Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
The other day I was playing Xbox, an enormous guilty pleasure of mine. If I've completed all my household duties and written at least 1000 words in a new book, I'll spend a good chunk of my time playing Rocket League. It's a ridiculous game where you play soccer with cars that are like micro machines. I know, sophisticated stuff, right? It's nerdy, but I enjoy it.
But like I said, the other day I was playing with my brother who lives in the States (I live overseas), and I went to check my profile. There, I noticed I had some thirty followers. I was confused: ". . . Who follows me? And why? I'm not a professional gamer, I'm just a hobbyist, and I definitely don't play that much. If they do actively follow me, they're not going to learn anything—because I'm not teaching them anything. They're not going to get better at what I play—because if they follow my example, they're going to lose, a lot!" It didn't make any sense.
In any case, as I was wondering why on earth they would follow me, that word "follow" really struck me, even though I've seen it on every other social media platform: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc. It got me thinking about who I follow, and is that helping me to learn anything—is anyone really teaching me? Am I really getting better at being who God wants me to be by following whom I follow—and is their example one of success or constant struggle and loss of spiritual endurance and ambition for holiness?
Gratefully, many of the folks I follow do make significant contributions to the good of my spiritual life. A lot of people are on media to be liked and followed, but I argue that we should also use it to our spiritual gain and personal growth as well!
Following others is a choice. I think we've all realized how important it is to surround ourselves with the right people. When I was a teenager, I was always in trouble. Taking a look at the choices I made and the company I kept, the formula for problems was exact. Following people eventually shapes who we are and what choices we will make. When we follow others, we get to know them beyond the facts on a profile page. We begin to think like them, talk like them, act like them. Together, we may rise to perfection, or we may also fall in disgrace.
The people around us, in our cyber relationships and with those we interact with regularly in-person can be good, but they're not as great as the saints. As great as Susy and Peter are at going to daily Mass and volunteering with the local Life Teen program, they'll never contribute to our lives the way the saints are able. The saints are an excellent example of folks who triumphed in their faith, endured the toughest of heretics, had the brightest of minds, made the best use of their time, and yet, they were shockingly relatable. Teresa of Avila asked God not to send her visions. Pius V never wanted to be pope let alone a cardinal or bishop. And nearly all of the Apostles left Jesus when their lives were in danger. Yet, they accomplished the impossible. The weakest of them became the greatest and the ones who kept private and quiet lives were eventually heard throughout the world.
We may follow a hundred or so people online, and we may have even more friends elsewhere, but, in proportion, is the time we spend with the saints as much as it ought to be?
Consider it and answer it when you're ready, but I invite you to answer it eventually, for your own sake. Following others is a choice. When we choose to follow the saints, it shapes who we are and the choices we make. When we follow the saints, we get to know them beyond the facts on their Wikipedia page. We begin to think like them, talk like them, act like them. There is no falling with the saints, only flight. We click follow by buying books about them, listening to others talk about them, and most importantly, praying with them. If you don't already, you’ll soon be glad you follow the saints.