In the story of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus, we see that the defining question of the encounter is, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Christ then lists off a few of the commandments to which the man boldly responds, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” What Jesus answers him in return is the centre of Gospel morality and the only way to life eternal: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Emphasis added). This “Come, follow me,” is what we call the Sequela Christi. This is the centre of discipleship with Christ—following Him. It consists in imitating Him, but also in letting Him enter our hearts through the Sacraments and prayer, and, by so doing, becoming Him (see CCC 459 & 520).
What follows is a list of seven of Jesus’ key characteristics that we can then use to measure our own lives against.
1. Jesus is a Priest
Jesus makes atonement with God on our behalf. When those around Him grieved God with their sins, He would offer up supplications of atonement for them. Jesus, throughout His passion, wore the attire of a high priest. Jesus offered a physical sacrifice to God on our behalf on the Cross. Jesus offered spiritual sacrifices to God on our behalf continually through His work, prayers, joys, and sufferings. Jesus gave us the Eucharist and ordained the first priests and Bishops. As baptised persons in Christ who participate in Christ’s priestly office, how do we carry out sacrifices on behalf of ourselves and others? Do we make acts of atonement when we see others offend God? Do we offer supplications and prayers to God for others?
2. Jesus is a Prophet
Jesus is a prophet because He speaks on God’s behalf. He revealed the fullness of God’s revelation. Jesus, as God’s Son, makes known His Father’s will for man. When many came to Jesus with questions, Jesus gave them a divine answer. When questions of the Law and disputes about them arose, Jesus settled them with prophetic and divine authority. Jesus foretold worldly and spiritual events. Jesus foretold the downfall and sins of some around Him. Jesus proclaimed the word of God through His own words and His actions. Jesus proclaimed the truth boldly and unashamedly. As baptised persons in Christ who participate in Christ’s prophetic office, do we proclaim the truth to people, albeit with compassion and love? Do we make the salvific doctrine of God clearly known to those around us? Do we proclaim the truth boldly and unashamedly, or are we afraid of offending others with the truth?
3. Jesus is a King
Jesus is the Son of David and the King of the Kingdom of God. Jesus says that His Kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not exercise His kingship by lording it over those who were below Him. Jesus, instead, exercised His kingship by serving those around Him. Jesus’ greatest show of kingship, other than His passion, was washing His disciples’ feet. Jesus told us that if we wish to be first, we should place ourselves last. Do we do this in our day to day lives? Do we do it in the small things as well as the big things? As baptised persons in Christ who participate in Christ’s kingly office, are we prepared to give our lives as kings for our True King’s kingdom?
4. Jesus Favours the Spiritual Over the Temporal
Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic and considered it better than making him able to walk. Jesus healed the physical infirmities of many as a sign of the spiritual healing that He would bring. When Jesus performed many miracles, He would send them away saying “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Your faith has saved you.” Jesus, at times, considered it better to spend the night in prayer, rather than sleep. Jesus, at times, offered up spiritual sacrifices by fasting and praying. When tempted with all the kingdoms of the world by Satan, Jesus considered His eternal kingdom as infinitely more valuable. Do we place more emphasis on the temporal things of this world, or do we forego them for spiritual gain and betterment? As Christ’s disciples, do we place Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last?
5. Jesus is Chaste
Jesus overcame any and all temptations of lust and of the flesh. Jesus prized virginity by living it out Himself all His life. Jesus also suggested that those who could receive virginity should do so. Through His chastity, Jesus was able to look passed the outward promiscuity of the adulterous woman, the many husbands of the Samaritan woman, see beyond their shame, and look further into their thirsty hearts. Jesus came into the world through a virginal womb, was placed into a virginal tomb, and, through His Body the Church, continues to bring people to death (to the “old man”) and new life (to the “new man”) through the virginal tomb and womb of baptismal waters. Do we seek to be chaste, that is, to live purity in the sexual realm? Do we seek to live according to the plan of God for sexuality in our hearts as well as in our bodies? Do we hold virginity in highest esteem when we consider it in the light of the kingdom of God? Do we see chastity as an emphatic “yes” to God’s plan for sexuality, rather than only seeing it as a “no” to its corruption?
6. Jesus is Poor
Jesus came into the world through a poor family of Nazareth. Jesus was born into the filth of a stable where animals lay. Jesus worked hard as a carpenter with Joseph. At times, Jesus had nowhere to lay His head to sleep. Jesus said that it would be difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom. Jesus connected perfection with the selling of all possessions and following Him when speaking to the Rich young man. Jesus said that anyone who gave up earthly possessions would be rewarded in this life and the next. Do we seek poverty in our own lives? If our vocation calls us to live in the world, do we live in a spirit of interior detachment from worldly possessions even though we might own certain of these things? Are we always prepared to give up any of our worldly possessions for the sake of the kingdom and Jesus? Do we consider Jesus and His kingdom to be our wealth instead of finite and corruptible earthly things? Do we take intentional care to not fall into the widespread consumerism of western culture?
