Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
If I were solemnly process to the back of the church and shout, “Y'all follow me!” and then proceed out the door onto Harrison toward City Park, I'd be a little disappointed if I were turn around and discover that I was walking all by myself. I'd be disappointed but not all that surprised. If I were tell you that we were going to visit the Stations of the Cross this morning, shouted “Follow me!” and then started to process to the First Station, I would expect to see most of you right behind me, ready to pray. The only difference btw these two scenarios is that I tell you where we would going in the second and what we would be doing. That bit of information fills in a lot of blanks and makes it a whole lot easier for you to comply. That's not to say you wouldn't wonder why we were visiting the Stations during Ordinary Time. Processing around inside a Church is something Catholics do on occasion. But just walking around outside behind a priest in Mass vestments for no apparent reason? That's just weird. Notice: when Jesus shouts “Follow me!” to Levi, Levi doesn't bat an eye. He gets up and follows. So do the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the adulterers, and thieves. When Jesus says “Follow me,” those who know their sin get up and follow him.
What's interesting to me about this command to follow is that it would appear to be entirely arbitrary. I mean, why do these sinners need to follow Jesus—literally, walk behind him—in order to have their sins forgiven? There are many instances in the Gospels when Jesus forgives the sins of people who just happen to bump into him, or he finds them sitting around on the street. They don't follow him; in fact, some of them run away after being forgiven and probably never see him again, much less take up their crosses to become disciples. And even some of those who are forgiven and then follow him end up dropping out when it looks like Jesus is getting weird or the Way behind him gets difficult. So, do we need to follow Jesus in order to get our sins forgiven? If your only goal is to be relieved of your sins, then following Jesus—that is, taking up your cross to become his disciple—is unnecessary. Your sins are forgiven. Always have been. However, our goal, our vow goes well beyond just being free from sin. Our goal, our vow is spiritual perfection: to be perfect as the Father is perfect. We are forgiven. Now, how do receive that forgiveness and live lives freed by mercy? In other words, how do we follow Christ?
Being free of sin is not the same thing as following Christ. We might say that being free of sin is a necessary condition for following Christ not a sufficient one. To follow Christ, to become a student in his school of charity, requires that we get behind him and pattern our lives on his life of sacrificial love and service. The sacraments of the Church prepare us for this sort of life; strengthen us; and keep us fed along the way. And, if we're smart about it, we use the sacraments themselves as a pattern for daily living. We pray always. We make a habit of giving God thanks for His gifts. We forgive those who sin against us. We show the world the joy that comes with discipleship. We live in communion with one another, calling on the Holy Spirit to anoint us and give us strength. We intercede and sacrifice, offering prayer for those who need it. We give what we have b/c all that we have was first given to us by God. Following Christ starts with receiving God's mercy. Where do you go from there? Doesn't matter. You're following Christ. You know how that journey ends. All the stuff in-between is an adventure in growing in holiness. He came to call sinners to righteousness—all of us—so that we might find the Way: the way back to God, the way forward to perfection._____________
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