Closing Act: Forming Intentional Disciples

Final Thoughts and Impressions

Well.  The summer Lawn Chair Catechism is over.  The book’s been read, and some of us (cough cough) couldn’t get over the procrastination hump and participate faithfully every week.  Still, I read all of Sherry’s “Forming Intentional Disciples” book, and it was, without a doubt, one of the most compelling, moving and important books I’ve read in a very long, long time.

There is a certain quality lacking, I think, in our modern American Catholicism that must be reclaimed. It’s the quality that we’ve seen quoted from history, of those from an ancient age speaking about those strange and confusing peoples known as Christians.

“See, look at how they love one another!”

Now more than ever, our country and the whole world for that matter needs to be amazed and perplexed at the love we must show one another.  And it starts within the heart of every believer.  And it can only truly begin when said believer is a disciple.

If Jesus Christ the person isn’t at the center of one’s life – MY life – then we  – I – will fail at love continuously. Oh, we may experience a taste of the love that is possible, because we are created by Love from Love for Love.  Kinda like the blind squirrel finding the nut – it’s bound to happen here or there because God has infused it within our very natures, as He intended.  We’ve received the gift of charity by virtue of our Baptism, and we’ve received the Holy Spirit and His gifts at our Confirmation.  But receiving gifts and using the gifts as they are intended, are two very different things.  It’s sort of like getting the fanciest laptop for Christmas, and using it only for playing Minesweeper and looking at funny cat pictures. Sure, you have a gift, and you’re using it for some fun things – but the fullest potential hasn’t even been explored.

By becoming intentional disciples, we can unleash those gifts freely given us through the Sacraments.  When we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, with no impediment and with total confidence, who knows what will happen?  When we experience Jesus Christ as a person – not just as a guy who told parables and healed some sick folks – but as a person more real to us than any person could ever hope to be, when we say to Him “I will follow you” – that’s when all bets are off.  Despite any cross, regardless of the cost, no matter what the consequence as the world defines it – whew!  It staggers the imagination.  Look at what a little Armenian nun was able to accomplish by becoming a disciple. Or a priest, formed from an oppressed and persecuted Poland, who did nothing but trust in Christ. Both people – Blessed Mother Teresa and Blessed Pope John Paul II – never imagined how Christ would lead them.

One of my favorite lines from Sherry’s book is a quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar (from Chapter 3 ‘The Fruit of Discipleship’):

“Simon, the fisherman, before his meeting with Christ, however thoroughly he might have searched himself, could not possibly have found a trace of Peter.”

I read that 10 weeks ago, and it still overwhelms me.  The transformative power of Jesus Christ, of knowing Him and knowing His story, is unfathomable. Which can be scary, right?  We know what happened to Peter, in the end. We know what happened to Christ. It’s a natural reaction, to stand with a little bit of healthy fear of being rejected and scorned (perhaps more than a little bit), of following Christ into the shadows and trusting His path.  As John says to us, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Jesus is Perfect Love, and He wills to share it with everyone.  Christ said many times “Be not afraid”, because he knew the human condition.

All that’s left is responding to His invitation.  Become my disciple, He says.

So what’s next now that the book is finished and the chapter-by-chapter reflection is over (or in my case, here-a-chapter, skip-a-chapter!).  Well, Jesus isn’t giving me an excuse to just let the matter sit and become another good idea I never get around to doing.  He’s offered the invitation in a very real and forthright manner.  No subtlety with Him, at least when it comes to me.  Black and white, between the eyes, Captain Obvious – it’s the only way to get through my thick head.

Our parish is holding a Called & Gifted event-thingy – for four weeks, starting in mid-October. So guess who’s signing up? (for those who don’t know, “Called & Gifted” event-thingys are the seminars Sherry’s group puts on to help people discover – or uncover – their charisms so that they can be used to further and strengthen the Kingdom of God, and fulfill one’s purpose for sucking up air and stuff).

Pray for me as I embark on this next step of discipleship. Satan has a tendency to pepper my path with problems, and he knows how I’m a procrastinator.  This is important.  This is essential.  My life depends on it – spiritually speaking, of course.  I believe it will make my joy complete, somehow.  I am trying to approach this with no preconceived ideas or set expectations.  It literally will be a come to Jesus meeting.

