WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

The challenge of imitating Christ

Peter Bray FSC, Ed.D.

At the very core of our human nature is a desire to be like someone we admire. Generally this is not consciously intended but it is nevertheless a pervasive force in people’s lives. However, it can be brought to consciousness, as St Paul said: ‘You imitate me as I imitate Christ’ [1Cor 11:1].

When I was young a group of men inspired me. The De La Salle brothers had devoted their lives to provide a human and Christian education to young men. They seemed happy in their commitment and to have a clear direction and purpose to their lives. I wanted to be like them – to be involved in what they were doing.

These men were following the example of St John Baptist De La Salle who over 300 years ago devoted his life to establishing a system of education that would benefit the sons of artisans and the poor.

He saw young boys wandering the streets of Rheims and wanted to give them the chance to earn a living and take responsibility for their lives. He was himself imitating Jesus, who modelled his life on his Father: ‘the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing: and whatever the Father does the Son does too’ [Jn 5:19].

Why all this imitation? I think it is because as human beings we need to sort out who we are, yet, paradoxically, we can only find out who we really are by imitating someone else.

Jesus came not to make me a Christian or a Catholic or a brother but to enable me to be human. As Cardinal Ratzinger said: ‘The true Christian is … (s)/he who, through being a Christian, becomes truly human.’

So what is it to be human? Jesus was the quintessential human being, the person who became all he was capable of being – the shining example of what it means to be a human being so that people might have life and have it to the full.

I am a brother because I dare to believe that the Holy Spirit is working in my life to enable me to become all I am capable of being. For me that means being faithful to the call to be truly human as a brother, to be grateful for the incredible giftedness of my life, knowing I have not earned anything. All is gift.

My growth to be fully human is not something I can do alone. All I can do is respond and I pray for the wisdom and courage to do that, but as De La Salle said so eloquently to God: ‘The work is yours!’

Realising that imitating others is such a powerful force in my life helps me become conscious of who I am imitating. St Paul made it clear that Jesus was the key person he was imitating when he said: ‘I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me.’ Reflecting on this forces me to ask who or what is the key person/factor in my life, living at the core of my being.

Being a brother helps me focus on putting Jesus there. My prayer is a way of becoming aware of living in the presence of God, allowing God to heal and enliven me, and being still in that awareness. I find my mind is so active that just to be still and allow God to work in me is a constant challenge; yet being still before God is like coming in on a cold winter’s night and warming up near a roaring open fire. By being still before God I allow the Spirit to heal and enliven the centre of my being.

Thus, being a brother for me means not so much doing great works, or great amounts of work or becoming well known. Rather it is coming to know the person of Jesus, letting him live within me and daring to believe that in doing this, the Spirit will heal me and help bring Jesus to the people for whom and with whom I live and work.

I embarked on this journey many years ago and I will be on it for the rest of my life. It has been a journey of joy and sadness, of highs and lows, of hopes and disappointments.

I have found seeking to follow Jesus a deep and sometimes daunting challenge. What he calls me to at times runs contrary to values of the world around me. Yet in the midst of the daily challenges Jesus calls me to an intimacy of friendship: ‘I do not call you servants any longer . . . but I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father’ [Jn 15:15]. It is the awareness of this friendship that has become the mainstay of my life and prayer.

The brothers, who have likewise become disciples, form with me a community where seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome. ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all . . . are one in Christ Jesus’ [Gal 3:28]. I dare to believe that the Spirit is working to bring this about.