“Sometimes methods and programs of meditation are aimed simply at this: learning to play a religious role. The idea of ‘imitation’ of Christ and of the saints can degenerate into mere impersonation, if it remains only exterior.”
Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 69
Remember the WWJD? bracelets? The idea is pretty simple: ask yourself frequently throughout the day, “What would Jesus do?” Then act accordingly.
The simplicity of that approach to the Christian life is pretty appealing, but you run the risk of falling into a common trap among religious people. You can start to create for yourself the facade of a religious person. You put on holiness like a mask when on the inside things haven’t changed.
You might have good intentions. You might even work really hard at being holy.
The Pharisees, scribes, and religious leaders depicted in the New Testament are great examples of this. They worked really hard to show that they were holy people. They were good intentioned. They wanted to serve God at first, but soon they worried more about their reputation as religious leaders than anything else.
What’s the difference? What separates someone who impersonates Jesus Christ or the saints from someone who imitates Christ?
Death to self.
Christ died before he rose again. The only way to imitate Jesus Christ is to die to ourselves, too. As he commanded his disciples:
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).