One last thing – I read the final chapter while in adoration the other week, and one short paragraph touched me in a profound way, beyond all expectation. I read the following after an experience that had occurred the previous day.  I can’t go into the details of that experience, but suffice it to say that I had received great consolation from God as the result of a loving act from the world’s freaking best life-saving friend.  That is no exaggeration.

Here’s what I read (from Chapter 12 – ‘Expect Conversion’):

“I know many…women and men who are doing astonishing things for the Kingdom of God only because they have the active, sustained, enthusiastic support of the Christian community…In the end, the Catholic understanding of salvation is incorrigibly communal.  We are all in this together, because none of us are saved by ourselves alone: we are saved as members of the Church, the body of Christ. The hand cannot say to the foot: ‘I do not need you.'”

Amen.

Week Twelve: Forming Intentional Disciples

Still a week behind.  Which, oddly enough, is also what I say after a long bike ride, when it hurts to sit afterwards.

Chapter 11: Personally Encountering Jesus In His Church (click here to read a synopsis on the chapter)

In your own faith:

  • How would you describe what your spiritual gifts are (or might be)?
  • In what ways could you evangelize or disciple others using those gifts?

For parishioners: 

  • Think for a moment about the other members of your parish.  Who do you know who seems to have a very evident gift for some type of ministry, but perhaps is not aware of it?

For pastoral leaders: 

  • Think for a moment about the lay leaders of your parish.  Which would you describe as “disciples”?  As not yet disciples?  [Or: Don’t really know.]
  • Over the next six months, what steps can you take to help the disciples learn to evangelize? To help disciples-to-be grow in their faith?

Now the rubber hits the road. It’s come to this: describing my spiritual gifts, or charisms. This is a dicey proposition. Because here’s the thing: once you’ve identified your charisms, you have to share them. Charisms are meant to be shared with the Church, not clutched tight to oneself, never to see the light of day.

So if go ahead and say “I think these are my spiritual gifts!”, I’m obligated to do something with them. And not just some any ol’ something, but a specific something within my parish and wider Catholic community. And I have to tell you, I’m not sure I’m there yet.

And neither can I refuse to answer the question. I mean, I *can*, but then what sort of disciple would I be?  Would I even be one?

So here’s the deal. I’m still in the discerning process – honest.  Even after all these weeks of going through the book. Maybe I missed something crucial those weeks I didn’t participate.  In any case, I think I’d benefit from Sherry’s “Called and Gifted” seminar-thingy, and come to a full understanding of what spiritual gifts God has given me.  I need proper discernment.  Something like this requires prayer, reflection, perhaps a box of free donuts, and guidance from folks who know what they’re doing.

In the meantime, though, I can take a stab at what I think God has blessed me with.  I’ve been told by several people I have a gift for writing. Not sure if that’s a charism, but I appreciate the compliment.  I also have a sense of humor – again, is that charism-ish?  Or is that just a combination of genetic formulation, upbringing, and learned survival skills?  I dunno.  I’m also musically inclined – but there’s something about accompanying the parish music group, playing “In Eagle’s Wings” or “Gather Us In” on the piano that makes me want to run far, far away. Know what I mean?

In all seriousness, though – I know I must learn what my charisms are (look at me, thinking I might actually have more than one!), and then use them as God intended, for the building up of God’s Kingdom and helping others become disciples.  He didn’t create me, at this point in time, to be living in the place I am, with my family and within my community, to just write a blog and sell a variety of packaging materials and services.  He has a plan for me, and has equipped me to carry out that plan. I just need to sift through the equipment, read the users manuals, and start using it.

It’s heady stuff – but so important. Not just to build up the Kingdom, but by identifying my charisms, I’d also be fulfilling my purpose, thus giving me the peace and joy God wants me to have.

And who wouldn’t want that?

Week Eleven: Forming Intentional Disciples

Back on the wagon after a hiatus for which I have neither reason nor excuse. A reader had emailed, asking me to continue my participation, because she liked my perspective as a dad. I never consciously intended to cease contributing my paltry submissions – but getting that note was just the right amount of encouragement to soldier on. Add to that that Mark Shea mentioned at his blog I was making my way through Sherry’s book – well, I’m taking both things as a sign that I ought to complete this. So I’m jumping right back on rather than backtrack.

