During our recent assembly the Dominican Friars from the Province of St. Albert the Great recently had the pleasure of hosting Sherry Weddell, the co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute. Sherry is the author of the popularly acclaimed book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus” – as well as her recently released book, “Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.”
Since Sherry’s visit I have had a lot of time to think about what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus in our time and age. In many ways we live in an age of apathy – men and women wake up each day, go to work, pay their bills, and carry on their social lives without giving a second thought to the purpose of it all. The result is that most people have bought into the notion that “I am the only person who can give meaning to my life.”
If we look at the Gospel story of the rich young man – Jesus gives us a clearer picture of what discipleship really means and why it is important. We are told that the young man is a success by most stretches of the imagination: has many possessions, he follows the Jewish law to the letter, fulfills his obligations in a timely manner, and is otherwise a good and upstanding citizen of the Jewish nation.
Yet despite all of these things, this young man senses that something is missing:
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. (Luke 18:18-23, NRSVCE).
Although it may seems as though Jesus is saying that the rich man’s possessions are evil, in actuality Jesus is helping the young man – and us – to recognize what will bring true happiness. Christianity is not about “following the rules,” “fulfilling my obligations,” or even “being a good Catholic.” All of these are good things – but being a disciple is ultimately about an encounter with Jesus. Following Jesus will make all of the other things in our lives make sense – it will give those things meaning and purpose.
Many people are skeptical – “Is this even possible?” Less than half of Catholics believe that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God (Pew Landscape Survey, 2008). Yet the Gospels are clear – the only fulfillment you will ever find in this life or in eternal life is through personal relationship with Jesus.
This is going to look different depending upon where you are in your life. As the United States Bishops said in their 2001 letter, Go and Make Disciples:
For those of us who practice and live our Catholic faith, it is a call to ongoing growth and renewed conversion. For those who have accepted it only in name, it is a call to re-evangelization. For those who have stopped practicing their faith, it is a call to reconciliation. For children, it is a call to be formed into disciples through the family's faith life and religious education. For other Christians, it is an invitation to know the fullness of our message. For those who have no faith, it is a call to conversion to know Christ Jesus and thus experience a change to new life with Christ and his Church. - Go and Make Disciples (USCCB, 2001), #27.
What is this talk about “intentional discipleship” and why should it matter? We can simply go through the motions of life, choosing to do things all on our own – or we can make the decision today, here and now, to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus. And the best news: You do not have to do it alone! The Church is ready and willing to help you to encounter Jesus!
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. - Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium #3