As Christians we are called to be followers of Jesus.  We are also urged to be imitators of him. While “following” and “imitation” are not synonymous terms it does not seem possible to be a follower of Jesus without imitating him in some concrete ways.  The history of Christian piety shows distinct ways in which people have been followers, imitators of Christ.

Prominent among the first Christians was martyrdom.  When martyrdom became rare, people imitated Christ in the wilderness, in nightly prayer, in poverty, in renunciation of marriage.  But that raised the question of how those Christians were to follow Jesus who were unable to live  like the desert fathers.  Today many Christians believe one must follow Jesus by a solidarity with the poor, those oppressed by abuses of power.

While there have always been martyrs, that is not currently the way most Christians are challenged to follow Jesus,  While religious life is a viable option for many, it is not the way     the overwhelming majority of Christian choose to follow/imitate Christ.  While active concern   for the poor, the oppressed is clearly a valid and important way to imitate Christ, the question :arises what about the poor and the oppressed?  How are they to follow/imitate Christ?

The question, then, is whether or not there is a particular, concrete following of Christ that   takes on an individual form that does not change at different periods of history.
Karl Rahner in his book The Practice of Faith, in a section entitled Following the Crucified,  answers that question by saying “Every Christian at all times follows Jesus by dying with him; following Jesus has its ultimate truth and reality and universality in following the Crucified.”

Even though the concrete circumstances are very different, our death is basically the same  as that of Jesus.  What happens in death is the same for all.  In his dying Jesus was deprived of everything: honor, security, life itself.   In death we, too, are deprived of everything.

Believing Jesus was truly human includes believing he had a human will.  In his humanity  Jesus was completely submissive to the will of the Father.  That included not just dying on the cross but a certain dying throughout his earthly life: being subject to his earthly parents, being persecuted in his public life, being denied, betrayed, abandoned by his closest followers in the time of his greatest trial.

Following the crucified then means dying to self in submission to God’s will.  In the experience of human frailty, of sickness, of disappointments, of non-fulfillment of our expectations, of the passive diminishments of age,  we are following the Crucified.