Not too long ago, a Catholic lay minister named “John” (not his real name) approached me to discuss a concern he has with his parish’s lay evangelization ministry. In addition to their parish’s weekly prayer service of fifty participants, this ministry organizes and facilitates a quarterly Catholic Evangelization Congress for their deanery that gathers between three to five hundred people. Consequently, some lay ministers have given greater importance to the major quarterly religious services they organize for their deanery than to their parish’s weekly prayer service, going to tremendous lengths to bring renowned speakers that would draw the greatest number of participants. This is frustrating to John because these lay ministers have expressed minimal interest in discovering how to engage many of these participants more effectively. Unfortunately, a significant number of them do not attend the prayer services—and seldom attend the Sunday Mass as well—unless a popular Catholic (ordained) minister is participating. John wonders if the ministry is providing a disservice by ignoring this issue…
Learning from Matthew
At the heart of John’s concern is the question of who or what do people follow and how. It is an inquiry that relates to a biblical passage found in one of the Gospels. “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” (Mt 9:9) Prior to meeting Jesus, Matthew, also known as Levi, followed the path of fortune. As a tax collector, he received monies from taxpayers to pay the Roman authorities the predetermined amount that was expected from him. However, any sum of money that Matthew and other taxmen collected in addition to this amount could be kept as a commission. Hence, tax collectors had many enemies and were viewed as cheaters, swindlers, and thieves. Indeed, they were great sinners full of avarice that did anything to accumulate more money.
Nonetheless, Jesus Christ invited Matthew while he engaged in his sinful practice. And for the glory of God, Matthew responded by getting up and following Him. Interestingly, Matthew did not follow Jesus as those participants who only attend religious services in which well-known preachers and musicians are ministering. Many of these participants turn up to these well-attended religious services probably out of curiosity or self-interest, while others out of obligation to those who made the invitation. However, Matthew followed Jesus with the desire and intention to accompany Him always. He got up from the customs post to abandon his sinful attitudes and behavior and followed Jesus to commence a new life. Certainly, Matthew experienced a transformative encounter with Christ our Lord.
To Follow Jesus
Some assume that to follow Jesus means to visit the locations that He reportedly went to, such as Bethlehem, the Jordan River, Nazareth, the Mount of Olives, or the path to Golgotha. Others believe that they are following Jesus simply by walking behind Him during a Eucharistic procession. While these pious practices are admirable and can be spiritually beneficial, following Jesus entails something greater…
…Like Matthew, we must truly follow Jesus by listening to His voice and obeying. He communicates His will, way, truth, and life when we pray and reflect, study and read the Bible, and hear faithful sermons. As sheep of the Good Shepherd, we listen, but we must also generously respond. Indeed, a disciple cannot positively follow his leader without a spirit of obedience.
Sadly, many desire to identify themselves as Christians, but do not want to accept all the teachings of Christ and of His Church. They reject very crucial teachings on traditional marriage, natural family planning, and respecting life from conception until natural death. Following Christ wholeheartedly cannot be accomplished if a Christian is picking and choosing what to believe and obey from Scripture and from what the Church professes to be true; this impedes the attainment of everlasting life.
Christ is Worthy of Our Trust
As disciples of Christ, we are called to follow the Good News that is preached and not the preacher of the Good News. Sacred Scripture warns us, “Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.” (Jer 17:5) Hence, this is what I discussed with John: to attend a major Evangelization congress or a prayer service only because a particular preacher or musician will be ministering is to place one’s trust in human beings and not in Christ, who is able to use whomever He wishes as an instrument of His grace and blessings.
May we bear in mind that true discipleship is about earnestly attempting to be united with Jesus Christ through a life of constant prayer, penance and sacrifice, and Christian charity. Indeed, it involves unity with God, listening, and docility. However, it ultimately requires imitating Christ in every moment of suffering and joy. Therefore, Peter stated, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” (1 Pe 2:21) As disciples, we ought to strive to walk in His footsteps because they lead us to everlasting life.