Chapter Ten – Do Tell: The Great Story of Jesus

In your own faith:

Are you practiced in sharing the Gospel story? Have you ever heard it told especially well?

How can you become more skilled at explaining and answering questions about the Gospel?

In your parish:

What are times and places at your parish when the Gospel story could be shared in a few quick words? In more detail?

Sharing the Gospel story is something I need to work at. I stink at a lot of things, and that’s one of them. It’s not because I don’t know the story. I’m much better at talking about certain and limited aspects of Church teaching, but that’s not evangelization.  I can talk to my sons about sin and its consequences, about loving our neighbor, about doing unto others – but that’s not evangelizing. That just compels them to be scarce so that they don’t have to listen to another of Dad’s “talks”.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try. But it does mean I don’t try hard enough. I’m sure I’ve said this before, and I know I’ll say it again: there have been many times when I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to give me the words to speak, and He replies “shut up please”. Do I listen? Not nearly enough.

I believe that my family knows I love Jesus and that I strive to do what’s right – Sunday Mass, my weekly adoration hour, they see the books and prayer cards, they know I pray.  They’re also witnesses to my greatest failures as a Christian.  As I’ve straggled hither and yon on my spiritual journey, I’ve come to realize that the best way for me to spread the story of Jesus to them, at this point in my life, is to simply love. Love as He did, without counting the cost. As much as I don’t like cliches, it comes down to “Spread the Gospel, and when necessary, use words.”

I’ll never come close to His example – we can’t outdo Christ in any of the virtues, as He is Perfection in all good things – but that can’t be a deterrent in refusing the attempt. I still golf even though I’ll never be as good as Phil Mickelson. I still write even though I’ll never be as skilled as Dickens or Twain. I still sell even though I’ll never be as successful as Tom Peters or Zig Ziglar.

So I will still love even though I’ll never be as good as Christ. Or even the lowliest of saints. He promises to provide the grace sufficient for the day, even if I provide the most meager of efforts.

And I think that between the two of us, if I become the disciple He desires me to be – that I desire to be – we’ll do just fine in spreading His story.

Week Six: Forming Intentional Disciples

(still a week behind – I might not be the fastest car on the track, but I cross the finish line eventually)

Chapter Five: Thresholds of Conversion – Can I Trust You?

Summary:

What does evangelization look like? How do we lead someone from complete unbelief to fervent discipleship?  Sherry Weddell outlines five “thresholds” in the spiritual journey towards mature faith:

  1. Initial Trust
  2. Spiritual Curiosity
  3. Spiritual Openness
  4. Spiritual Seeking
  5. Intentional Discipleship

She emphasizes that this is not a mechanical process:

There is no one-size-fits-all way of negotiating the journey to discipleship.  People will move through at different paces . . . or ping-pong back and forth between different thresholds . . . .

The thing to remember is that we are not in control of the process.  Some people will not respond to our best efforts . . . . Others may dazzle us by choosing to cooperate with grace . . . .  We are dealing with the mystery of a relationship that God himself is initiating in the human heart.

In chapter five we explore the first threshold, “Initial Trust”.  This is not the same as an active, personal faith.  It is a positive association with the Church that makes it possible to move closer to God.  It could be a Catholic friend, a good experience with a Catholic school or hospital, or maybe even a positive image of the faith portrayed in a movie or book:

The first task of evangelization is to find out if a bridge of trust already exists.

. . . Many don’t trust God or the Church, by they do trust a Christian in their life.  Maybe they trust you.  You may be the bridge that will one day lead them to a life-changing encounter with Christ.

For discussion:

In your own faith:

  • How was the bridge of trust built for you?
  • Who are the people who helped you to come as far as you have in your personal journey?
  • Have you ever been that link of trust for another person?

In your parish:

  • What are actions you can take at your parish to make your congregation a place of trust?
  • Are there barriers in the public imagination – such as a concern about scandals or financial misdeeds – that require increased transparency in order to foster genuine trust?

 

How was the bridge of trust built for you?

I have to think my Catholic upbringing built the bridge of trust.  I don’t believe I ever truly crossed it though, until later in life.  It was a combination of a good friend and an epiphany – and the intercession of a particular saint, of that I am convinced – that made me realize that  a bridge spanning death over to life is pointless unless it’s crossed.

