Following Christ this Christmas & New Year – Advent 2023


When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow Him, they dropped their nets immediately to follow Him. When we trust God and decide to drop whatever is keeping us from following Him faithfully, He will give us great joy.

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

“At once they left their nets and followed him,”

Mt. 4:20

1. Fr. Gale relates how his life was changed by reflecting on the Scripture passage in which Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow Him. Fr. Gale began by reflecting on his trust in God. Where in your life do you most trust God right now? In what areas of your life do you lack trust in God?

2. We can begin to see how God is calling us to change in our lives by examining our priorities in life. What are the five most important things in your life right now? How much time do you spend on each of those things in a normal week? How much time do you give to God?  

3. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow Him, they immediately dropped their nets to follow Him. What nets in your life might God be calling you to put down, in order to follow Him more faithfully?

4.  Fr. Gale discusses how much joy he felt when he made the decision to live his life more fully for Christ. Have you ever felt joy from choosing God in your life? How can you work on growing in gratitude for the joy God gives you? 

Text: Following Christ this Christmas & New Year

Hey, friends, Father Gale Hammerschmidt coming at you again with The Pray More Advent Retreat. Let’s pray.

Opening Prayer

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Lord, you invite us on a beautiful journey. But Lord, we know that when we follow you, we have to turn away from other things. Things that prevent us from truly finding you. And so we ask you to give us the courage this day to say yes to your invitation, and to say no to those invitations that lead us away from you.

Lord, we glory in you, and we know that you are the giver of all good things. And so we pray for strength and wisdom this day, and we pray this through your most Holy name, Amen. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Matthew 4:18

I got to be honest with you, friends, that when The Pray More folks asked me to reflect upon this topic today, my heart lept with joy. Because this which we’re going to be talking about has transformed my life. It has made me into the man that I am today, and I am ever grateful. So what are we talking about? Ultimately, is today it’ll be a reflection on what it is that maybe we need to leave behind in order to follow Christ. In order to walk the path that He puts before us.

And the scripture verse that we’re going to reflect upon is Matthew 4:18. It says, “As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother. Casting a net into the sea.” For they were fishermen. I think we understand that they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him. Now, how is it that that scripture passage changed my life? Well, let’s rewind, if you will. And in fact, this will probably be more of a walk down memory lane for me than any of the other reflections that I hand over to you this advent.

Start Saying Yes To God

We go back all the way to the beginning of this millennium. We go back to the year 2000, 2001, and especially the year 2002. I’m a school teacher after college and have not really even thought much of the idea of going to the seminary to be a priest. In fact, in many ways, I’m living a wayward life. But as we know, when we live lives that aren’t leading us toward the Lord, they will ultimately end with heartbreak. We will recognize the absence of God, we will feel a certain sadness in our soul. And that was my reality in, you know, late 2000, the year 2001. And I knew, I just knew that I needed to start saying yes to the Lord.

And I remember one particular day, I made a promise to myself that the next invitation I received to do something in regards to growing closer to God, I was just going to say yes, whatever that next invitation was going to be, I was going to say yes. And so shortly, after I made that promise, a wonderful lady came up to me and she said, “Gale,” not Father Gale, just Gale. Just Mr. Hammerschmidt was my name as a teacher. And she invited me to be actually an adult leader on a parish mission trip. And so we were heading to this mission. And there I was as an adult leader with a number of high school students.

A Mission Trip for God

And I spent a week on mission. I remember telling some of my friends back home before I left for this mission trip that I didn’t really want to go. Like, “Yeah, I made a promise to myself and this lady, she keeps kind of talking about this trip we’re going on, I guess I’ve said yes, so I can’t get out of it and so I’m going to go.” And I remembered going and I was painting at a house and it was windy and not that nice, and a little bit too warm. And I was just thinking, you know, “I could be back with my friends playing golf,” something like that, and here I am. And I don’t know if I love this, I don’t know if I love this.

It was a summer of 2001 that this is taking place. It was a Monday. I was thinking that it was a week long mission trip. And by Thursday of that week, something had happened to me. And in those mere four days, my heart had been changed. It had been changed. And I knew that I was feeling the joy that I had not felt before. If I had to describe it to you, I would simply say that I was living the life of a Christian. I was living the life of a Christian. I was serving others. I was praising the Lord. In the evening, I was hearing reflections upon the goodness of God. And I was in a community, a community of people that really loved me.

