As my particular tradition is not given to celebrating feast days and saints’ days, with the notable exception of Easter and Christmas (and of course, for those of us with some green blood, 17th March), I had completely overlooked the fact that today, Monday 27th January, is the feast day of St. Angela Merici. You might find that you have overlooked this feast day as well.
St. Angela’s claim to fame is that she said “No” to her spiritual leader, Pope Clement VII.
The story goes that Angela had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and became ill on the way. The illness resulted in blindness, but she still completed the pilgrimage and returned home. On her way back she recovered her sight. When she returned home, the Pope asked her to take over the leadership of an order of nurses. It was at that point that she famously declined the Pope’s offer.
It wasn’t just that she didn’t fancy the job, or didn’t like the Pope. Angela had been troubled for years by the lack of educational provision for girls, girls who were neither rich nor had entered religious orders. Having returned from pilgrimage she was now determined to do something about it. Perhaps the Pope’s request helped her to sharpen her sense of calling. Or perhaps in the darkness of her temporary blindness the light of revelation and vocation became more intense. Who knows? Her determination resulted in her bringing together a team of women to teach uneducated girls in their own homes.
Angela was not the first and won’t be the last Christian to have felt the inner drive of God’s purpose and calling. Nehemiah refused on four occasions to meet with the enemies of God’s people. His reason? ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’ (Nehemiah 6.3)
Paul, described his calling to Agrippa as follows ‘So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.’ (Acts 26.19) Another calling that emerged after a period of temporary blindness.
You don’t have to be a Paul or a Nehemiah or even an Angela to feel the fire in your heart. And because the fire in your heart isn’t compelling you to national prominence, doesn’t mean that it is any less the fire of God. The heavenly vision for you might be a compulsion to volunteer in a local social action project. Or help out at an Alpha course. Or teach Sunday School. Or begin to reconnect with friends and family members with whom you have lost contact. No two fires are the same, just as no two hearts are the same.
But two things are sure. The fire within you demands a “Yes” to God. And sometimes it requires a “No” to other possibilities or people, even to people whom you might love and respect.
As an African preacher once said “Follow the fire!”. If you do, you never know, you might just turn a dull and wet January day into one that has lasting significance.
Happy St. Angela’s day.