Follow Me!

A young woman tweets during the Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV at Howard University. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
A young woman tweets during the Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV at Howard University. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

It is a sad fact that my mood on a gray day can be improved by getting a notification that someone new is following me on Pinterest. My need for approval seems to be taking over my life in a way that is worrying. When I get the little notifications on my iPhone saying that, “Grace so-and-so is now following you,” I check to see: Is it my foodie stuff she is interested in, the gardens I want, or the art I like?

This made me think about what it means to follow someone. It is so easy to click “follow” on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and I do it often. It’s not a bad thing, and is one way I keep in touch with friends and family on the opposite coast and get the latest news from my favorite Fr. Jim Martin.

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Yet is it truly following? I think it is more like having one of my kids hang onto my purse or jeans as I wind my way through the grocery store aisles.

But when Jesus asks his disciples to “follow me,” and when we are also called to join that rag-tag group of men (and women, please let us not forget Mary Magdalene and many more), we are not asked to grab onto Jesus’ robe so we don’t get lost. We are asked to put His teachings into practice, to incorporate what He said and did into the very marrow of our daily lives.

How do I become a true follower, a modern disciple? First, I begin by looking at my favorite saints, whether official or not: St. Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, St. Martin de Porres, St. Francis, and St. Joan of Arc. What did they have in common?

Courage. They stood up to their detractors, to opposition, and to persecution. The call of the Gospel was so immediate, so personal and compelling that we can understand what discipleship means by these actions: Dorothy Day’s care for the homeless and the hungry, St. Martin de Porres’ outreach to the marginalized Indians and slaves in Peru, St. Francis kissing a leper, and Oscar Romero entreating people to stop violence. He was shot for that very stance. I, however, am intermittently courageous, more like the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Persistence. Read Dorothy Day’s journals and see how tired she was at the end of the day, how discouraging it could be to conjure food and shelter out of thin air, and how not-fun it was cleaning the Catholic Worker’s car after someone had been sick in it. She simply did not give up. Nor did St. Joan, no matter what happened on the battlefield, she kept going. I need to put more persistence into my life, not so much in evangelizing, but just in making sure the abundance of my life is shared with others, whether that is a phone call to someone in distress or buying diapers and food for our local Survival Center.

Staying close to God. All of these saints — and many more besides — put prayer and contemplation at the center of their lives. Dorothy Day attended Daily Mass (something I find hard to do with my very rural location); St. Francis slept out on Mother Earth, wrote Canticles to the Sun, and praised God often. Clearly, I need to integrate contemplation more fully into my life. A Pew survey noted that only 58% of Catholics pray daily, so I am — unfortunately — not alone in this.

Humility. I believe all of the saints I read about share this central characteristic — a refusal to put themselves at the center of the world. Other people always came first. The holy men and women’s thoughts focused on those in need and how they could be helped. Sometimes I am humble, but that can be hard to distinguish from lack of self-confidence. Only one is given by God.

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Maybe instead of focusing on who is now following me on Twitter and Instagram, I can look at how I incorporate in my life some of the central truths of these saints and our faith: compassion, outreach to the poor and marginalized, and a radical welcome to all.