Monday, May 19, 2014

Why it may be too simplistic to ask the WWJD question

Some of you may recall an oft-used phrase that was rather popular in the United States in the 1990s among the Evangelical Christians, to remind their members of the imperative to live and act in such ways as to be able to show their love of Jesus through their actions and perhaps even words.  It later went on to be printed on rubber wristbands that many Christian youths would wear, hopefully to remind them that in every moral situation that they faced, it would help greatly if they always asked themselves the all important question WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?).

While the notion of this movement may have good intentions, as in most things that become viral and widespread, parodies are bound to emerge.  This was no exception.  In fact, perhaps it is because of the fact that this was a ‘movement’ that was so closely associated with Christianity and the person of Jesus, anti-Christian parodies of this catch-phrase were almost expected to surface.  Soon, apparently even the advocates of peace would ask “Who would Jesus bomb” and place that on bumper stickers.

As phrases come and go, the phrase “WWJD?” seems to be the right question to ask so that the followers and disciples of Christ may replicate and literally follow Our Lord in the actions and movements of our daily lives.  And if one happened to be a Christian who doesn’t quite use his or her initiative in moral situations, the mindless adherence to the Gospel passages that feature what Jesus did in the various life-situations seemed easy enough to follow as the blue-print for right moral living.  The trouble is, Jesus faced much fewer morally questionable situations in his time (as far as those which were recorded in the Gospels) that many of us would in our far more advanced and sophisticated world.  The moral conundrum that faces so many of us in the various fields of life make the simplistic asking of this question alone a rather na├»ve way of living out our Christianity.

It’s not that it is the wrong question to ask.  But for one to be able to come to a conclusion that one is sure that one’s choices made are Christ-like in character and perhaps even execution, one has to ask a much more fundamental and necessary question before the “WWJD?” question.  This would be to understand and contemplate why Jesus would do what he did when faced with certain seeming moral dilemmas and difficulties.  If we do not do this, we will be merely mindless minions who unthinkingly follow a leader and leave all of our own necessary reflections and decisions aside.  Christian disciples are not meant to be ‘dumb sheep’ before a shepherd.  Here are some important things to remember as followers of Christ.

1.   We are configured to Christ at our baptism.
That is why it is so important for serious disciples of Christ to spend much of their time in contemplation of their identity in Christ and to remind themselves of what has set them aside from the world despite having to live in the world.  It begins with re-appreciating our shared dignity as the adopted sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ at our baptism.  Nothing else gives us the reason why our actions and our lives should be that different from those of our friends who have not yet known Christ.  What happened at baptism is that we became new persons the moment we came out from the baptismal waters, leaving our old-self behind.  As Gal. 2:22 puts it so clearly, we live no longer we, but Christ who lives in us.  The more we are aware of the great dignity of our being configured anew in a most divine and powerful way, the more we can contemplate deeply this great gift of grace which only God could give.  Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote a wonderful book for priests entitled “A priest is not his own”, and in typical Sheen-fashion, he would breakdown what it meant for a an ordained priest to truly live out his priesthood as fully as he should, and as the title suggests, we achieve this only when we realise that we do not become priests to simply do our own ‘thing’ and live according to our agendas.  We are not our own.  In a similar way, perhaps for a baptized lay person, frequent contemplation about the way he or she has been configured to Christ at baptism reminds each one too, that before the simplistic “WWJD?” question, one has to remind what had made one become configured to Christ.

2.   Sin disfigures this configuration.
Much as we know that we should be leaving our old selves behind after the grace-filled sacrament of our baptism in Christ, we have to be humble enough to also acknowledge that we are still very much prone to sin and its effects.  After our baptism, none of us faces the world in a sin-free vacuum.  Nay, we re-enter it and become re-inserted into the world to begin to help restore what has been lost through sin and evil by our Christ-like ways of living.  But when we are weak and fall into sin, what actually happens is that our having been configured to Christ becomes disfigured and we no longer maintain our sanctifying grace that was given us at baptism.  In such a weakened state, just asking the questions “WWJD?” becomes almost unnecessary since one is no longer walking that close walk with Christ in a sanctified way.  What is our recourse?

