Discipleship 7 – Service
I’ve been writing about the topic of “discipleship.” Some have asked, “How do you become a disciple? Are there practical ways to become a stronger follower of Jesus?” Over the past few weeks, I introduced two “discipleship plans.” One was from Pope Francis. Another one came from Father Mike Schmitz. This week I introduce a third approach mentioned in Chapter 6 of Becoming A Fervent Disciple by Deacon John Lozano.
Why have a plan? Doesn’t that encounter happen with the grace of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Yes, those are components. We have an immortal soul, but we are an “embodied soul.” Jesus had a human nature. Thus there needs to be a human component to an encounter with Jesus. In this way, we create the right conditions for the grace to germinate in our lives. Sure the grace is there. That grace also needs to be acknowledged. It then needs to be accepted, appropriated and made active and real in actions and behavior. Otherwise, it’s just academic theology and theory. It does nothing to actually bring about the kingdom in this world.
Three parts of making this “discipleship thing” happen concretely in your life are service, community and a sense of one’s personal mission. Let’s look at service this week. By starting with St. Teresa of Avila. This was a woman who prayed – A LOT! In 1577, she wrote a book the Way of Perfection. This was written for her fellow nuns on how they might progress through prayer and Christian meditation. She dealt with the rationale for their vocation, in this case, being a Carmelite nun. She also wrote about the purpose of – and approaches to – the spiritual life. That same year, St. Teresa also wrote The Interior Castle. This book was written as a guide for spiritual development. What were the two key elements of spiritual growth? Service and prayer. The “Doctor of the Church writes that, “The most potent and acceptable prayer is the prayer that leaves the best effects …. Those that are followed up by actions.”
Deacon John muses on how some books on prayer do not mention the life of service, charity towards others and love of neighbor. If prayer and faith are seen as disconnected from our behavior and way of loving, “we breed a dysfunctional and dangerous spirituality.” Aristotle once said, “don’t listen to what people say. Watch what people do.” He reflects St. Cyril of Jerusalem who wrote, “Our actions have a tongue of their own. They have the eloquence of their own, even when the tongue is silent.” Finally, in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 25:35-36) Jesus strongly takes us all to task concerning our actions. He talks about the Heavenly Father’s judgment as he separates “sheep from goats.” Deacon Lozano writes, “Many times I have been approached, by a variety of Christian people who are concerned about my salvation. ‘Are you saved? Are you born again? Have you given your life to Jesus Christ?’ Are you receiving the sacraments regularly?’ However, I have never heard, ‘Are you living Matthew 25?” Fr. Geah, a missionary who lived and served in Haiti for forty-two years had a saying, “The distance we keep from the poor is the distance that God keeps from us.”
When someone new would come to Mother Teresa’ mission, the future saint would say, “You are not here to work. You are here to be with Jesus.” They see no separation between their work and being with Jesus. “Proximity” is an important concept in “Encountering Christ Through Service.” You don’t have to go to Calcutta to encounter Jesus. Deacon Lozano’s son, Michael, once had an internship with Goldman Sachs. Michael related a story that one day he went to eat in the cafeteria. All of the seats were occupied expect where the kitchen staff was sitting. So Mike went and sat with them. They were mostly black and Hispanic and dressed in the uniforms of a kitchen crew. Mike had a great time with them and enjoyed the conversation and camaraderie. Deacon John’s initial reaction (as he admits somewhat embarrassingly in his book) was “I don’t know if that is going to help his career.” His next thought, however, was, “Well, that’s how his mom and I raised him. If any company doesn’t see that trait as positive, Mike probably shouldn’t be working for them.”
On Pentecost Sunday weekend, I presented details about the direction that I feel the Lord is leading St. Monica Parish. The direction is based on three “encounters” with Christ: Encountering Christ Through His Word, through Liturgy and Through Outreach and Service to Others” (See Slide #5). Slides 6 – 9 cover the idea of “Encountering Christ Through Serving to Others” in detail. Slides 10 – 12 showed that St. Monica Parish is “putting their money where their mouth is.” Several parishioners have taken up the mantel to organize and manage parish financial resources. They organized the newly formed “St. Monica Foundation.” They provide transparently and responsibly manage the financial support of the service mission. After ensuring the oversight infrastructure was in place, the St. Monica Foundation recently provided significant financial resources to assist others in need (See Slide #12). Service to others is not only about writing checks and putting money in a second collection. One Penn Newman Center student once said to me that “Hope always has a human face.” We need to personally get in the game. Our personal salvation rests on this. When we serve others, we also encounter the risen Jesus. Through that, we are transformed. Our love and faith grow. We discover greater and greater capacity for loving. Our behavior changes as well. Our prayer life and how we love others – especially those close to us like family and friends – begins to change. It has an effect on us and how we live. Gandhi put it this way: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do, are in harmony.” This can be called integrity, congruency. It can also be called discipleship or (a word that Pope Francis likes) holiness.
Our “Outreach Ministry” is planning a number of outreach opportunities, large and small, over the next few months. The goal is to include as many people as possible. Some will be for individuals. Some will be for families. Some will be opportunities for small children to join in. Many will be local. This will allow many of us to encounter Christ in our own “hood.” Stay tuned for these opportunities to “encounter” Christ.