If somebody had no idea in which direction to go, then you might help them and say: “Follow me”, if you were sure of the way. You might advise people in a car to ‘follow me’ if you needed to get somewhere, together, and you knew the way, and the other did not. But, to do what Jesus asked, in the sense of giving up ‘everything’, to follow him with your life, is quite another thing altogether. It is quite alien to my experience, that anyone would use those words, in that sense.

It is true that the founders of Religious Orders, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Ignatius and others, all had companions and followers. For that matter, similar followings happen in our own life-time; Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Chiara Lubich also had many companions who followed the example of these ‘leaders’ on their way to God. However, in all these situations, one is not, necessarily, following the particular founder of a Religious Group; rather, he or she is following God, or Jesus, in the ‘spirit’ of the person who founded that special group. The ‘following’ would be the result of seeing the life-style of the person whose life was already answering a call from God, then being attracted by him, or her, or their companions; normally, there would be time to discern, and talk, about the response to the inner-call that one felt.  There would be conversation about the feelings in one’s heart, in discerning – in deciding – what to do.

In my own case, I am sure that what attracted me to make the ‘big’ decision to follow God, as a monk, was the result of my own uncertainties about life, coupled with the life-style, and the types of person exemplified by many of the monks to be found at Ampleforth, in the 1960’s, whom I admired and respected. Then, there was the knowledge that, taking this path would be a worth-while venture. Later on, and after already being a monk, that initial response would be increasingly purified, through circumstances of life, until bit-by-bit, the response to the call of God was not based on negatives, alone, but on that indescribable ‘something else’ that is to do with God himself.

Who would dare to say ‘follow me’, and ask another to change his, or her, whole life-style except the ‘leader’ who could be quite sure, that he, or she, was offering the follower something better, than the way of life they were already living – already experiencing?  It’s a ‘BIG’ ask, and only somebody that knew us, through and through, could ‘dish-out’ the invitation; only somebody capable of sharing, capable of giving what was needed in life, would dare to do it. The Word of God, through whom all things are made, who chose us, in Him, before Creation began, and who is LOVE, itself, and who gave himself for us on the Cross, out of Love, provides us with the answer.

Jesus calls people to ‘follow Him’ throughout history, again and again, each day. It may not be in a ‘life-changing’ way, but more often, in small things. For instance, he is calling me, through particular circumstances, to go and visit somebody who needs that contact. He may call me to be generous with my time. He may be calling me to answer the telephone, and be kind to a person who wants me.

The other day on my ‘rest day’, I was in the Liverpool City Centre calling at St. Paul’s Bookshop, from where I had ordered the ‘new’ Missal. Walking with a friend through the pedestrian area, we came across the people selling the ‘Big Issue’, mainly poor people, and usually from overseas. The first person was a bit ‘pushy’ and, for some reason that I later regretted, I did not respond to him, except to say: “Another time”.  A little later, in Bold Street, I saw another ‘seller’ man, standing rather quietly and diffidently. The thought had already ‘crossed my mind’ that I should be more generous to homeless people – and so I ought to have been so to the ‘pushy’ chap; at this, I approached this ‘quiet man’ and gave him the £2, asking him from where he came? He smiled, shyly, and said: “Romania”.  This marked such a great moment of joy for me; I hope the seller, too, felt some joy in receiving the donation.

Sellers of the ‘Big Issue’ are most often from foreign lands, ‘disadvantaged’ by ethnicity, homelessness, poverty, unemployment….

I wonder why it is that people do not follow Jesus very much in today’s world. Why do people not follow him, into a life within the Church, in particular?  Here, I am not, necessarily, referring to a ‘vocation’ as a priest, or a religious, or one dedicated to God, but rather, to worshipping God regularly in Church?

It occurs to me to wonder, whether the practical reasons, at least for those working, or those with children, is that life is often so full and so busy, that there is little time left for worshipping God. Some people, who do worship God, state that they can identify with this analysis. In the view of many, there is always that some ‘more important thing’ to do, like finish off that job, prepare for a GCSE exam, go to a dance class, play football; perhaps it is just a much-needed rest during the week-end, after a week of work-exhaustion.  I am sure that there are other deeper problems, too – indifference, that ‘no-need-of-God’ –  that uncertainty about what is right and wrong – that ‘comfort-zone’ feeling of having enough money / resources to live a fairly comfortable life, without anything much to disturb it. All these result in many not having a real personal relationship with God that is meaningful.

A German journalist, Peter Seewald, recently, took part in a long conversation with Pope Benedict XVI, about issues connected with these questions; the results have been published as a book, entitled ‘Benedict XVI, Light of the World’. He put a long question to the Pope which might be shortened in this way: 

“Holy Father, society’s problems are not improving and this underlines all the more the urgency of the questions that shape our lives. What are our values and standards? What are we actually doing with our lives? How do we want to live them in the future? We see in our time a world in danger of sliding into an abyss. We see unrestrained economic systems which devours values on a large scale. Society plunges ahead restlessly with no clear sense of direction, and today we consider wrong what yesterday we considered right, and tomorrow we regard as right what today we regard as wrong. 

There is burnout, new addictions like internet games or pornography. We have unmanageable work related stress. We find children who suffer on account of the loss of family relations. The media dominates and tries to break our taboos, dumbing us down and blunting our moral sense. We have electronic media which has the potential to manipulate and destroy the qualities that make us human. 

The Church has contributed greatly to the development of civilisation. Today there is an attitude of contempt for the Christian religion, and increasingly hostility to Christianity in many countries. What has happened?” 

The Pope’s answer is interesting and may be a light for some of us. A summary follows:

“First of all the development of the modern idea of progress and science has created a mentality that we think will make God ‘superfluous’. Today, people think that they, themselves, can do everything that they once awaited from God alone. In light of this scientific and intellectual way of thinking, matters of faith appear as old fashioned, a myth, or belonging to a bygone civilisation. Religion, or at least the Christian religion, is accordingly classified as a relic of the past.

 People in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment were announcing that the Pope was inevitably doomed to disappear one day.

The Enlightenment, it was thought, would finally sweep away these age old myths, once and for all.There is a sense that, for many, things are not ‘quite right’ with our world; people worry about the future, and there appears to be no satisfactory answer to these feelings.  Yet, to the discerning, there is an answer: “Follow me”, said Jesus, the Word of God.

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) – The Angelus  – (Workers in the fields stop work to say the prayer in honour of Our Lady) 

I have found that, stopping ‘everything’ for the ‘Angelus’ when I hear the bell at 12 noon and at 6.00 pm, is always something difficult to do. Are there not always things to be getting on with? Yet, when I turn away from the negatives, and towards those few precious seconds thinking of the Annunciation-cum-Incarnation, I always feel the positive benefit of that change of mind, and that thing that ‘could not be left’ is never damaged by those few moments in prayer.  ‘Follow Him’ and we can learn, day-by-day, in union with Him.

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