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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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Benedict Joseph Labre: Benedict Joseph Labre was truly eccentric, one of God's special little ones. Born in France and the eldest of 18 children, he studied under his uncle, a parish priest. Because of poor health and a lack of suitable academic preparation he was unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life. Then, at 16 years of age, a profound change took place. Benedict lost his desire to study and gave up all thoughts of the priesthood, much to the consternation of his relatives. 
<p>He became a pilgrim, traveling from one great shrine to another, living off alms. He wore the rags of a beggar and shared his food with the poor. Filled with the love of God and neighbor, Benedict had special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament. In Rome, where he lived in the Colosseum for a time, he was called "the poor man of the Forty Hours Devotion" and "the beggar of Rome." The people accepted his ragged appearance better than he did. His excuse to himself was that "our comfort is not in this world." </p><p>On the last day of his life, April 16, 1783, Benedict Joseph dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a nearby house. Immediately after his death the people proclaimed him a saint. </p><p>He was officially proclaimed a saint by Pope Leo XIII at canonization ceremonies in 1883.</p> American Catholic Blog Today offers limitless possibilities for holiness. Lean into His grace. The only thing keeping us from sainthood is ourselves.

 
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