And I just was so happy. I was so happy. I shared on the Thursday that mission trip to the students, I said, “You know, on Monday, I didn’t really want to be here. And I know that we go home tomorrow. If I could stay another week, I absolutely would. If I could stay the rest of the summer, I’d be right here.” That’s how happy I was. I experienced that.

But then I returned home, and basically, all of the ways that I was living my life, at wayward nature of which I had spoken earlier, it all returned. And I’d almost forgotten the joy that I felt in the summer of 2001 on that mission trip. But by the grace of God, in the summer of 2002, some people that I’d encountered on that first mission trip invited me to go on my second mission trip. Now, we were heading a little bit further away, a little bit further out of state to work in a poor community. I said, yes. Again, I complained the night before I left to my friends. “Yeah, I don’t know why I keep saying yes to these things. I don’t really want to go, but I say yes and now I’m stuck.”

A Reflection from Matthew 4:18-20

And it’s funny, it’s so funny, because this time it was different. Honestly, even by Monday morning of this week-long mission trip, I remembered all of the joy that I’d experienced the summer prior. And I knew that I had to change my life and they handed me a reflection booklet. A reflection booklet, 2002. That’s when I first received this booklet. 21 years. I’ve held onto this, 21 years. How many things do you own that you’ve had for 21 years? I don’t know. I don’t have that many things that I’ve owned for 21 years, but I’ve always held this close. And there’s a particular reflection, yeah, guess what? On Matthew 4:18-20. Talking about Peter and Andrew. Talking about them dropping their nets, talking about the radical nature in which they did it. You see their nets meant everything to them. This was their livelihood. The people they love, their families depended upon them catching fish. And for them to lower their nets, to follow Jesus, that was radical.

Some Questions for Reflection

People didn’t understand like, “What are you talking about? You’re doing what? You’re walking away from everything you’ve known to follow this teacher? This charismatic preacher? This guy who really wasn’t all that known, all that well at that point.” And yet there was something in their heart, and they said, “We will follow, we will follow.” This booklet, it asks some of the questions, you know. Where do you have faith in God? Right now, in your life, where would you say that you have a deep faith in God? And then followed up by the question, where do you lack trust? Where is it that you could use some more faith? And I ask you here today. Where do you have faith? And where do you lack faith? Where could you use a little bit more trust? A follow up question, what’s the most important thing in your life?

What are the five most important things in your life? The book that gives you some suggestions, your family, God. Your job, maybe your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your wife, your husband, your family, your children. And we could list the five things that we would say the most important in our life. And then right next to that, it says, “Okay, now reflect upon your last two, three, four weeks. What percentage of time did you dedicate to those things that you say are most important?” You know, shocking, yeah. As I fill that out to say, “Well, oh, God, yes, of course, God. You know, God’s way up there.”

And yet, at that point in my life, there’s times where I was having a hard time even making it to Sunday mass. 168 hours in a week. I couldn’t even give God one 168th of my time. And yet I was going to say that He was top five. Putting Him way up there. What was a lie and I recognized that it was a lie. And then the question above all questions appears in this beautiful journal that changed my life. Are there nets in your life that need to be laid down? Are there things that you need to throw off that have become a hindrance to you, obediently following God?

Changes in Life For God

I bet you I could still take you to the porch that I sat on, even though I’ve never returned to this particular town. I could take you today to that porch I was sitting on, as I read that and as I started writing. This is a Monday morning, and I just started listing all of the things in my life that were keeping me from obediently following God. I knew that there were particular relationships in my life that weren’t necessarily holy. I knew that some of the things that I found to be fascinating I needed to get rid of, whether it be television programs or particular movies that I would watch. There were so many things.

I knew that I couldn’t just live the party lifestyle, right? That maybe somebody in their 20s seems to think is the way to live. What is it that we chase after? We chase after pleasure, we chase after power. We chase after possessions. You know, those three, Prestige. The four big Ps, if you will, prestige, power, pleasure, possessions. It’s like we live our lives for those things, but those are the nets that we have to drop so as to follow Him. And I just started writing, but I also started remembering. I remembered back to the summer prior where I felt the joy, I felt the love, but I wasn’t prepared to get back home to truly be changed. And I knew that that had to be different this year. And so already on Monday morning, I began preparing for what life would be like when I returned home on Saturday.

