I’ve been writing about the topic of “discipleship.” People have asked, “What is a disciple? Am I one? How does one become a disciple?” Over the past several weeks, we have been looking at two books on discipleship. One was Becoming A Fervent Disciple by Deacon John Lozano.
The other was Into His Likeness by Edward Sri. Dr. Sri works for a tremendous Catholic organization called the Augustine Institute. Dr. Sri’s thoughts on his book at The Augustine Institute website are interesting to read. He talks about why it is an important topic for Catholics today. He describes discusses what discipleship actually looks like. He goes over four key habits of a disciple: the commitment to prayer, fellowship, the sacraments, and Christ’s teachings.
Earlier we looked at several marks of a disciple. One is service. Last week we examined a second component which is community. This week we examine a third component, one that is a favorite topic for me. That component is mission. Professor Sri recounted one story about Saint Mother Teresa and her plea with her sisters. The future saint said that discipleship involves coming to a true encounter with Jesus. Bishop Robert Barron writes that “No one in the Bible is ever given an experience (or an encounter) of God without, as a result, being sent on a mission.” This is not only important for the individual. It is important for the parish as well. Without a proper understanding of mission, any community becomes self-focused and, ultimately, dysfunctional.
Pope Francis has emphasized that the average Catholic has an unfortunate understanding of mission and holiness. He writes that too many Catholics have an understanding that mission and holiness are only for priests, nuns and other “really religious” people. This is a very “capitalistic” view of Christianity. Underneath is a sense that we pay people to do this for us. Pope Francis says that this is a form of “clericalism.” It is a suppression of the baptismal identity of lay people. We take what is proper to the baptized, and then toss it to a clerical caste. This has a number of outcomes. It isolates the clergy. They’re out there doing the “mission thing” all on their own. Second, they’re not doing the right things. Third, they’re picking up activities that the laity should be doing. Because of this, they are not doing any of these missionary activities especially well. Finally, this leads to the immaturity of baptized lay people. They’re sitting back and watching rather than “getting into the game.”
Christian mission does not start with priesthood and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It starts with Baptism and the Sacrament of Matrimony. A healthy marriage is two committed partners who are standing side-by-side and looking in the same direction. That “direction” is the values and mission of their life as a couple and as a family. This has been the Church’s traditional understanding of the nature of matrimony. Along with Holy Orders, matrimony is directed towards the salvation of others. It involves the personal salvation of each person in the marriage. It involves service to others, first to one’s spouse, then to the children, then to others. The Sacrament of Matrimony confers a particular mission within the church, which is to serve and build up the People of God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1534).
This is why attendance at Mass is critical, especially as a family. Determining one’s mission, as well as the mission of the children, can only be done within the community that gathers to worship. St. Augustine writes that every Christian needs first to be a Christian among others before they can be for others. We are all baptized brothers and sisters who are journeying together on this pilgrimage of faith. We are called to share our life, our faith, our experiences, our triumphs and our failures with one another. Within this atmosphere, people begin to sense why they were created, what their particular gifts and charisms are and what they are being “called“ to do. From this they can determine what their mission is. It is also the task of the natural family and the “family of the Church,” to help our children measure, discern and discuss their call. As they grow older, they begin to understand what it means to be a “missionary disciple.” This will help the young people grow, become better people and, ultimately, get to heaven. This can best be done among other community members. Within the environment of community and worship, healthy ministry and mission happen.
St. Monica has made a commitment to do this within the parish. Look again at slide #4 from the presentation from Pentecost Weekend. We want people from all generations to be engaged. We want to identity, train and grow disciples. We want to send them forth from the Parish of St. Monica to serve others. We call people to enter into the worship as the atmosphere to foster this. Slides #13 – #18 lay out a “discipleship roadmap.” Discipleship “on-ramps” are provided where people can start. Transitions are provided to provide a growth pathway. A schedule was developed so that people can know when they can begin to allow the Holy Spirit to craft and “form” their relationship with Jesus Christ.
This is biblically-based. The call to Christian mission is clearly seen in John 19:20-22. Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples are sent on a mission. Look at the chain of events: Jesus is among them. “Receive the Holy Spirit – I was sent, I now send you – You will receive power – You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Notice that Jesus doesn’t mention their recent failures as individual disciples or as his chosen community. He sees potential and process. So he just sends them!
Finally, understand that Christian mission does not come as a command. There is no guilt trip or pressure from outside. True Christian mission comes as a response to an invitation and call that is heard from within. It also first includes equipping the person with the tools (called “charisms”) to fulfill the mission. This is why the mission is so natural in the life of a fervent disciple.