Following in his footsteps
It is my pleasure and privilege to take up the authorship of Msgr. Bernard Bourgeouis’s column for Vermont Catholic after his 20 years of breaking open the word for us. I hope my own contributions resonate with readers as much as my predecessor’s.
We hear a great deal today in the Church about the “New Evangelization” and the importance of creating vibrant communities of faith. This is one of the main themes of the Diocesan Synod that Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne recently concluded. Pope John Paul II famously called for the “New Evangelization” in his encyclical letter “Redemptoris Missio” in 1990.
John Paul II said that the thrust of evangelization today needs to be to re-propose the Gospel to people who have already heard the message of Christ, but, for whatever reason, do not follow it. This means evangelizing the already baptized people in countries and cultures heavily influenced by secularization, such as our own.
In 2000, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) gave an address to catechists and religious education teachers in which he said that to evangelize is to show the path to happiness and ultimate fulfillment. He said: “To evangelize means: to show this path — to teach the art of living. At the beginning of his public life Jesus says, ‘I have come to evangelize the poor’ (Lk 4:18). This means ‘I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness — rather: I am that path. …This is why we are in need of a new evangelization — if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. This art can only be communicated by [one] who has life — he who is the Gospel personified.”
Jesus then is our path, our way to happiness, and others can only discover this when they witness it lived in His followers, those who “personify the Gospel.”
This is where you and I come in. To follow Jesus, to personify the Gospel, means you and I have to be disciples of Jesus. This means we do not simply know who Jesus is, like we know any other historical fact, or acknowledge Him as a good teacher of a sensible way to live but rather in every facet of our lives strive to follow, serve and adore him as our Lord: The way, the truth and the life.
What does this following look like? Hear the words of Jesus, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). The first Christian act, or turn, is to stop looking inward with self-interest and instead respond to the love and example of God who is outside of us. How do we know we have done this? Again, hear the words of Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor … even the Spirit of truth …; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:15-17).
In the end, the fundamentals of Christian life are much simpler than some would make out. Our metric for taking our spiritual pulse is simply to ask ourselves, “Do I keep God’s commandments out of love, the commandments that were given in love? Do I give Jesus more than lip service by living out His life-giving Word in my life?” We can love God because He first loved us. He denied Himself first. He took up the cross first. He kept the commandments of God perfectly first.
Being Jesus’ disciple simply means following in His footsteps. That is where it becomes less simple.
To be continued.
—Father Steven Marchand is parochial vicar of St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington.
—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.