Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
Here’s another letter to unpack a bit more Bishop Thomas’ mission for us, “Holy Disciples, Holy Families, Holy Vocations”. Not too long ago, during an exercise time, I listened to an interview with Sherry Weddell, the author of Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. Sherry’s books are often used in the nationwide movement to help Catholics live their faith more vibrantly. In fact, it’s really from her work that so many of us in the Amazing Parish movement use the term “intentional disciples”. I remember an interview with her several years ago, where she explained that this was a very helpful term for describing those people who truly take their faith seriously and allow it to effect every area of their life. Below are some of the summary points from her most recent interview, which I think can help us meditate on the concept of “holy disciples” in our Bishops mission statement for the Diocese.
But first, what does the word “disciple” even mean? The key concept that underlies the word “disciple” is a formational relationship. A disciple is somebody who spends enough time with a master to be formed by that master. We could talk about being discipled by somebody in a specific discipline, such as cooking or woodworking. But usually in the Catholic context we are speaking about a discipleship that is much broader. We might think about a religious order, where a more mature member of the order, steeped in the spirituality and discipline of that order, becomes something of a master in charge of the novices, the newcomers to the order. They spend plenty of time together, discussing not only the content of the Faith, but also the stuff that makes up their entire life together. The novice master is full of wisdom for how to live the rule and charism of that particular religious order. When we are applying the term “disciple” to every Catholic, we are really talking about how to live the entirety of human life in imitation of our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Although each of us is very unique in so many facets of our life, as disciples we really want every aspect of our life to reflect the holiness of Jesus Christ. It’s one of the reasons you can give for the Son of God taking on human nature: When he did this, we were suddenly able to see what full, free, loving, holy human life looks like. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we want to learn from and imitate Him as much as possible.
Most of the recent interview with Sherry Weddell focused on the following question: “Why has it not occurred to many Catholics in the United States that they should have a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ?” One reason Sherry gave was that during the decades of great immigration into the United States, there was sometimes persecution against Catholics. Because of this, many of them learned not to talk about the Faith. Since the United States was a country built primarily upon a Protestant ethos, a person’s Catholic faith could make him/her stand out all the more as an immigrant. This could affect neighborhood life, and even one’s success in the working world.
Sherry also referred to an unspoken rule in United States society (and I have heard it explicitly stated in some places) that you simply don’t talk about politics or religion. Avoiding these topics is a way of avoiding potential confrontations. It’s a way of keeping polite society. It’s a way of fitting in.
Sherry also described a type of “cultural Catholicism”, by which many people think of their Faith only in terms of belonging to a ritual institution and carrying out required functions, following certain rules. Being Catholic would mean giving an hour of your time to God by sitting at Mass on Sunday and putting some money in the collection basket. It would also mean avoiding meat on Fridays, receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, and following rules laid down by the Pope. Sherry said she has on numerous occasions met elderly people who say they were never told that they could or should have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, some of them said they were told quite the opposite! They were taught that to claim you had a personal relationship with God was something blasphemous, or at least presumptuous – as if it were something only a saint at the very highest levels of spirituality could expect.
But this is not true at all. Each one of us is called, especially from the moment of our baptism, into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship is one of discipleship, about which we want to be quite “intentional”. We should take an active role in trying to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t just happen to us.
So there are some points from Sherry Weddell’s interview, as well as a bit of a summary description of “discipleship”. Thank the Lord for the way the Holy Spirit is stirring the church in the United States to realize that the Catholic Faith is not simply a system of hierarchy, institutions and a list of rules and customs, as valuable as each of these aspects of the Faith is. The Catholic Faith – “holy discipleship” – has at its core a vibrant relationship with God the Father, in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,