Discern and learn

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Jonjee C. Sumpaico S.J. - The Philippine Star

I always picture going to school as entering a room, with a teacher and her desk, a board to write on, and chairs for the students. Such an image might be the stereotypical description of how the learning space has been in these past few centuries. It is an image that may be given by any student who is asked to describe what a classroom looks like. But such may not be the answer if the activity was asked for in previous generations when learners were not called simply as students. Learners were also called followers.

Followership has been studied in leadership development. Kelley (1988) pointed out five types of followers in our world: Alienated, Passive, Conformists, Survivors, and Effective. These even give a good picture of the types of followers that we have in the country today.

The Alienated follower may be compared to a person who hangs around by the street corner or lounges at a nearby sari-sari store or barbershop who thinks critically about life and always has a say on things while choosing not to care about what is happening around one’s self.

The Passive follower may be compared to someone who routinely works from day to day and just goes through the motion of “how things are.” The person just does what he is told to do without critically thinking about the consequences of following blindly. “This is what the boss ordered” is a common refrain from this type.  

Conformists will agree with the leader without question. In avoiding conflict, they are similar to the Survivors who would rather not “rock the boat” and remain safe. Risking is a behavior that does not sit well with them. “Let’s just move on” or “let it be” will be words that may be familiar to them.

Effective followers are of a different breed. They learn as they carry on in life. They think critically and put their thoughts into practice. One of the characteristics of an effective follower is the ability to risk by putting the teachings of his master into action. They are open to growth and feedback in order for them to improve in what they do and who they are. They become fully alive!

A fellow Jesuit reminded me the other day that people sometimes forget that we are not called human doings, but rather human beings. More than the things that we do, do we become better people for who we are? The way we follow runs parallel to the way we learn. This comes about as a pattern that we celebrate in faith as we also try with our best efforts to follow the life of Christ and learn from Jesus’s ways. What type of followership do we practice? How do we learn about our faith as we make it part of our ways of life? Would you like to consider that being called to followership is a call to discipleship?

The Gospel reading of this week presents a challenging path for those who would like to follow Jesus. It talks about taking on the way of non-violence. It talks of not having the secure comforts of life. It talks about the urgency of sharing the Kingdom of God. But most of all, it invokes fidelity and commitment. Jesus lays down what he does. His disciples are invited to consider the gravity of choosing to follow Jesus in the contexts that they live in.

Disciples learn from their teacher and put these learnings to heart. My novice master, the late Fr. Santiago Gaa, S.J., was quick to point this out to us early on in our formation. He told us that we ought not to be like ducklings – that following one’s call to discipleship ought not to be mere copying of what has been handed down from generation to generation. “Hindi kayo dapat mag itik-itik.” He encouraged us to listen to Jesus who is the real Teacher by being aware of the movements of God’s Spirit. A true follower also does not point towards one’s self but continues to seek out what makes one closer to God. To this, disciples are called to discernment. And if you are willing, learning, and growing in faith, seeking the Spirit’s movements become an everyday encounter that is lived and discovered.

In a month’s time, 13 young men will be entering the Jesuit novitiate in Novaliches. They will answer to the call of the Divine Teacher who continues to invite them to “come and see.” In this period, they may hopefully grow in a way of life that continues to learn as they discern how they are moved by God’s Spirit in their own life journeys – to see Jesus more clearly, to love Jesus more dearly, to follow Jesus more nearly every day.

(And in case you know someone who may be interested in discerning God’s call to authentic followership, do give us a call or a message at (0917)-JESUITS, or follow the Instagram and Facebook accounts of the philippinejesuits.)

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