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Rhyming Lives: How to Be Jesus' Disciple (1999)

Oct. 9 issue column: Mary is Jesus’ greatest disciple. She shows us not what Jesus would do, but what a disciple of Jesus would do. Her life is not identical to Jesus’ life, but, rather, rhymes with Jesus’ life. Jesus calls us to follow him; Mary shows us what following him looks like. So do the saints.

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Jesus calls us to rhyme our lives with his, just as the New Covenant rhymes with the Old.

In past years, the WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”) phrase has become popular in some circles. It’s well intended and, to be sure, sometimes we are indeed to do what Jesus would do. So, for instance, when somebody sins against us, we must forgive them as Jesus would. When somebody is hurting, we must comfort them as Jesus would. When somebody is hungry, we must feed them as Jesus would.

But we must also remember that we are not Jesus. We are his disciples. We are to be like Jesus. We cannot be Jesus, and, therefore, we cannot always do what Jesus does.

We cannot, for example, multiply loaves and fishes, as a general rule. Nor can we raise people from the dead on a regular basis (though both things have been done from time to time by saints as miraculous signs). I think it would be great if God gave me the power to walk on water as a sign to my fellow Seattleites that he is real and Jesus is his Son. The spectacle of my hefty frame trotting along on Lake Washington next to the floating bridges would certainly be something that could contribute to the evangelization of this least-churched city in the least-churched state in the nation. But I find that God does not support my efforts to do what Jesus did in this particular circumstance.

Why? Because I am not Jesus. I am his disciple. My life is to rhyme with his, not be identical with and indistinguishable from his. He makes us his creatures in his image and likeness, not as robotic copies. He wants to have his cake and eat it by making creatures who are distinct from him with lives and wills of their own, yet are joined to him in the bond of love so that we retain our freedom and independent identities while sharing completely in his divine life.

This is one of the reasons Mary is so important. For there is one thing Jesus, God though he is, cannot do: He cannot show us what a disciple of Jesus looks like. Only a disciple of Jesus can do that.

Mary is Jesus’ greatest disciple. She shows us not what Jesus would do, but what a disciple of Jesus would do. Her life is not identical to Jesus’ life, but, rather, rhymes with Jesus’ life. Jesus calls us to follow him; Mary shows us what following him looks like.

The other saints do the same thing for us, particularly as they show us the sheer catholicity of what it means to follow Jesus. The saints are one in Christ, yet the sheer variety of their responses to God’s call forever puts to death that the Church is a monolith.

There are saints who have said Yes to Jesus by becoming poor men (like Francis), and there are saints who have said Yes to Jesus while remaining wealthy (like Joseph of Arimathea). There are saints who took up arms (like Joan of Arc) and saints who refused to take up arms (like Martin of Tours). There are saints who sought Jesus via family life (like Gianna Molla) and saints who sought Jesus via celibacy (like Jean Vianney).

There are saints who are the picture of psychological health and common sense (like Teresa of Avila) and saints who suffer from mental illness (like Benedict Joseph Labre). There are saints who undertook epic adventures (like Paul) and saints who lived quiet, obscure lives (like Thérèse of Lisieux). Some worked spectacular miracles by the grace of God (like Padre Pio). Others were bureaucrats who worked no miracles and pushed paper (like Robert Bellarmine).

But all of them, in their own ways, rhymed their lives with Jesus in pursuit of heaven. Of which, more next time.

Mark Shea blogs at NCRegister.com.

Filed under catholic living, catholicism, christian life, christianity, disciple, faith, mark shea, mary, what would jesus do