Moving beyond membership to discipleship

September 18, 2012

Most of us are registered members of a parish in our Archdiocese, attend Mass on a regular basis, receive the sacraments, tithe and may have our children enrolled in classes to enrich their faith. But, is that enough? Is God calling us to membership in a parish or something more? One of the goals of the new evangelization is to bring about in all Catholics such an enthusiasm for their faith that, in living their faith in Jesus, they freely share it with others. This would suggest that we are being called to more than membership. We are called to continued conversion. We are not saved once. We are continually saved over and over again by the love of Christ.

This October a Synod will be conducted in Rome to explore and open up the new evangelization concept outlined in “Go and Make Disciples.” The title of this document challenges us to move beyond membership to a conversion that leads us to discipleship. Bishop Edward Clark of Los Angeles in a talk published in Origins in 2006 commented on the new evangelization introduced by Pope John Paul II. He said that “the new evangelization is aimed at Catholics and rooted in a personal relationship with Christ; it is directed at believers, thereby deepening religious experience, so as to permit the Gospel to penetrate in a way that allows them to share faith; it calls non-practicing believers to active participation; it seeks to re-evangelize traditionally Christian countries weakened by secularization; it looks for new methods, especially with technology and communication; and, finally, the new evangelization involves all members of the Church, especially the laity.” (“Origins,” 36, #1, May 18, 2006)

How do we move to discipleship? We need to have a daily prayer life as individuals and as families to develop this personal relationship with Christ. We cannot move into a deeper relationship with Jesus if we do not talk to him on a regular basis. This allows us to turn over our struggles and joys so, when lifted in prayer, they transcend our human experience and lead us into a deeper spirituality and communion with our Lord. Many times conversion is experienced in prayer where we discover that we cannot do it on our own. We need the help of God to meet the challenges of everyday life. Psychologists and counselors will tell married couples that the key to staying together is communication. If you don’t talk to each other and share your thoughts then how can you grow closer and deepen your married love and commitment? It’s the same process for growing in our love of God.

We need to be reading and studying the Scriptures individually and in small groups so that we can share the scriptural basis of our faith with others. Catholics DO read the Bible. We hear the Word of God at Mass, from the Old and New Testaments. We sing the Psalms. What a wonderful idea it would be to come to Mass each time having read the scriptures in our homes that will be proclaimed that day. This gives us a chance to enter even more deeply into the Liturgy of the Word because we have already prayed with those scriptures. When I was coming into the work the other day I heard one of the disc jockeys say that she made a New Year’s resolution this past January to read the entire Bible and would probably have it done by the end of this year. I was amazed since I wasn’t listening to a religious radio station. We can learn more about Jesus by enrolling in an adult education opportunity or bible study. Religious formation is a lifelong process. It’s not just for our children or only for our children when it’s time to prepare for sacraments. You cannot fall in love with someone you do not know and, conversely, once you love someone, you want to know everything about them. Take some time to get to know our Lord.

We must see ourselves as a disciple of a parish that is in service to people to promote discipleship. A parish community best serves by forming their people to be missionaries of the Good News beyond the confines of the parish. We need to be challenged to be witnesses in our families, our work places, our schools and our communities. At times this witnessing of our faith is contrary to the secular world. We must pray for the courage to speak out. How we treat others in these secular forums speaks volumes in how they can see Jesus in the way we conduct ourselves. If we are a follower (disciple) of Christ then we show it in our love and consideration of those whom we come in contact, in our outreach to the poor and alienated, inviting others to come and experience the love of God.

St. Teresa of Avila affirmed our call to be disciples in her beautiful prayer:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on Earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he sees compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet.

May we continue to be the hands of feet of Christ to others as his disciples in this mission of evangelization! †

Julie Blevins is the Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.