Why I follow Christ
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.
The only reason to be a Christian is to follow the way that is Jesus,
the son of Mary.
But why follow Jesus?
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
— John 14⋅6
Of course, Jesus does offer profound insights,
propose novel teachings, and establish a new kingdom —
but that is not why we follow him.
Instead, we follow Jesus because
he is the only way to God.
A Christian does not merely study Jesus’ sayings for philosophical insight,
contemplate his teachings to reach a high plane of understanding,
or subscribe to a political cause with Jesus’ at the head.
No, A Christian seeks to participate in the life of Jesus,
a life that continues in the world today through his body, the Church.
In following Christ, we seek to share in the divine life.
In the union between man and God,
Jesus does not so much overturn human desire
as fulfill it.
Through this union, Christ gives new meaning to human existence,
exemplified by his own resurrection.
God holds Jesus before us as a threefold mirror. This mirror reflects:
- Not for profound insight
- Not for new, novel teachings
- Not for establishing a new kingdom
- how God intended (and still intends) humans to live (Jesus' earthly life and teachings);
- the consequences of the way we actually live (suffering and crucifixion);
- what God can make of us if we allow it (resurrection, ascension, and new life shared with the Church).
Life in Christ is the only true life possible.
I want a life that is real, one that has meaning.
I don't want a life based on illusions and the pursuit of ephemeral pleasures;
such a meaningless life strikes me as completely undesirable.
Why follow Christ as a Catholic Christian?
I did not grow up Catholic. I entered full communion with the Catholic Church as an adult.
I did so for two reasons: (a) her Saints, and (b) her authority.
Afterwards, I discovered in her prayer life, in her sacraments, and in her works,
(c) the way to participate as fully as possible in the life of Jesus.
- Saints are those whose lives, behavior, and death
exemplify personal holiness to such a degree that we now know they live in communion with God.
- Their lives are, in a very real sense, images of Christ in the world.
They point the way to Christ precisely because they participate in his life.
- All ancient Churches1 revere saints,
and present them as models of how to live our lives: we, too, are called to be saints.
- We find reverence for the saints in second century Christianity,
as evidenced by writings and images in the catacombs where the Roman Christians hid from persecution.
- Any Church that produced the saints I list below is,
as far as I am concerned, as close to the Body of Christ as I am going to find on this earth.
(Here I use the term “saint” not to mean “canonized saint”
but in its literal form, “holy person”).
- If you are uncomfortable with a focus on saints who pray for us,
because you worry it would “come between” your immediate access to God,
I would ask: are you likewise uncomfortable with the idea of asking a fellow Christian to pray for you?
After all, if asking someone to pray for you interferes with your immediate access to God,
why bother asking a fellow Christian to pray for you?
If you are not uncomfortable with that, then what should bother you about asking a fellow Christian
who is alreayd in heaven to pray for you?)
- The Catholic Church has the authority to evangelize the entire world.
It is the Catholic Church that comprises over half of the number of those who call themselves Christians,
and continues to grow through her continuing efforts at spreading the Gospel.
Catholics populate all the inhabited continents and continue to carry Christ wherever the Gospel has not been heard.
- Catholics believe that we can “participate in the life of Jesus”.
- This does not end with a confession on the lips
that Jesus is one's “personal Lord and Savior”,
as though that were the end of Christianity.
That is merely the beginning of the Catholic spiritual life.
(“I am the gate”, Jesus says.)
- Neither does it mean merely the imitation of Christ:
that is, asking oneself “What would Jesus do?”
That is of course likewise necessary
(“I am the way”, Jesus says)
but still not sufficient.
- What it means is precisely what it says:
we must allow ourselves to become part of the Body of Christ, that is,
the Church (Eph. 5.23; Col. 1.18,24), and to live in Jesus (John 15.4) as branches live on a vine (John 15.1-10).
Famous Catholic Saints
Jesus admonishes his followers to pursue a holy life
and Matthew 25.31-46,
among others). The lives of these saints reflect Christ's life.
They show that we can strive for perfection,
as far as perfection is possible for us in this life.
- numerous unnamed monks and nuns who spent centuries evangelizing Europe, then the rest of the world, through the example of their lives (all throughout the middle ages, large portions of Europe were not Christian, or were ruled by non-Christians)
- St. Benedict of Nursia
- St. Dominic Guzman
- St. Francis of Assisi
- St. Claire of Assisi
- St. Thomas Aquinas
- St. Bonaventure
- Julian of Norwich
- St. Catherine of Siena
- St. Catherine of Genoa
- numerous unnamed women and men religious who served selflessly in Catholic hospitals throughout the world at little or no pay, tending to the ill and the terminally ill, often at the cost of their own lives
- St. John of the Cross
- St. Francis Xavier
- Catholic scientists (yes, they exist!)
- Copernicus (astronomer who theorized that the earth went round the sun was a Catholic canon, & received positive recognition from the Church for his work)
- Gregor Mendel (gardener who first theorized inheritance of traits, which led to the science of genetics, was a Catholic monk)
- Maria Gaetana Agnesi (Enlightenment-era mathematician and professor who wrote one of the finest Calculus texts of all time, was appointed professor at the University of Bologna, and entered a convent later in her life)
- Louis Pasteur (chemist who proved that microorganisms, not spontaneous generation, were the cause of new life on old food)
...and numerous others, too many to mention...
- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
- St. Bernadette Soubirous
- St. Maria Goretti
- St. Kateri Tekakwitha and other Native American martyrs
- St. Charles Llwanga and numerous other African martyrs
- numerous martyrs of China, Japan, Vietnam, India, and the rest of east Asia
- St. Damien the leper priest
- Dorothy Day
- Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa)
- Carlo Montini (aka Pope Paul VI)
- Karol Wojtyla (aka Pope John Paul II)
- Oscar Romero
- modern martyrs2 too numerous to count
...and others I don't have time or room to mention!
A note on Mary
An interesting passage on Mary from the Gospel:
From now on, all people will call me blessed;
If you are Christian, do you call Mary “Blessed”?
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
— Luke 1⋅48-49
1 By “ancient” churches,
I mean those like the Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East,
and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Notice I use “Catholic Churches”, in the plural.
The Catholic Church is a universal communion of many particular Churches:
and others. This communion makes us one.
The other Churches I listed (Eastern Orthodox,
are not in full communion with us,
yet they are no less ancient — history and human sinfulness has ruptured our communion —
and we hold, by and large, the most essential beliefs in common, such as the Trinity.
2 I use the term “martyr” in the Christian sense
of one who gives witness by surrendering one&rsquos; life,
rather than the non-Christian sense of a homicidal maniac.