And I’m eternally grateful I crossed over into the land of the living.  It wasn’t as difficult as I had thought it would be from an intellectual standpoint (though it did – and still does – cause difficulties and problems from a personal relationship standpoint with some people in my life, but that’s a different issue).  I had no problem in trusting the Church with regards to Her teachings. Her teachings aren’t true because the Church teaches them – the Church teaches what She does because they are true. That was a distinction I quickly understood. Thus, I realized I had great freedom in discovering more deeply the reasons why the Church teaches what She does, because I didn’t struggle with the question of if Her teachings were true.  This was, and continues to be, grace.

Who are the people who helped you to come as far as you have in your personal journey?

Really too numerous to mention – and I know that God will continually send people into my life who will help me along the way as needed.

Have you ever been that link of trust for another person?

Yes – and it’s never the obvious person.  It’s a privilege and a great responsibility – the key, I think, is trusting in the Holy Spirit to do the guiding and leading.  There have been times when I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to put the words in my mouth, and he merely suggested that I shut up. Things have gone better when I followed that advice.

Week Five: Forming Intentional Disciples

Chapter Four: Grace and The Great Quest

This week’s discussion questions:

In your own faith:

  • It can be hard to settle our minds on the idea of “cooperating with grace”.  How would you explain the Catholic doctrine on salvation to others?

In your parish:

  • How does your parish currently respond when there are serious doubts about the readiness of a candidate for the sacraments?
  • How would a discipleship model of preparation fit into your current approach?

As you can tell, I’m making great strides in developing my charism of procrastination – publishing last week’s reflection and discussion a day before the next one starts.

I’ve rarely been asked to explain the Catholic doctrine of salvation to others. Whether that’s been by the grace of the Holy Spirit, or I’ve been too dense to recognize the opportunities, I can’t really say. But if I were asked, I’d say that salvation is a process, a daily response to Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. It’s a past-present-future reality: I *have* been saved (by His death and resurrection); I *am being* saved (by the grace of that event and my acceptance of that grace); and I *will* be saved (because I ain’t dead yet) by God’s grace.

Becoming a disciple of Christ isn’t an assurance of salvation – you can ask Judas how that worked out for him (yes, yes, I know that the Church doesn’t definitively teach that Judas wasn’t saved, but at the very least, we can look to his example of what discipleship does not look like. It doesn’t involve denying and betraying Christ).

But it’s a necessary first step along the pathway. Because how else can we reach heaven if we don’t follow Him who showed the way and opened its doors? To one degree or another, we must be disciples of Jesus Christ.  We must answer the call to follow Him.  It’s that simple – and seemingly, that difficult.  The Church provides all we need in order to remain disciples – beyond the initial step whereby we conform our wills, because we can’t be forced to be disciples – by virtue of the sacraments.

The sacraments dispense grace, and the better disposed we are towards that grace, the more we receive. The more grace we receive, the better equipped we are to remain His disciples. Again, it’s not automatic (i.e., Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, the apostles ran away in the garden). I see in my own life how easily I fall back into sin, within hours of receiving the Eucharist even. Mostly that’s because I’m a stupid sinner, but as the second reading from Sunday’s Mass told me, our flesh and spirit wrestle all the time. Grace assists the spirit in that battle, but all too often, it seems, I side with the flesh, and we tag-team the spirit, beating it with folding chairs, and crushing it with flying leaps off the pylons.

Let me tell you, it’s getting old.

But I’m not without hope – not in the least. I know God is leading me in this journey of discipleship. The readings from this past Sunday’s Mass is the most recent sign.  Not only the 2nd reading, but the Gospel as well.  It was just last week where I reflected:

But before any of that can happen – before I can answer “What is God calling me to do?” – I have to decide. The plow is beckoning, to break up the hard soil and clear away the stones. Am I ready to step onto the field and grasp the handle, and furrow the fields so that fruit might flourish according to God’s design?

So what did Jesus say in Sunday’s Gospel? “He who sets his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.”

God and that sense of humor of His. What a comedian.

I take it as a sign that, despite my procrastination and shuffling my feet, God is telling me I’m heading in the right direction.  By His grace, I’ll set my sights forward and not look back. I’ll get there.

