Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Follow Me

Father John J. Lombardi

Two of simplest yet most difficult words in the world. Why? Perhaps because the first word, Follow, means thinking, loving and even being like Him. Who? That's the "Me" of the above, Jesus Christ. He is the God-Man, showing man what it means to be like God, and, of course, it won't always be easy. Like: Catholic-Christian couples hearing "be fertile and multiply" (Gn 3:11) and having more babies even though the culture -or sometimes even relatives-doesn't support you…:Admitting, really deep down, that the world (outside God's offer of redemption) is sometimes crazy, or vain (cf. Eccls. 3:4 )--like the unabashed movie-title of years ago: "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World". The world will sometimes try to sway you into thinking you're mad, crazy-just as it did towards Jesus (Cf. Jn 1:11 )...It wont' be easy when you try to protect and promote the family and courts, activist judges and passive politicians are proposing and defining new kinds of families. It's a crazy world to Follow Him when one New York Yankee's baseball player makes $25.2 million a year, and, meanwhile, my inner-city pastor friend Fr Jim Farmer informs me, at his school in Baltimore City, a Catholic teacher earns $25,000-if certified.

I thought of Jesus' counsel to "Follow Me" recently, when I was with my parents for their fiftieth wedding anniversary and my mom's sisters were talking about Theodore, their brother. They described the morning he was going off to war, the "Big One," World War II. I was struck that they remembered what he had for breakfast that morning -some eggs, bacon and some coffee. But I was more touched by what was said during that "Last Meal": Theodore, naturally, was afraid and said he was hesitant to go. His mom--my grand mom--who was from Poland and then became an American citizen, said, essentially: "No, you must go, you are called to serve your country "And so off he went, never to return. He was killed at the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific. He paid the ultimate price for our freedom and country--death. Theodore's name means "lover of God."

Notice Jesus says "Follow Me," not your own ego, selfish desires, or your plan-but Him and His plan. That is what will make you a saint.

Most of us will not be called to pay this price to follow Jesus in Theodore's way, but we are all called to sacrifice, to die in our own ways, right where we are, and Follow Him. We are called not just to believe in the Lord, but also to follow-in-imitation of Him which requires courage, love and total dedication and a lot more. How will you follow Him? By your lifestyle, your thinking processes, by your ethical behavior, by your love of the poor, sick and dying, by a total transformation of our earthly way of thinking, changed into a Divine Way, all these ways will help us follow Him. Though hard to admit, we are called, as CS Lewis, English writer and convert to Christianity, once said, to be "Little Christs"-to imitate, however clumsily, the Life of Jesus within our own. How? Long story short: we are called to re-live the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus in our daily, exciting and mundane lives-in the way Jesus calls us in our personal vocation.

Sometimes, however, we make a spiritual divorce between our believing in Jesus and following Him. In essence, we use our heads and hearts but don't allow or propel our actions and very life (style) to image Him.

St Matthew didn't allow a spiritual divorce to compartmentalize his believing from his actions. He himself was steeped in Judaism, had an ingrained lifestyle that was comfortable as a tax collector, and yet when Jesus called him, he followed-to the point of death. All of the apostles except St John were martyrs, dying for the Lord and our Faith. How will you get out of your static routine, your compromising comforts, your sterilizing way of (dis)believing, and follow Jesus?

Let's face it: It is difficult to be a disciple--we all want to be popular, comfortable, to receive praises, to "call the spiritual shots" the way we see them, and are sometimes afraid to follow Jesus like a saint, in the way He is calling us right where we are. How can we follow and live the command, "Follow Me"?...

Love of God: This is the First Commandment, and this means, somewhat surprisingly to us today, removing false idols before the Lord. False idols?-in modern times, you ask. Yes, including unnecessary drugs; dabbling in witchcraft and paganism; placing someone or a relationship as a god before God; excessive gambling; plotting-for-possessions which cause paralysis of the soul, stripping it of energy toward God. To respond to Jesus' "Follow Me" may mean, today: to Pray the Litany of Love of God -that you say frequently, and thereby imprint interiorly, that you love Him (or try to-fake it till you make it) with all your heart, with all your soul, mind and strength -I love Thee, O My God. Do you? St Matthew left everything to follow God and love Him. Also pray for the grace to love Him because God is infinitely worthy of being loved, and because He is perfect. Love Him above all possessions and honors, comforts and pleasures… So, now, consider: What idols do you need let go of? Do you give inordinate time to some hobby, person or thing-more than God?...Devotion is sometimes derided today-do you cultivate your heart and soul through prayerful devotions, animated heartfelt expressions of love so as to follow Him? Do you talk to Him thru prayer everyday? Do you attend Mass frequently?

