The call to follow [Christ] is not concerned simply with the human virtues of Jesus. Rather it involves His entire way ‘through the veil’ (Heb 10, 20). The element which is essential and new in this way of Christ Jesus consists in the fact the He opens up this way for us, for it is thus that we first come to freedom. The aspect of following Him means: to walk towards communion with God.
From a 1990 talk in Washington DC at the John Paul II Cultural Center
Reflection – WWJD? Remember when those bracelets were all the rage? While the motivation behind them was commendable and undoubtedly at least some people wearing them remembered to be a bit kinder, more generous, more chaste and temperate as a result, this quote from Ratzinger reminds us that the following of Christ is not at its deepest level a simple imitation of that nice guy, Jesus, who did a lot of good things back in the day.
No, when we talk about following Christ, we are literally talking about following a person, not just mimicking his good deeds. He is not only our teacher; he’s our shepherd. He’s not only the new Moses giving the law; he is the new Joshua leading us into the promised land.
This is so crucial. The moral law is important and necessary—without at least a serious commitment to living a chaste, temperate, just life there is no following of Christ. But Christianity is not a moral reform society. Christianity is not a tao, an ethical system of life which we follow so as to attain some kind of serenity.
Christianity is, ultimately, essentially and always, a Person. A Person to whom we give our whole allegiance, our love, our trust, our loyalty. A Person to whom we look at every moment, hoping and praying that in his mercy and goodness He will draw us into His own relationship with his Father, all of which is possible because His Spirit is living and active in our hearts.
And this is the Promised Land, the way of freedom, the true ‘system’ of our faith. Yes, it implies obeying the commandments and becoming a virtuous person, but the deep root of that virtue and obedience is our living communion with Jesus Christ, a living reality, passionate, fresh, vibrant, radiant even in times of darkness, struggle, and pain.It’s not so much the question ‘what would Jesus do?’. It is ‘what is Jesus doing—in you, in me, in the world, in all of us?’ And from that question, to plunge ourselves into his life in our life, his love in our call to love. And this is how we become saints, which is the great happiness and freedom of our humanity.