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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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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