Sometimes, it is very difficult to spot the difference between the “real thing” or an imitation.

News is a case in point.

“The first casualty of war is the truth!” Today, the truth can be difficult to spot. Its imitations can look so very real that even sophisticated people have trouble distinguishing what is real or fake.

Labels abound. For example, in politics – “Rinos” and “Dinos” (Republicans/Democrats) “in name only” seem to be favorite epithets hurled against persons who think differntly what Republican or Democrat means.

In this Vincentian Mindwalk, Let’s explore different understandings of imitating Christ.

Ways people try to imitate Christ today

In some countries, people engage in a devotional practice held every Good Friday as part of the local observance of Holy Week. Devotees are willingly crucified in imitation of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death.

Related practices include carrying wooden crosses, crawling on rough pavement, and self-flagellation. (These customs are strongly discouraged by the Catholic Church which considers them fanatical, superstitious expressions.)

Others think it is about “getting things right

This is actually not too far removed from the way many Israelites came to misunderstand the commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai.

Over the centuries, between the gift of the law and the time of Christ, a legalism set in. The Ten Commandments proliferated into 612 laws, not to mention countless commentaries.

For the Pharisees, obeying these laws.was about “getting it right.” 

Getting it right meant strict adherence to laws, especially those concerning diet and sacrifices. They got lost in the details of the law. The Ten Commandments somehow expanded to over 600.

We know Jesus’ attitude toward the Pharisees. Matthew 15 and Mark 7.

The above approaches to imitating Christ to curry favor in the eyes of God miss the point. Love God and your neighbor.

What Vincent got right and why he got it right

Centuries ago, a Japanese poet, Basho, observed, “I do not wish to imitate what the great ones of the past did. I would rather seek what they sought.” 

St. Vincent sought what Jesus sought… He understood that Jesus sought to bring good news to the poor!

Vincent believed that bringing good news to the poor does not consist simply in proclaiming the truths of a catechism. He believed it was acting in the way that Jesus acted, making visible the signs foretold by the prophets. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed. Most importantly, the poor have the good news of God’s care proclaimed to them (Luke 4:18).

Why? Apparently, it was only in his mid-30s that Vincent began to see scripture in a new way. He allowed himself to be influenced and guided by the story of Jesus Christ. He understood more clearly what Jesus sought … to Bring Good News to all, but especially all those on the margins.

Today, we might say that Jesus “walked the talk!

Vincent’s conversion

In his thirties, he moved beyond ”what’s in it for me” to “what’s in it for those on the margins.”

Vincent saw himself in the stories of the scriptures. He tried to do what he thought Christ would do if he had faced the situations he faced.

For example, he looked at the kind of people Jesus associated with

  • ‘the immoral’ (prostitutes and sinners) ‘the marginalized’ (lepers and sick people)
  • ‘heretics’ (Samaritans and pagans)
  • ‘collaborators’ (publicans and soldiers)
  • ‘the weak’ and ‘the poor’ (who have neither power nor knowledge)

Jesus sought to bring “good news!” Is it surprising then that Vincent was concerned about the same people?

I think this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

Vincent sought to “follow Jesus the Evangelizer of the poor” by thinking and acting like the Jesus he experienced in the Gospels.

Food for thought

  • What has the “imitation of Christ” meant to you?
  • Do I imagine myself loving even my enemies as Jesus loved even those who persecuted him?
  • Above all, do I seek what Jesus sought… to bring good news to the poor?