inspire us to rethink our own vocations and how we can best fulfill them.
As people of faith, we can discover a deeper meaning for our own lives when, by careful, prayerful listening, we hear the words God speaks to our hearts – when He changes His mind.
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Theresa Cavicchio is a wife, mother, and grandmother. God has changed His mind more than once in her life.