LUKE Thomsen repeated his wish over in his head: “Make me the best teacher I could possibly be”.
The boy from Mackay was a long way from home.
He had climbed up to Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Catalonia while on World Youth Day 2011 in Spain to see the Black Madonna statue.
He had been told it was “like a genie”.
Ask it for something and the ancient statue of Mary and Child might just grant you your wish.
Wading his way to the head of the queue of pilgrims, he uttered his wish to the Black Madonna and he walked down out of the shrine area feeling “just empty”.
“And fake,” he said.
“I just asked a random statue to do something supernatural for me and I don’t even know who it is or why I did it.
“I was just trying to get something out of it.
“I felt like I was completely aimless, like driftwood.”
He turned from the shrine and, around the corner, he discovered a chapel cave with a crucifix.
He knelt down before the crucifix and said, “Alright, I might as well aim this at who these people are claiming God to be”.
He knelt before the crucifix and said again, “Make me the best teacher I can be”.
The more he repeated his request, the more he wrestled with what he wanted – not, “Make me the best teacher I can be”, but “Make me the best man I can be”, then, “Make me the best of myself”.
He broke down in tears, saying God was calling him to be something “so much more humble” than what he aspired to be.
“‘You say you want to be the best teacher, you want to be this and you want to be that, but I just want you to be you’,” Luke said of what he heard God saying in prayer.
“That was the shifting point for me.”
But Luke was wary of language like “shifting points” or “surrender” moments; it relegated the lifespan of little influences that were not as obvious.
Instead of seeing it as the moment of change, he saw it as the culmination of changes settling in his heart – the “centre of his rose window” had taken root in Jesus.
It was in hindsight he saw those little influences.
One of them was a guitar hanging below a run of crosses – overlooked by pictures of his wife Sarah and children John, Mary and Sophia – in his office at St Stephen’s Primary School, Algester.
Luke’s dad died when he was 12 years old and Mercy Sister Denise Hinton came to teach him guitar.
“She just taught me the basics of how to play guitar and I didn’t think anything of it,” he said.
“I didn’t think she was trying to evangelise me or form me, but she was.
“So those things that people do throughout the years that you don’t attribute your conversion to, they really have a massive impact.”
His mum was a great support in his life too.
In senior school, Luke was discovering Christianity and made a deal with his mum – she would come to church with him if they had a coffee or milkshake together afterwards.
He was led far from Christianity in his formative years, delving into eastern philosophies and religions, before returning to Christ in that little chapel cave in Catalonia.
He had a brief stint as a bricklayer before he found his passion in teaching.
He started teaching in Beaudesert, and met his wife Sarah, “a strong and constant inspiration”, and, after some other jobs, he joined St Stephen’s.
Two years in and he loves it.
Without a parish church nearby, Luke focused on a program that nourished the children’s faith lives through sacramentality, outreach, prayerfulness and formation.
He said he had personally seen changes in the students.
The program included Eucharistic adoration and engaging with the Word.
“If it’s allowed one child to have a deeper understanding of what living a sacramental life is, or be more interested in learning who Jesus is in their lives, I would call that success,” he said.
Luke said spreading the Gospel was not his original reason to get into teaching.
“In those years before 2010, anyone who did know me would say, ‘Luke’s a really good guy’,” he said.
Luke was “humanistic and social justice-minded”, concerned with his carbon footprint and making sure his clothes were sourced from slavery-free chains.
“I was kind to people and nice to people but interiorly, I was living such a selfish life and a lot of my motives were heavily influenced by a desire to want to look good and want to feel good about myself,” he said.
“Before, I was at the centre of that rose window and everything was around it.
“Now, Jesus is at the at centre, and everything in my life is around Him.”
And it came at a cost.
“I’d say I’ve lost more friends becoming Christian, people who think I’m bigoted, narrow-minded, all those sorts of things because of my faith,” he said.
“Which is sad, when in actual fact, God has just shifted my whole purpose and focus in life from me to Him.”
Teaching now was easy.
“I think when you know what the message is and you know how helpful it is, from your own experience but also from the experience you see in others, the witness you see in other people’s lives, the way that people are changed and the way people are living their lives to the full through their relationship with Jesus, it’s worth sharing,” he said.
Luke said he was recently listening to atheist biologist Dr Richard Dawkins and podcaster Joe Rogan talk about the Bible, and their fundamentalist reading of it astounded him.
“Any sensible person reads the Bible in its full context, and the values that come out of the Bible that we’re all made in the image and likeness of God – those values weren’t around in any ancient Greek philosophy,” he said.
“That’s an incredible philosophy, that every person you see is made in the image and likeness of God.
“And who is God? God is pure love.
“When you’re looking at someone else, anyone, you’re looking at love manifest in the world.
“To live by that value alone is just so life-giving, that’s what Jesus talks about when he says, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full’.
“Those values are worth sharing.”
Luke said it was a blessing to see those values manifest in children’s lives at his school.
The Black Madonna might have granted him his wish after all.