Week Four: Forming Intentional Disciples

Chapter Three: The Fruit of Discipleship

This week’s discussion questions:

In your own faith:

  • Can you recall a “before” and “after” time in your life, when you became a true disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • Have you ever witnessed that change in someone else?

In your parish:

  • What success stories can you share?
  • In what ministries of your parish is “discipleship thinking” the norm?
  • In what areas is Christian discipleship not yet the standard for ministry?

(Posting the questions is not a guarantee that I’ll discuss all of them – but bring them up in the combox if you want, and we can have a conversation.)

I’m still working on becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ – I’m heading in that direction, and I feel on occasion that I’ve crossed that threshold. But then there are moments where I’m kicking myself, thinking ‘what the heck are you doing? Why aren’t you doing anything??’ Sure, I pray and attend Mass, study the faith, and do the things that many typical Catholics do – but as I discovered last week, I have a ways to go before becoming a normal Catholic. And a normal Catholic is called to be a disciple.

It comes down to making that decision – and then sticking to it. I know what I ought to do, and yet I hold back, as if what I’ll give up in return for discipleship is somehow greater than what I will receive. It’s a stupid thought, I know, but then again, foolishness ain’t beyond any of us.  And I can be the most foolish of all. I’m not so much looking backwards with my hand upon the plow – it’s deciding whether or not to step into the field.

If procrastination were a charism, I’d be golden. Unfortunately, it’s an impediment to fulfillment, to living out the vocation that God had in store for me since before the dawn of time itself. And maybe that explains some of the hesitation – the sheer awesomeness of the notion that God has always been aware of me, and loved me into existence with a specific plan in mind for me. It’s mind-boggling. There’s that niggling, silly, hubristic thought – what if I screw it all up??

And yet…I would end up like the servant who buried his talents. We know what happened to him.  And that’s kinda mind-boggling too.

And so, analysis paralysis sets in, and for all intents and purposes, I get nowhere.

Portions of Chapter Three, in which Sherry describes a Michigan parish I’m familiar with (and know several of the parishioners) where intentional discipleship is practically blowing the doors off the church, have resonated with me. I compare that with my parish, and the difference is striking. My parish is roughly three times larger, has a school and a perpetual adoration chapel, and has had zero priestly ordinations for many years, until recently. Now, I’m not looking in the mirror and saying “You dummy! Look what you’ve done!”; nor am I accusing anybody of anything. I can only speak for myself, and as I mentioned in last week’s discussion – we’re called to be disciples for other people. Sad to say, I’ve been slacking.

I need to face my persistent procrastination, and recognize that the only thing holding me back from becoming a true disciple is…myself. I have to stop waiting until everything’s perfect – that time will never come. There won’t be any fruits of discipleship if the charisms God has given me aren’t cultivated.

But before any of that can happen – before I can answer “What is God calling me to do?” – I have to decide. The plow is beckoning, to break up the hard soil and clear away the stones. Am I ready to step onto the field and grasp the handle, and furrow the fields so that fruit might flourish according to God’s design?

Perhaps this is my “before” and “after” moment.

But I’ll think about it tomorrow…

(that’s a joke, people!!)

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?!?”

Week Two: Forming Intentional Disciples

Session Two: Chapter One – God Has No Grandchildren

Here are the discussion questions this week:

In your own faith:

  • Have you always been Catholic?
  • How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you – from having a personal relationship with God?
  • If you were raised in a Catholic home, are your family members all still Catholic?
  • What events among your friends and family seem to explain why some are Catholic, and others are not?

I’ll focus on the first three this time around.

I’ve been Catholic since being de-paganized three weeks after birth.  Had 12 years of Catholic education.

And then went to college where I eventually said “no thanks”.  Went to Sunday mass for a month or so once I arrived on campus, but found that Sunday mornings came awfully early following late Saturday nights of partying.  Turned into a “Chreaster”, and ceased doing anything to develop or learn about or care about my faith.

Of course, that’s all different now, and the journey from that point of my life to the present day is a topic for another day. 

Suffice it to say, though, that all those years of instruction and mentoring had little or no bearing on my personal relationship with God.  That’s not to say I’m blaming anyone in particular – either the schools I attended, or the teachers I had, and certainly not my parents.  My folks worked hard at their faith and were great examples, and sacrificed so that all us kids could get a Catholic education (even in those days, it still meant something, for the most part).  I just merely said “no thanks” when I got out on my own.

