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.
In your own faith: In your parish:
How would you describe your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?
As a child I guess my relationship with God was very simple. I don't remember a lot, but I do remember making up simple prayers and learning the basics of the faith in school. My relationship with God didn't deepen until just before my 13th birthday when a profound gratitude awakened in me a deeper calling to understand who God was and just what that meant for me.
My relationship with God after that ebbed and flowed, usually based on how much I put into our relationship. He was always there, always listening, always waiting, always speaking but I wasn't always there, listening, waiting or speaking. But while He is always the same, I am not and our relationship has evolved over time, especially and particularly when I got married and became a mother. Embracing my vocation placed new and heavy responsibility on me and oriented me toward Him from a different direction. Slow as I am, it took me some time to adjust to my new relationship with Him but it has been completely worth it.
My current relationship is wonderful and amazing but challenging. In many ways I believe we are closer than ever before but the demands of 5 children 7 and under put challenges on me I don't always meet in a praiseworthy manner. I used to love to pray the Divine Office and would like to get back to it but in the mean time I love the quiet moments of personal prayer I am afforded when I can sneak them in.
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?
The word discipleship, for me, means to follow closely. A disciple is a student, always learning, always following his or her master/teacher. So discipleship means listening carefully, imitating precisely, and following closely the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Now, I don't believe everyone is called to do this in the exact same way. A mother, a firefighter, a priest, a missionary, a teaching religious, a doctor, etc. are each going to be disciples in different ways depending on how God wishes best to use them. So while I do believe there are those who are called to preach in the streets, I likewise believe there are those who are called to quiet contemplation and being called to one does not make an individual more or less a disciple than the other.
I absolutely perceive a need in the church today to help lay Catholics become better disciples. Since Sunday mass is the primary time you get their butts in the pews, I think the crux of it should come during the homilies. I'm sick of bland homilies of nice platitudes telling everyone to be nice to each other. I really want more priests to be more honest, more demanding and more specific. Tell people why they need to love themselves enough to reject artificial birth control. Tell people how beautiful marriage is and why it should be between a man and a woman. Tell people why it is important to be joyful in living the Gospel. Offer advice on spiritual growth and challenge people where they need it most. Of course further meetings, ministries and opportunities during the week, in the bulletin, etc. would be necessary, but I know for many people, myself included, during the week is a lot harder.
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?
My parish likes to focus on the helping people with physical needs and social interaction aspects more than the spiritual growth and emotional development aspects. We've got lots of ministries for the poor, fellowship, dinners, gatherings, etc., which are certainly good, but we don't have a bible study. We have an associate pastor who got his doctorate in scripture, but he isn't allowed to begin a bible study program. He actually would give homilies telling people like it is, telling people what they didn't want to hear and it wouldn't surprise me if our pastor got complaints. We are a large parish of about 5000 families and the wealthiest parish in the diocese. But instead of telling people that he wasn't doing anything immoral and to quit whining, our associate pastor requested a transfer (he will only have been here 1 year) to a parish where he could do things like organize a bible study and offer the EF of the Mass, in which he is trained. Our parish only seems to want the kind of discipleship that results in a check written and warm fuzzy feelings. Unfortunately the other parishes near us are worse. :/
More answers at CatholicMom.com's Lawn Chair Catechism. :)