3.   The sacrament of reconciliation re-configures us to Christ.
In our Catholic tradition, we have always believed that whenever we go to a priest in humble and contrite confession, we undergo a restoration of our lost relationship with God and our fellow man and woman.  Sanctifying grace makes us whole again, and it gives us the much needed hope to be able to carry on living Christ-like lives.  It removes our hypocrisy which paralyses a sinner from merely paying lip-service as a Christian to being a disciple who is truly alive in the Lord.  More importantly, it humbles everyone to know that no matter what one has done in life, that God is ever willing to forgive and re-strengthen this relationship begun at our baptisms.  It is prideful to say that there are certain sins that God cannot forgive.  I read somewhere once where a penitent came up to a confessor and said that even God cannot unscramble an egg (referring to his sin).  The wisdom of God must have filled this confessor at that point when he replied that though God may not unscramble an egg, God does not despise the scrambled state of the egg.  When we appreciate the extreme love of God shown to us in the sacrament of reconciliation, we will make a beeline for that confessional much more often that we do, and make sure that we re-configure ourselves to Christ each time we fall from sanctifying grace.

4.   We have to remember that our ultimate call in life is to Transfigured to Christ.
The ability to remember this constantly is what gives us the courage to go through the most difficult and arduous challenges that we may face in our daily lives.  Each of us will face various forms of these difficulties, and the temptation will always be either to take the easy way out (which is often the sin-laden way), or to be vacant of hope and to despair in life and become cynical and negative about everything around us.  But when we remember what our destiny really is – to be transfigured in Christ completely at the end of our lives, each challenge, each difficultly will be something that we face with a dignity and courage that brings forth Christ to the world waiting to see him in and through us.  We can only do this effectively if we are mindful of our first configuration in Christ (baptism).  Once we lose sight of this, and our deepest identity, we easily fall prey to the wiles of the devil and his nefarious ways.  When we lose this awareness, the asking of “WWJD?” is a question that at best becomes just a phrase we utter without understanding why.

To put it in a nutshell, What Jesus did came as a result of his consistent relationship which he had with his Father.  In John’s gospel that was a part of yesterday’s liturgy, we read how Jesus said “to see me is to see the Father”.  He could only say this because he was in constant contact with his Father in prayer and in a very real relationship. 

The phrase “WWJD?” should only be applied to our moral challenges when we have not failed to remember how we have been configured to Christ at our baptism, how sin disfigures this configuration, how the sacrament of reconciliation re-configures us to Christ, and that we are ultimately called to be transfigured in Christ for eternity.  Otherwise, it merely becomes a wrist-adornment that doesn’t amount to anything much.


  1. Haha frLuke, i didn't realise WWJD was the 1990s "in thing". Perhaps then i was a semi-retired Catholic. Over the last year or so, this WWJD just popped whenever i am caught in a moral dilemma. And then it occurred to me that 'how would i know what would Jesus do or have done if i don't even read the Bible.' I need to get more intimate into his living and so as gift to the family and myself last Christmas, i bought the New Jerusalem Bible ... And i thank you father, for this post which i trust is the Holy Spirit teaching through you.


  2. Dear Fr Luke
    Thank you for this timely post.. Now, I can use this "WWJD" to remind myself when I come face to face with my daily trials and challenges, be it at home or at work. Frankly, had it not been for the baptism that I received, I do not know what/where will I be, or how to handle the daily ups and downs. I give praise and thank God for this grace that He has given me, and for your weekly inspiring posts that keeps bringing us back to ponder on His love for us.

    Thank you, Fr Luke!

  3. Thank you, Fr. Luke. This is one of your most thoughtful writings. I'm going to forward this to all my friends, for sure. After all, how often do we hear preaching about sin, our desperate need for confession and to be forgiven? Hardly ever.

    The scrambled egg analogy is brilliant. During confession, I now focus not so much on my sins, my utter foolishness, but on God's tender love for wanting me back - in spite of them. This is humbling. To realise that one is loved so perfectly is extremely humbling. For each grievous sin is a nail, driven through the flesh of Jesus; each venial sin a taunt from the onlookers as he hung, dying upon the cross. And through all that He still loves us!

    If this doesn't move us to tears then I don't know what will.

  4. Fr Luke, this is a very helpful, versatile companion for those stricken with cancer and their loved ones having to come to terms with it. Also we need to be appreciative of all those going through it with us - spouse, family, friends and not forgetting, doctors and nurses. We draw extra strength from each other. Love, Ignatius & Florence