As I sat at Mass yesterday and heard the Gospel reading from Luke, I was struck by the three mentions of the word follow. I contemplated what it meant to follow as twice declared by those who encountered Christ and then once by Jesus himself.
And I couldn’t help but think about the hike I completed just a few days ago with my son in Yosemite National Park. It was a nearly 14 hour trek up across almost 13 miles of terrain. We scaled 3,200 feet, dropped down and then scaled back up again before arriving in darkness to the Valley Floor. We developed a walking pattern between us: Joseph proceeded first and I followed.
There’s a good reason why so many metaphors about life are centered on the journey theme. Travel, whether by car or by foot or any other means, takes us from one place to another. As is the case in life. And travel can be exciting, difficult, perilous, joy-filled and challenging. Hills and valleys abound. In the case of our Yosemite hike, we were well prepared for the intended first leg of our trip but an ill-advised change of plans at the peak brought us down a more difficult and treacherous path, one we were not prepared to face. Throughout all of it, including during some grim moments, I took comfort in two things: first, that continuing forward would ultimately result in success and a return to the safety and certainty of the Valley Floor and second, that Joseph was there in front of me every single step of the way.
When we follow, in life and in faith, we should similarly take note of our ultimate destination and the fact that we are always accompanied, always led forward by one we can trust and who knows the way.
In Luke’s account from the Gospel, the ones who would follow Christ to Jerusalem are challenged to leave home, to abandon the duty to bury a father, and to pass without saying farewell to family. These are the challenges that followers must face. Focusing on the ultimate destination and squarely upon the one who leads us forward demands a level of dedication… and separation from all else.
We are asked to prioritize the will of God and not our own. Our own will might focus on anything that increases comfort, control, certainty, safety, power and the absence of pain and suffering. Left to our own devices, these are what we typically seek. But do these lead us to the Valley Floor? To where we ultimately want to be?
The Yosemite hike reminded me of all this. Especially in those more difficult moments when that Valley Floor seemed a million miles away from where we trod. Especially in those moments when hope became scarce.
St. Patrick is known for this prayer, a prayer about the hike, a prayer about following:
Christ beside me, Christ before me
Christ behind me, Christ within me
Christ beneath me, Christ above me…
Where he goes, we should follow.