Mark did something years ago (while in college) that he regrets to this day. And whenever difficulties arise, and Mark is faced with a challenging situation, he goes back to those events and starts to relive them, thinking that the present difficulty is God’s way of making him pay for what he had done those many years ago. Even though he had gone to confession and received absolution, he still lived his life with this sense of fear and guilt always hovering in the background.
One day, he was having a conversation with a trusted friend and shared how he was feeling. He said, “I guess it comes down to this, I think God forgave me, but I don’t seem to be able to forgive myself.” And his friend said to him, “You have to stop listening to the wrong voices. I really believe that’s the evil spirit trying to keep you a slave to the past and trapped in your sin. Let me ask you this question: What do you think God’s purpose for you is? Do you think your purpose is to live in the past and keep obsessing about this? Is that why God created you?”
Many of us can understand when a person struggles with feelings of guilt and fear. It can be paralyzing. But I think those questions that Mark’s friend asked are important ones, and they come around to what we think God’s purpose is for each of us.
There’s a painting in St Paul’s Cathedral in London called “The Light of the World”. It’s a picture of Jesus standing outside a door overgrown with ivy. There’s no knocker, no handle on the outside. The idea is that Jesus stands there and knocks but there is no way for him to enter unless someone on the other side of the door decides to open it and let him in. Many years ago, this painting was taken down for cleaning. Decades of soot had made the image fade, and the painting needed restoration work. But when the workers took the painting out of the frame to clean it, they saw something no one expected to see. On the bottom, underneath the molding, hidden from sight, the artist had written these words, “Forgive me, Lord Jesus, that I kept you waiting so long!” The artist had known about Christ and he had painted him on the other side of that door. He was expressing his regret that he had taken so long to decide to answer and open up to Him.
Remember the question that Mark’s friend asked him: Do you think God’s purpose for you is to live in the past and worry about your mistake? If Mark’s answer to this question is “no” then the next question is this: If that’s not your purpose, then what is your purpose now?
There are times in our life when Jesus asks us to decide-once and for all. Are we going to allow the evil spirit to keep us a prisoner, or are we going to allow the Lord to free us? Are we going to open the door and let Christ into our life, confident that all things are possible for God, or stay alone and in fear? We are asked to decide.
In the first reading the question is clear: “decide today whom you will serve…” Hopefully our response will be the same as Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”