Week Three: Forming Intentional Disciples

Chapter Two: We Don’t Know What Normal Is

Here are the discussion questions:

  • Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?
  • Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined above?
  • Or are you a “typical” Catholic, fighting that feeling that interest in the faith is only for a few pious eccentrics?

Matt and Phil were good friends who played golf together every Saturday during the summer months. They had this arrangement for four straight years, canceling only in cases of stormy weather. One Saturday,  as they were completing their round, Matt said, “Phil, I won’t be able to play next week.” Phil blinked a few times before replying. “Seriously? You’ve never canceled golf. What’s going on? Everything okay?” Matt nodded, saying: “Everything’s cool. It’s just that next Saturday is my 15th wedding anniversary.” Phil stumbled a couple shaky steps backwards. “You’re…you’re married?!?”

This week’s chapter and reflection reminded me of that joke, and got me thinking – how many of my friends know I’m Catholic, in a true, deep, real, down-to-the-core, sense? That my most important relationship is with God?

Honestly, I’m afraid to find out.

My parents raised me to not be embarrassed about being Catholic – such as saying grace in public, or crossing ourselves while passing a Church – but talking about our relationship with God? Pure uncharted territory. In recent years, I’ve gotten better at doing that, but I recognize that I have a long, long, long way to go. Because when you get right down to it, it’s talking about shortcomings. In the relationship between me and God, any problems with said relationship sure as heck aren’t on God’s end. God’s not the one who says “you know, this thing isn’t working out – but it’s not you, it’s me”. God’s always there, wanting to draw me in closer, and I’m resisting because…well, because I’m an idiot. Who knows why I resist? I’m a guy – guys who analyze their feelings over stuff like this are called “girls”.

Okay, not really. But the basic reality is this: a lot of guys are reluctant to talk about their relationship with God because it exposes a vulnerability they’d rather keep hidden. It shows they’re not in charge. We’re not being asked to fix things, kill spiders or move heavy furniture. God’s asking us to allow Him in and kill the spiders spinning webs of panic in our souls; to move the heavy weights of guilt and shame from our heart; to fix our failures with his unfailing forgiveness. Those are tough things for guys to do, much less admit, and it explains why it’s hard for some of us to open up about our relationship with Him.

I have no problem talking about religion stuff, generally speaking. Dogma, Church teachings, lives of the saints, current events in the Church – I can do that all day long. Heck, I blog about that stuff all day long.  And I’ll open up and talk about my faith journey with anybody who asks.

But talking about my relationship with God with others? Getting there – I am getting there. I’m blessed with a close circle of friends where such conversations are easy and they flow and we support each other along the journey. But by and large, I would need a banned-NYC-drink-sized Pentecost moment to just bring it up in the normal course of a discussion with people outside that circle.

And the folks outside the circle? They aren’t merely the lady behind you in the grocery check-out lane, or the guy on the next treadmill in the gym, or the group at the adjacent table in the restaurant. No, the folks outside the circle are the people inside your own home, or inside your neighborhood, or inside your office. God has put people in our lives for a purpose – family, friends, neighbors. Some will point us to the path, and others will help us keep our feet upon it.

The rest? Well, we’re in their lives for a purpose. We’re disciples for them. Our relationship with God is a personal thing, but He’s never intended it to be a private thing. As our lives change by becoming disciples of Christ, then by the grace of the Holy Spirit, their lives are open to the possibility of changing too.

So – time to get over myself, stay joyful, and perhaps hear a few people say “What? You’re…you’re Catholic?!?”

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7 responses

  1. Sometimes those of us who have led ghastly lives find it easier to evangelize because we’ve already been exposed as weak, pathetic sinners. I’ve met plenty of recovering alcoholics/drug addicts who were natural evangelists because everyone had already “seen their bare butt” and what else was there to lose?

