I’m jumping in on the CatholicMom.com discussion of Forming Intentional Disciples.
Here’s the prompt:
What does it mean to form “intentional” disciples? In the introduction to Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell writes about a startling conversation she had with the leader of a local Catholic women’s group. The conversation was part of a series of interviews to help lay leaders learn how to use their gifts in the parish:
Her stories were so vague that I wasn’t hearing any evidence of how God might be using her. . . . So I asked her a question that I had never asked before: Could you briefly describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?
After thinking carefully for a few moments, she responded briskly, “I don’t have a relationship with God.” Her answer stunned me. My first thoughts were, “That’s not possible. You’re a leader in your parish. You wouldn’t do that without some kind of relationship with God . . ..”
. . . By the end of the interview, I realized she had accurately described her spiritual reality.
Sherry goes on to explain that she began asking the question routinely. And here’s what she discovered:
We learned that the majority of even “active” American Catholics are still at an early, essentially passive stage of spiritual development. . . . We discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that many pastoral leaders do not even possess a conceptual category for discipleship. As long as this holds true, the theology of the laity and the Church’s teaching on social justice and evangelization will remain beautiful ideals that are, practically speaking, dead letters for the vast majority of Catholics.
And this week’s introduction discussion questions:
1. How would you describe your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?
2. What does the word “discipleship” mean to you? Do you perceive a need in the Church today to help lay Catholics become more fervent followers of Jesus Christ?
3. How would you describe your parish’s current efforts at discipleship? A hotbed of discipleship? A weekly gathering of spiritual sleep-walkers? Or perhaps something in between?
How would I describe my lived relationship with God to this point in my life? Well, as far as I can recall I’ve always known that God was someone with whom I had a relationship. My parents definitely inculcated that. My dad tells a story of how when I was little I came into the house from playing in the yard and I was crying and saying something about talking to a man. My parents were concerned for obvious reasons. What stranger had been chatting with their little girl in the backyard? As I spoke it became clear that I had been talking with Jesus. Growing up I often felt aware of God’s presence, particularly at Mass. I believed God loved me. I wanted to love him.
And yet I reached a point as an adult where I’d hear the words “prayer life” and wonder what the heck they meant. I knew how to say the basic prayers that every Catholic child learns, I went to Mass most Sundays. But I didn’t really feel like I knew what a prayer life was. I didn’t feel like I had a relationship with Jesus or even know what that meant exactly. God was there but kind of distant except at rare moments when I found myself moved by the beauty of a sunset or a hymn.
And then my dad taught me how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I began to read more about my faith. And I began to catch some glimpses of what this “prayer life” might mean. What it meant to talk with God and not just at him.
So now. I try to pray, to listen. Sometimes I hear God when I pray. Sometimes I feel his presence as I write and know the words are not mine but a gift from him. Sometimes I feel him with me when I go to Adoration or to Mass. I see him in my children. I call to him in the middle of the night.
I am learning how to turn to him in times of distress. To seek his help for the little as well as the great crises in my life.
But I still have a terrible propensity to try to do it all by myself. I forget to ask for help and make a giant mess of things trying to be self-sufficient. Yeah, spiritually I’ve got quite a bit in common with my two-year-old and three-year-old. Fortunately, he’s a much more patient parent than I am. He doesn’t get mad when I make a mess. He never yells or loses his temper. I’d like to learn to be more like him, but I keep getting in my own way. Frankly, I’m kind of scared to change. It might mean having to grow up. It might mean suffering. And while I’ve certainly had my fair share of suffering in life, the idea of change is still pretty scary. Also, what if being a follower of Christ means getting over my social awkwardness and actually talking about God to real people and not just online?
And that brings me to question number 2: What does the word “discipleship” mean to me?
This second question is a hard one, isn’t it? When I first read this book I began to really question whether I’m a disciple or not. Have I really given all to follow Christ? Have I dropped my nets and left my life? In some ways yes in some ways no. I think from the outside maybe it looks that way. Here I am living a pretty counter-cultural life. I’ve got five kids, the oldest of whom is seven. My husband works for the Church. We live on one income and I homeschool. I pray every day. Or at least try to. My house is full of religious art: a crucifix in every room, pictures of Mary and the saints, statues and rosaries and holy cards. All the trappings. And I write about faith on my blog. I proclaim to the world that I’m a Catholic, a follower of Christ. But in my heart of hearts I know that most of it is show and that none of it is enough. I don’t know that I’m really a disciple.
It’s easy to talk a nice game online, but to live the life, to be Christ to others… that’s really hard. Talking about my faith, about God, feels intensely personal. Private. Vulnerable. Here online it’s safe enough. But face to face with someone I don’t know very well? No thank you.
To me to be a disciple of Christ means to take him at his word when he says to go and make disciples of all nations. It means to not be afraid but to proclaim him boldly. To be prepared to give a reason for my faith and hope. It means to die to myself. To let go of my comfort and my need for admiration and praise. It means seeking humility, to decrease so that he might increase. It means to love without counting the cost. It means to seek out the sick and the poor, the hungry and suffering and to bring them the good news. It means getting over being uncomfortable and doing the right thing.
Do I perceive a need in the Church today to help lay Catholics become more fervent followers of Jesus Christ?
Absolutely. I think there is a desperate need. I think there is a need not just to help those who want to grow in their relationship to Christ but also a need to call those who don’t want to, who have no idea that such a relationship is possible. We need to call them. Not dismiss them because they are wasting their time, but to invite them to discover Christ, to meet him. Oh it hurts my heart to think that there are people who don’t know him. And yet I often feel that I’m one of them. I don’t really know him. And most of the time… I’m too lazy to really try.
How would you describe your parish’s current efforts at discipleship? A hotbed of discipleship? A weekly gathering of spiritual sleep-walkers? Or perhaps something in between?
I almost feel that it’s better to say nothing. If you can’t say anything nice…. Though that’s not really fair. But after four years of living here, I’m only just beginning to feel like I’m part of a parish community. I think my parish is typical of parishes in our area. I don’t feel that anything at our parish is speaking to my yearning to grow in discipleship. I feel like most of my spiritual community is online or with family or friends who live elsewhere. But at the same time… I’m really hopeful. Next month our parish begins a new initiative: adoration on first Fridays. I can tell you one of the primary intentions I’ll be praying for as I keep my hour is that our parish become one that fosters intentional discipleship.
Read more answers or link up with your own blog post over at CatholicMom.com. (You don’t have to have read the book to participate.) And feel free to jump in the conversation here too. I’d love to hear what you have to say.