Tell you something of my thoughts when I reflect back upon that, it was frightening. But again, more than the fear was the great joy that I felt The prospect of giving myself fully to God. Being radical and following Him, just like Peter and Andrew, just like the great apostles, just like all the saints. I said, “I can do that. I can be like that.” And there’s something amazing about it, because this is a better life that I have experienced now for the second time on this mission trip, the Christian life of serving others, of being loved by others, of being in a community that praises God and doesn’t just look to make fun of other people, to make jokes at people’s expense, but to truly love. And so I’ve got to lay all of that down. I’ve got to walk away from all of that.

I returned home on that Saturday, actually, and I knew that when I got home, I was going to be heading to a wedding with the same old crowd that I hang with. And yet I was a different man. I prepared for it. I set my mind firm on knowing that I was going to say no to some of the things that were going on at that wedding. Some of the party style stuff that I wasn’t a part of anymore. I was just, “No, no, no, no, that’s not me.” And again, frightening, but just overjoyed.

Oh, I met some resistance at that wedding. Indeed, I did. Who do you think you are? “Oh, you go on a mission trip and now all of a sudden, you’re something special. You’re not going to do these things with the rest of us.” I still had fun. I danced like crazy that night. And eventually, they even softened. Were happy to see me out there having fun without having to whatever, partake of too many of the substances that are served at weddings in liquid form, if you know what I mean.

I was a different man and happy to be different. And that changed my life. I started going to daily mass. And really one thing led to another. And well, Presto, Father Gale, right? But it was because of that reflection, because of this. And the question, what are the nets that are needed to be lowered so as to fully follow the Lord? What a great time in my life.

I think that I keep this booklet around because, you know, life can be difficult, even still, even now. And sometimes I’ll question why have I chosen to do what I have chosen to do? I could still be teaching school, I could still be coaching. All sorts of things could be different in my life, had I not walked the path that I have now walked. And all I have to do is open up this reflection booklet, look at that passage from Matthew. Rejoice that I have encountered the living God through a community, through His mercy, and through an invitation to something better. Do I rejoice that I lowered my nets and giving up a number of things in my life to be who I am now? Absolutely, I rejoice.

A Time to Think Back And Reflect

Maybe we’re going to just close with this. For those of you watching today, think back. Don’t hesitate to think back upon your life and those moments in which you made that same decision. To walk away from something that wasn’t of God. To find God and the joy that it gave you. Because undoubtedly, it’ll give you joy, incredible joy. Think back upon that. Rejoice in it. Sit with that, pray with that. And just be filled with great, great gratitude.

But then to those of you who say to me, “Father, hasn’t yet happened. I haven’t yet lowered my nets.” Let this be my encouragement to you. Do you dare? Why or why not? Can you trust me? And those who have gone before me, saying that a life lived for and with Christ is the best life we can live here on Earth. Maybe today’s the day that you sit on that porch and you pull out a sheet of paper and you start writing, and you start preparing your heart for this new journey, this new path, but yes, I get it, scary, but also, the most joyful thing that you could ever encounter. A life with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Just glory. Nothing but glory this day. And so we pray, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.

About Fr. Gale Hammerschmidt

Fr. Gale Hammerschmidt was born and raised in Hays, Kansas and graduated from Thomas More Prep/Marian High School. He then attended Kansas State University where he received a degree in secondary education. Fr. Gale spent nine years in Manhattan, KS at Msgr. Luckey Jr. High School as a history teacher and football, basketball, and track coach.

From 2005-2012, Fr. Gale studied at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, CO. In 2012, Fr. Gale was ordained a priest and is currently the pastor of St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. Prior to this assignment, he served as a priest in Junction City, KS, and at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina, KS.  Fr. Gale has served as a high school chaplain and vocation director for the Diocese of Salina. He is also the founder of the Prayer and Action summer mission program that has now spread to numerous dioceses throughout the country.

You can find Fr. Gale: on his Facebook pageInstagram, and through his Church’s website.