    But even those of us who have recklessly “cast out into the deep” have hang-ups. I’m embarrassed to send my ex-con buddies who are still in prison my conversion story because I don’t know how they’ll receive it. I’ll do it, but only because I don’t want to disappoint God.

  2. This is a great post, Larry. I really enjoyed reading a post about this from a man’s perspective.

    You’re right. For Catholics, this is precisely “pure uncharted territory,” as you put it. It’s so uncharted that we tend to get confused about the difference between “faith sharing” and talking about the general movements of the spiritual life that are normal for everybody. They’re two different things. For instance, on my blog, I’ve talked about the general movements of the spiritual life as I’ve lived them because this is what Sherry Weddell talks about. But I haven’t said anything about what I told God this morning about how my life is going, how I feel, what I privately hope and fear, etc etc etc. I’m NOT going to blog that. That’s private. There’s a big difference between “faith sharing” on that personal level, and talking about the way the spiritual life works in more general terms, for the benefit of learning from it myself and helping other people.

    If we don’t talk to people about how to have spiritual lives, then they don’t know how to have them. Silence makes having a spiritual life a non-topic and so people never learn, even though they may come to Church. It’s a sad thing and this is one of the big reasons people leave the Catholic Church. Some of them just give up. Some of them go off and become protestants because at least protestants are willing to talk about the parts that they know.

  3. Pingback: Week Four: Forming Intentional Disciples | Acts Of The Apostasy

  4. Let me just say, as a former Protestant…

    The emphasis on “talking about your relationship with God” with other people, is very Protestant and, in my mind, very dangerous. I don’t want to be misunderstood, here: I’m not saying that you should make an effort to avoid it, either.

    But the feeling like you must do something, one way or the other, tends to produce problems. When I was Protestant, one of the things that most irritated me, was how the notion that we should try to talk about God with others, led many to try to work their religion into things in affected and phony ways. People find that off-putting, and it actually harms the Gospel, rather than promoting it. St. Paul says in the Scriptures that we should “always have an answer,” when people ask us “about the hope we have in Christ Jesus.” That’s the idea: lead a good, moral life. Don’t be shy about making the sign of the cross or saying grace before meals in public, thanking God or mentioning Him when it is natural and appropriate. But don’t make a point of it, either. Don’t be embarrassed or hesitant, but don’t be looking for ways to work it into everything, either. It is enough to do this, and, as St. Paul says, have an answer ready when people ask. But unless the Church has called and ordained you to preach the Gospel, you have neither the charism nor the commission to be too involved in preaching the Gospel in a proactive, verbal way. Live the Gospel; have an answer; do not be ashamed of the Cross; keep it natural. That is the way.

      • I agree with with Austin. All the years I was seeking for the Truth, the Catholic Church was always there. I knew where to find her…by going to Mass, even as a stranger, even as someone no one knew or spoke to. Tthere is a deep respect for privacy and silence in the Church, I find–resembling St. Joseph. No one ever “evangelized” me. I could see the beauty, truth, and joy in the lives of ordinary Catholics, in the Mass, and in Catholic writings, such as Augustine’s Confessions. One of the big revelations in my journey is that my vocation is marriage. That’s a lot right there! Yet the “forming intentional disciples” movement would not count these things…going to Mass, reading holy books, trying to be a loving wife, as a relevant charism from what I can tell. ((((I am a catechist and to that degree an evangelist but that is a ministry; it is not a vocation; my vocation is marriage.))). Furthermore I want to continue to live in and through the Lord through the Sacraments, with the help of the ordained and religious who pray and serve so that I may live in joy and peace. Yet much of this kind of activity and need, so common to Catholic spirituality, seems to be discounted in the imperative for all lay people to be and form “Intentional Disciples.”

  5. PS: I’m glad you are blogging about this, L. It’s an important topic. We Catholics can indeed welcome the opportunity to evangelize in new ways.At the same time, we don’t want to risk losing any of the beauty and power of what we already have. The opportunity is fine; it’s the risk that concerns me.

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