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Bible Reflections View Comments

"Why after you?"
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, June 23, 2013
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There’s a story of St. Francis that tells us one of his earliest followers, Brother Masseo, asked him one day, “Why after you? Why does everyone follow after you?” Francis was indeed a popular and charismatic figure. But ultimately in following Francis, people somehow perceived that they were following Christ. We’ve seen a similar reaction in the positive response people have shown to the pope who has taken the name Francis.

Whether in the first or the thirteenth or the twenty-first century, the mark of authenticity in the people we choose to follow lies in their faithfulness to a genuine call from God to lead others back to that same God. The true spiritual leader disappears in pointing to the divine.

Christianity is not a cult of personality, a group of people swayed by a charismatic leader and willing to die for him. We’ve seen in our own time what this sort of pseudo-religion looks like. We’ve seen the documentaries on Jonestown, Waco and Heaven’s Gate. We’ve seen that cults of personality nearly always die with the death of the person at their center.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that our faith is not a matter for popularity polls. Jesus asks his followers who people say that he is. But he’s not really interested in the responses they give. He’s heard all that before. And he knows that we have, too. No, the real question is the one he asks Peter. “And who do you say that I am?” Jesus isn’t asking because he wants to know. He’s asking because he wants Peter to know.

In Luke’s Gospel, the one that we hear today, Jesus immediately responds to Peter’s declaration with his first prediction of the terrible suffering and death that the Messiah will have to endure before the resurrection to eternal glory. This is the turning point of the Gospel. This is how we know that who we follow is different than charismatic leaders before or since. Jesus is committed not to power, not to glory, but only to the truth revealed by his Father in heaven.

We don’t follow Jesus because he promises all of our problems will be solved. Rather, he promises that in the midst of the worst things we can imagine, he will be with us, helping us to bear those tragedies. We follow Jesus because he promises that suffering is not the final word. Jesus never lies to his followers and tells them that the road ahead will be easy and carefree. He knows that’s a lie, however much we might long to believe it. He tells them that the destination is worth the trials along the way.

Jesus’ great gift to us is his vision of the kingdom. And he promises that the kingdom is indeed begun in the midst of this earthly journey. When we live according to his vision, we bring that kingdom into clearer focus. We make it a little bit more apparent to the people around us. We bring about a little more justice, a little more peace, a little more equality for those who suffer.

We follow the greatest man who ever lived, but we follow him not because he didn’t die, but because he died and was raised. We follow him because in the midst of his humanity, we see God’s divinity. This is a truth that has been revealed to us by God’s grace. And in that grace, we can reveal it to others by the way we live our lives in imitation of Christ.


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Pio of Pietrelcina: In one of the largest such ceremonies in history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on June 16, 2002. It was the 45th canonization ceremony in Pope John Paul's pontificate. More than 300,000 people braved blistering heat as they filled St. Peter's Square and nearby streets. They heard the Holy Father praise the new saint for his prayer and charity. "This is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching," said the pope. He also stressed Padre Pio's witness to the power of suffering. If accepted with love, the Holy Father stressed, such suffering can lead to "a privileged path of sanctity." 
<p>Many people have turned to the Italian Capuchin Franciscan to intercede with God on their behalf; among them was the future Pope John Paul II. In 1962, when he was still an archbishop in Poland, he wrote to Padre Pio and asked him to pray for a Polish woman with throat cancer. Within two weeks, she had been cured of her life-threatening disease. </p><p>Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio grew up in a family of farmers in southern Italy. Twice (1898-1903 and 1910-17) his father worked in Jamaica, New York, to provide the family income. </p><p>At the age of 15, Francesco joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, 75 miles from the city of Bari on the Adriatic. </p><p>On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>Life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed. However, he wrote no letters after 1924. His only other writing, a pamphlet on the agony of Jesus, was done before 1924. </p><p>Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after a 5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time his confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be handled. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that they had never mentioned. </p><p>Padre Pio saw Jesus in all the sick and suffering. At his urging, a fine hospital was built on nearby Mount Gargano. The idea arose in 1940; a committee began to collect money. Ground was broken in 1946. Building the hospital was a technical wonder because of the difficulty of getting water there and of hauling up the building supplies. This "House for the Alleviation of Suffering" has 350 beds. </p><p>A number of people have reported cures they believe were received through the intercession of Padre Pio. Those who assisted at his Masses came away edified; several curiosity seekers were deeply moved. Like St. Francis, Padre Pio sometimes had his habit torn or cut by souvenir hunters. </p><p>One of Padre Pio’s sufferings was that unscrupulous people several times circulated prophecies that they claimed originated from him. He never made prophecies about world events and never gave an opinion on matters that he felt belonged to Church authorities to decide. He died on September 23, 1968, and was beatified in 1999.</p> American Catholic Blog In times of intense loss and grief, we take our place with Mary as she embraces all our grief in her own as she is silently holding in her arms the stark presence of our suffering God in the lifeless body of her Son.

 
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