What those years did provide, however, was a rock-solid foundation, so that when I finally came around and realized I had been living contrary to God’s plan for me, I had firm footing beneath me.  Coming to that realization was purely God’s grace, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for building upon that foundation.

I come from a large family of 10 kids – 8 surviving – and except for one brother, we are all still practicing the Catholic faith to varying degrees.  It’s the next generation where the faith has sputtered – of all my countless nieces and nephews, only a handful (that I know of) claim to be Catholic.  My extended family is a microcosm of what’s transpiring in the Church – later generations leaving and many not returning. Or some remaining, but with little fervor.

It’s something I think about regarding my sons – are they going to trod the same path I did, and say “no thanks” when they get out on their own?  It’s possible.  My fear is that I wasn’t the example to them that my parents were to me, that even though I rejected the faith for a time, the memory of how they lived the faith served as a touchstone for me when I reverted.  If my sons reject the faith, will they be able to look back and recall how their dad witnessed the faith, and be inspired to return?  Will they be able to say “My dad was a joyful disciple of Jesus, and I want that”, or will they say “My dad only cared about the rules”? 

It’s on me.  Time to get joyful. Time to be a disciple.

 

Week One: Forming Intentional Disciples

Session One: Introduction

In Sherry Weddell’s book, she writes about a conversation she had with a Catholic women’s group leader, and how that woman’s answer knocked her socks off:

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.

So now the question comes to me: How would I describe my lived relationship with God to this point in my life?

A question, I have to admit, I hadn’t given much consideration until now.  On the one hand, I’m not surprised that I’m not the only Catholic who hadn’t given that question any thought whatsoever.  On the other hand, I’m shocked that so few Catholics have given any thought to that question whatsoever.

So now that I’m thinking about it, here’s what I got:

I’ve always regarded God as Father – 12 years of Catholic education, weekly Mass, and determined Catholic parents will instill that.  I always knew He was there, that He heard our prayers.  Problem was, I saw my relationship with Him much in the same way as I viewed my relationship with my dad.  I think such transference is natural, and I was/am no exception. My dad was rather strict, a bit of a disciplinarian, stoic (but not detached), expected us to always try our hardest and give our best, and brooked no dissent.  He loved Mom, worked hard to provide for us, and was a man of his word.  He made it clear that he was our dad, and not our friend. For a long time, I kinda regarded God the same way.

In other words, I had a sense of respect mixed with equal parts fear and awe, and tried to avoid getting caught doing bad stuff, but as for love? Lacking, to say the least.

Which, to a kid, is what you’d expect.  It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my relationship with God hadn’t matured in quite the same way my relationship with my own father had. My relationship with my dad changed when I became a husband, and it changed even more when I became a dad. As time went on, all the perceptions I had of him as a man seemed to coalesce into one concrete reality: he was a man of his word. In everything he said and did – married for 60+ years, loved our mom, raised his family, supported the Church, stood by his friends – he kept his word.

It has taken time for me to realize that God is a Person of his Word.  In fact, it took Mary, the Mother of God, to make me realize it. Her intercession and prodding helped me understand that God is worthy of my trust. Isn’t that nuts, that I actually didn’t trust God?  I had the fear/awe/respect trifecta down pat, but not much else. I think the lack of trust was underscored by a lack of hope, and that lack of hope sprung from a fear of being judged rather than being forgiven. But Mary showed me that I wasn’t beyond God’s love and forgiveness – that He always loved me, even when I was farthest away from Him. It was time to come out of the wilderness, and return to the Father who was waiting off in the distance.  And once I did that, once I dared to hope, once I was forgiven, my relationship with God started to deepen.

So where am I now?  I have a long way to go.  I can always love more, hope more.  I see in my relationship with my sons similarities in how I related with my dad.  I can do better in balancing “the rules” with God’s love, tender mercy and boundless forgiveness.  I can model God’s trustworthiness by being a man of my word.

All of us are called to be disciples – some for the benefit of the whole Church, some for the good of their parish, some for the betterment of their families, or a combination of all those things. I believe I’m called to be a disciple in order to become a better father. I’m excited to see if that’s where this journey takes me.

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