7. Jesus is Obedient
Jesus worked as a carpenter under His earthly father, Joseph, for many years. When Jesus thought He was supposed to be left in the Temple at age twelve, He still obeyed Joseph and Mary and left with them. Jesus was obedient to His Father in heaven. Jesus came to accomplish the will of His Father. When tempted to do otherwise, Jesus never strayed from His Father’s will. Jesus prayed for His own will to be done at times, as in the Garden of Gethsemane, but was always perfectly obedient to His Father’s will, even when it was different from His own as, again, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Are we obedient to our earthly parents being careful to honour them as the fourth commandment asks us to? Are we completely obedient to the will of God for us, whether made manifest to us through divine revelation or through the teachings of the Catholic Church and those who wield her authority? Do we follow through immediately and diligently with God’s will for our lives? Do we affectionately embrace God’s will for us as the path to our happiness, or do we carry it out reluctantly?
St Francis of Assisi’s Embodiment of the Sequela Christi
The saints all did what the rich man in the Gospels did not do. When confronted with Christ Jesus, they did live in a spirit of detachment, whether interiorly or exteriorly, and made their whole lives one that was aimed at following and being united with Jesus.
One of the greatest and clearest examples of this radical conversion and unwavering commitment to Christ as a disciple was St Francis of Assisi. He was confronted with Jesus and he literally gave everything he had to the poor and followed Jesus. What follows is three of the above points about Christ being applied to St Francis so that we can see how St Francis also embodied these characteristics in imitation of the Lord.
The page numbers cited are taken from “The Life of St Francis” by St Bonaventure (published by J.M. Dent and Co. Aldine House, London).
St Francis was Chaste
St Francis was a “lover of chastity” (p. 48). St Francis trained himself in many areas of his life such as his desire for food, drink, and bodily comfort, in order to strengthen himself to flee from the lusts of the flesh. St Francis sought diligently to retain his “white robe of chastity” (p. 47) even to the point of throwing himself into a ditch of snow to avoid lust. St Francis would scourge himself when he would feel the onset of lust in his body (see p. 48). St Francis “went not astray among the wanton youths after the lusts of the flesh” (p. 7) even before his conversion. Through the virtue of chastity in his heart, St Francis was also able to look passed the promiscuous exteriors of people into their hearts and see them as true persons and children of God. St Francis even valued God’s plan for sex within the context of marriage for those called to that vocation.
St Francis was Poor
St Francis’ poverty is perhaps his most well-known counsel. St Francis had a great love for poverty (see Ch. 7, p. 68). He sought to embrace poverty to be an example of repentance (see p. 2). St Francis “regarded poverty as the familiar friend of the Son of God” (p. 68). St Francis was more greedy for poverty than anyone was for gold (see p. 68). “Ofttimes with tears he would recall unto mind the poverty of Christ Jesus, and of His Mother, declaring Poverty to be the queen of virtues inasmuch as she [poverty] shone forth thus excellently in the King of Kings and in the Queen His Mother” (p. 68). St Francis would preach poverty often, asking others to embrace it also (see p. 69). St Francis declared poverty to be the foundation of his order (see p. 70). His chief boast was in what he called “the privilege of Poverty” (p. 73).
St Francis was Obedient
St Francis considered himself to be obedient to the Crucifix (see p. 20). “For he maintained that the fruit of holy obedience was so rich as that they who placed their necks under her yoke spent no portion of their time without profit” (p. 59). “When once it was enquired of him what man should be esteemed truly obedient, he set before them as an [example] the similitude of a dead body” (p. 60). St Francis’ obedience gave him power and authority over evil spirits (p. 65). St Francis considered disobedience to be the “most evil offspring” of pride “the root of all evils” (p. 66). St Francis required obedience of those who professed to follow his way of life:
It befell once that a certain Brother was brought unto him who had transgressed against the rule of obedience, and deserved correction by a just discipline. But the man of God, perceiving by manifest tokens that that Brother was truly contrite, was moved by his love of humility to spare him. Howbeit, that the easiness of gaining pardon should not be a pretext unto others for wrongdoing, he bade that his hood should be taken from that Brother, and cast into the midst of the flames, that all might take note by what grave punishment sins of disobedience were to be chastised. When the hood had lain for some time in the midst of the fire, he bade that it should be withdrawn from the flames, and restored unto the Brother that was humbly penitent. Marvellous to relate, the hood, when withdrawn from the midst of the flames, shewed no trace of burning. Thus it came to pass that through this one miracle, God commended both the virtue of the holy man, and the humility of penitence. (p. 66)
The Sequela Christi for us
There are many characteristics that Jesus shows in His life. The saints have taken great pains (often literally) to follow Jesus and imitate Him in all of these ways seeking to unite themselves to Him in as many ways as possible. If we are to attain the glorious crown of sanctity given to the saints and if we are to live out the Sequela Christi unto true Gospel morality (Catholic morality), then we too must seek to imitate Jesus in all His ways and endeavour to be evermore united to Him through the Sacraments, which also strengthen us to be more able to imitate Him. This journey with Christ is beautiful—live it, love it, love Him.