Love of Neighbor: Jesus is nearby, in your neighbor, according to Mt 25:31ff and our Catholic Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. Everyone has a nursing home, a shut-in person, and elderly-lonely person, or a sick person nearby-ish they can visit-but do you follow Him, Jesus-- and seek Him in them? Jean Vanier was a philosophical Frenchman who became discouraged by lack of contact with earthlings, esp. the poor. He then founded a series of houses in France called L'Arche (The Arch) communities for the handicapped, and are now located here in the US and throughout the world. Vanier has followed Jesus by following in His footsteps-serving the ostracized and alienated-persons no one else will take care of: Will you? Are you heroically loving enough, like Jesus and Jean Vanier to "go across the railroad tracks" to seek Jesus in His disguises?

Holy Poverty: Spiritual Irony # 77: within a few hours I recall visiting some Franciscans one morning, who beg for food, wear old habit-robes, burn firewood for heat and hitchhike virtually everywhere they go-I was inspired by their simplicity and lack of possessions. Contrasted with that, later, driving down the highway I saw one of those now-ubiquitous ez storage-places, (buildings alongside roadway with large garage doors) which enclose so many of our multiplying possessions? Summarizing the essence of these paradoxical contrasts: Poverty frees possessions posses. Jesus was the Poor Man who makes us rich. He once said, indicating his holy-poverty-Way-of-Life: "The foxes have their lairs and the birds have their nest but the Son of Man has not a place to rest His head" (Matt 8:20). Do you follow Jesus by living a simple life of voluntary poverty? Do you have too many possessions which cloud out love of God and neighbor? Do you allow or promote extremist thinking-either "I must live like St Francis of Assisi in total poverty" (who can possibly do this?) or, else, think, "I want to marry a millionaire" thereby cutting out the possibility of embracing the evangelical counsel of holy poverty? How can you simplify your life-of possessions, and esp. the inner cravings to unnecessarily want more? To answer Jesus' counsel to "Follow Me" means real, concrete and actual letting go of possessions and, esp. the cravings for them (which are excised by giving away things) and letting God be your treasure and possessions. Prayerful insight helps too: because we thereby spiritual and metaphysically realize, like St Teresa of Avila says: "It's all passing…God alone is changeless."

Education: Mother Seton followed Jesus Christ in providing education to souls, especially the alienated and ostracized--right here in Emmitsburg. Will you help others like her? Will you provide the true Faith to your children? Do you really care enough to teach them our Religion and not leave it unnecessarily to someone else? Parents are the primary educators of the children, before Church, school and others. You can follow Jesus by teaching your children and others especially about Jesus' Sacrificial and atoning Death for us sinners. You can teach others about venial sins which hurt, and mortal sins which destroy souls. Educate others about the need for Charity and Corporal Works of Mercy; about the beauty and need for Eucharist in our lives; about the need for supernatural grace; the supernatural Revelation of the Bible. Amidst rampant and sometimes illicit sexual education, will you teach your children, and others, about the challenge, necessity and beauty of chastity? Will you follow Jesus this way?

Prophetic: It's hard to live and preach the Truth in this modern world. As a matter of fact, a recent news story about Pope Benedict said this is one of his themes-Catholics clashing with culture yet we are called to do just such. How? Like: Women and men dressing and recreating chastely in the sometimes secularist summertime promotion of licentiousness and sensuality…Like: teens and college and high school students helping fellow students be chaste and, if need be, challenging inappropriate sexual, lifestyle behavior. Jim, a pilgrim friend, once related that at work one day and saw a licentious picture of a woman on the door, degrading to women. He said: I can't work abound that, please take it down." Do you have that courage to follow Jesus and be His spokesman in this modern world?

