Be analog Christians in this digital world

April 8, 2014

HOUSTON — If the core mission of all Christians could be distilled into just a few words, what would they be? What’s the Christian call to action?
Two powerful words — forming an imperative sentence — were the central theme of a March 26 talk given by Thomas Cardinal Collins, bishop of the Archdiocese of Toronto, in the 25th Annual Lenten Lecture Series at St. Thomas University.

Make disciples.

This is what Christians are called to be, Cardinal Collins pointed out. It’s what Christians are called to do. “Go and make disciples … baptizing and teaching,” he said, paraphrasing Matthew 28:19. 

“What it comes down to, what the first thing is: Make disciples. We’re all called to be students of the Master. By teaching not just by words, but by example. To share that. To be witnesses to Christ. That’s our mission.”

The message is clear and direct. The mission, it’s anything but simple, the cardinal acknowledged in the title of his talk: “The Challenge of Discipleship in the 21st Century,” held in the university’s Cullen Hall. 

The challenges are many, he noted, among them the pressures of secularism, digital distractions and diversions and the culture of individualism. As disciples, Christians need a broader perspective: “We need to be analog Christians in this digital world,” he said. 

But to spread the joy and love of Christ to others, we must first feel the love and joy — the “excitement of personal witness,” the cardinal said. 
In a breathless, exuberant reading of the first lines of the first letter of St. John (1 John: 1-4) he set the tone not only for his remarks, but for how we should all approach our call to discipleship: 

“‘What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.’

“That is the joy of the Gospels that Pope Francis is calling us to. It really is the heart of our faith.”

To become a well-formed disciple, he emphasized the importance of spending time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. “There’s a beautiful quotation from Scripture,” he said, “that is placed in front of adoration chapels: ‘The Master is here and is calling for you,’ (John 11:28).
That’s the first point we need to have in our experience as disciples. ...And not become simply bland or routine in our faith. We have to do everything we can to have that sense of personal encounter with our Lord.”

He also made the point that each of us has a responsibility for others. “I think it’s important for us to look upon the concave and convex intimacy of the gathered and the scattered. … We need to let the fire burn bright. We need to gather around, especially around the table of the Lord on the day of the Lord. This is why the Sunday Eucharist is so important. … We are gathered. We are in a sense a congregation. We come together. But we don’t come just to stay with the Lord. We come to go. 

“So we are gathered around the Lord, but we reach out to the scattered. Go. And share the fire. … That sense of nurturing the gathered so they can reach out to the scattered is a very important dynamic for us as disciples of our Lord.”

The danger, he said, is in becoming “too much the gathered. Too inward turning. ...Discipleship is not an ‘elite’ kind of thing.”

Stewardship is also important, Cardinal Collins said — not just fundraising. “We need to make use of the gift of time that God’s given to us — that in our communities of faith, in our parishes where we’re disciples gathered together, that we’re all engaged. Did you ever notice in parishes that sometimes, there’s a few families that are on parish council for the last 30 years? And they’re feeling irritated that no one’s helping. And everyone else is saying, ‘Why are they always hogging all the roles?’ ...This is not a good model for the Church.

“So as we gather around the altar of the Lord, we need to share the engagements ... so that all are engaged. And that all are moved by the reality that is symbolized by the last word at Mass, which is, ‘Go.’ ... We’re not just staying to help the Lord. We are to go. And then come back.”

Cardinal Collins, born in Ontario, Canada, was ordained to the priesthood in 1973; installed as Bishop of Saint Paul, Alberta, in 1999; installed as archbishop of Edmonton, Alberta, installed as archbishop of Toronto in 2007 and elevated to the College of Cardinals in 2012. He’s on the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Congregation for Catholic Education and Commission of Cardinals for oversight of the Institute for the Works of Religion. He has participated in the Synod of Bishops at a Special Assembly for the Middle East, served as an Apostolic Visitor in Ireland and also as the Delegate of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for Anglicanorum Coetibus.

He is author of “Cornerstones of Faith: Reconciliation, Eucharist and Stewardship,” available on in paperback and on in both paperback and Kindle format.