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Want to learn to live? Follow one who lives!

calling apostles

Williams, Greg | image courtesy National Gallery of Art

Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 01/20/24

We have to wonder why. Why did these men leave everything and follow Jesus immediately? What made him so attractive?

Try to imagine the scene depicted in this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus is passing by the Sea of Galilee, and there he sees four fishermen hard at work: Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus addresses them, Come after me. On the spot, they do. They “abandon” their nets, their boat, their colleagues, their occupation, even their father, and they follow Jesus.

Following is a new heart

We have to wonder why. If you think about it, these men had everything we look for in life: livelihood, income, security, position. Or did they? The arrival of this man Jesus with his exceptional presence sparks something in them. Being seen by Jesus, being spoken to by him and invited, made them realize that they wanted something more. That they were made for something more. And so they followed.

The irresistible attraction of this man triggered the deepest, latent longing of their life. And they realized that, in order to be themselves — the selves they were created to be — they needed to be with this man. They needed to follow him. 

“One can only observe that Jesus is different from anyone else,” comments Servant of God Luigi Giussani, “that he merits our complete trust, and that in following him, we experience an incomparable fullness in our lives.” Fr. Giussani reflects on the mystery of following: 

Life is something you learn following one who lives. Following means becoming one with people who live faith with more maturity, involving themselves in a life experience, that “passes on” its vitality and its savor into us. Following is a new heart that communicates itself to our own, the heart of another that starts to stir itself up in our life.

Following is an emergency exit

Following is an exercise of our freedom, electing to stay with the one whose attractiveness has moved us to reexamine our life. Following means taking a risk. The possibility of a fullness to life not yet experienced prompts us to commit our whole self to what we have encountered in the One who calls us to follow: our desires, our personality, our intelligence, our freedom, our future. 

Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “‘following’ is a new direction for one’s life — surrendered to the will of another, so that being with this other and being at his disposal are now the really important content of a human existence.” Which is to say that following is a gesture of sacrifice. For the essence of every true sacrifice is the deliberate renouncement of self as the center of all things which we carry out so that we can procure our true self by encountering a truth that is outside of us. 

And how much we need this new direction, as T.S. Eliot underscores in a poem:

Bestial as always before, carnal, self-seeking as always before, selfish and purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other way.

Abbot Jean-Charles Nault, OSB, reassures us of the core dynamic of following: 

To follow Jesus is to embark on a veritable discovery of oneself; a discovery of all those secret attachments, those unconfessed refusals, those secret wounds. … And if we are somewhat lucid and honest with ourselves, we can dare to acknowledge that following Jesus, leaving everything for him, is beyond our capacity. … But, paradoxically, this realization of our resistance, of inability to respond to his call, is perhaps, in reality, the most precious fruit. … For when we have consented to our own poverty, then God can finally begin to work within us. When everything seems obstructed, then the emergency exit appears; when we can do no more, then God can finally begin his work!

Following: Integration with the Humanity of God

Following means recognizing that something must change in our life. “To follow Christ,” observed Cardinal Ratzinger, “means to enter into the self-surrender that is the real heart of love. To follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has loved. … In the last analysis, to follow Christ is simply for a person to become human by integration into the humanity of God.”

The great grace of following is this: We become part of a belonging. We live an unceasing accompaniment — holy communion. It inspires us to pray with Servant of God Adele Dirsyte (+1955):

You have created us 
for perfect happiness. 
In all humility I pray,
lead me to it, as You please, 
through deep chasms 
and bitter cold. 
Everywhere I will follow You: 
only show me the way. 


Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.

Find his series of brief reflections on prayer here.

And his new series on the Eucharist here.

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