Marriage and Family Life: Wives and husbands can follow Jesus by showing actual affection to each other, for their children to see so they may experience faithful love, just as Jesus loved the Church, His Bride (cf. Eph 5) by His actual and awe-full love-His Sacrifice of His life, giving of the Sacraments and His embrace of the Apostles and Blessed Mother. Spouses should be united in mind and heart-or work towards it constantly!-so the children may see and experience unity and fertile family relations and grow in an atmosphere of Love. All family members must continually forgive, and sacrifice for one another so the family bond may be protected and promoted…Also: I recently talked to pilgrim-John who made heroic and courageous decision for his mom-to have her live with him and his wife, even after taking off three months work, traveling to Fla. to help her. Are you following Jesus by helping needy, vulnerable relatives-in heroic-and appropriate--ways? And: does everyone do enough to help "stay-at-home-Moms"? I believe from my un-scientific research, the Blessed Virgin was one. What better gift can mom and dad-and Church-give to children, and others?

Union with God: Jesus was God and illustrated the need for our total Union with Him-God-The-Trinity-the Father Son and Holy Spirit-by His frequent retreats into the sea, the mountains and desert. Do you follow Jesus into a "nearby desert" of prayer? Do you follow Jesus in this way?. This means we must first, actively use our minds and intellects to seek God more deeply, and His truths for us, and, like a "human-intellectual-octopus," use the mental-tentacles of mind to grasp truths (seeking/grasping-as in meditation). But, then, if we persevere enough, we are called to release the human, finite concepts and thoughts we have, however good, and then, simply, be, exist in Him, without any actual, particular thoughts and acts-like a child, after actively milking from the mother's breast, simply rests there (akin to contemplation). Do you follow Jesus this way to deepen your prayer, your relationship with God?

"Follow Me"-sometimes means not following the world, and not doing some things. Like what? Like experimenting on babies or embryos to harvest their tissue or stems cells, allegedly to help others-you doctors and nurses will have to follow Jesus this way by saying no...Pharmacists will say no to contraceptives-esp. RU 486, which is a contraceptive abortion (kills the forming child by destroying the uterine nest in which it must lodge)…You must follow Jesus by sometimes saying no to your children for illicit television watching, or excessive video games and computer use-all which can deprive the soul of needed power-energy-focus, and the simplicity and innocence of young people. Do you have the courage to follow Jesus this way? Remember: Catholics sometimes must clash with culture.

Suffering: All of us will encounter trials and tribulations, but it is not in spite of these difficulties, but, precisely, through them-sufferings-- will I become holy. In your job, marriage, family or church you may embrace a hardship and then think of, hopefully (!)- Christ suffered for you and left you an example to imitate" (I Pt. 1:21)…Maybe you can't have (more) children, need more money or have undue pressures at work: Bind them to Jesus on the Cross and offer them to the Heavenly Father as a propitiation-gift-offering (Since cotton candy is so easy to give-give something hard and thorny-suffering-it costs much and gives much to God.

Excuses and Hindrances-Here are some of the most common: I'm not worthy: who is? This is actually a stalling technique); I'm not ready: once again-who is? He'll provide the graces-grow into the job just like you do with your earthly job, your marriage…. I'm not St John or St Joe, or … No, but you are called to be a saint in your particular lifestyle and vocation; the saints can help us by imitating their virtues appropriate to our life-situation-stop stalling!)); too many attachments-sooner or later, here on earth, or, if you make it to purgatory, you'll have to let go of the unnecessary attachments remember to cultivate the healthy ones, though. You also realize that anticipation is sometimes worse than the reality of letting go.

Last week I said Mass in Frederick and the sacristan, John and I were speaking about praying for each other and he then mentioned that priests have the hardest jobs, because they're to be examples of Christ, the High Priest. I mentioned that we are all called to be examples, no matter who we are. He then basically said: Yeah, but you're the priest. You're supposed to be the example for us to follow and imitate.

We all have a Big Job, given us from Jesus, Who says: "Follow Me." Now, just do it.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi