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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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Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows: Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, he lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life. Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
<p>Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
</p><p>His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old.
</p><p>Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.</p> American Catholic Blog Life is not always happy, but our connections to others can create a simple and grace-filled quiet celebration of our own and others’ lives. These others are the presence of Christ in our lives.


 
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