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Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We come now to the fourth declaration of our fourth diocesan synod: “To be a disciple means to accept Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. Disciples are those who ‘make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves.’ Catholic discipleship refers to a committed approach to living a Christian life within the Catholic church.”

The first three declarations of the synod addressed our communal commitment to the discipleship and stewardship way of life as a community of faith, setting our pastoral initiatives in relation to holiness, and growing both in terms of the numbers of followers of Jesus Christ as well as in the depth of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our fourth synodal declaration seeks to describe more for us as individuals what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. First, it affirms that being “a disciple means to accept Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior.” Some may see this phrase as an expression used more by evangelical Protestants than by Catholics. While evangelical Protestants and Catholics may have different understandings of the implications of this phrase, no one has a copyright on it! In fact, it is not only acceptable, but it is even essential for Catholics as much as for Protestants to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The reference to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is quite biblical. In the Gospel of St. John, chapter 3, verse 16, we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, verse 38, St. Peter says to the other Apostles, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” St. Peter also says in chapter 4, verse 12 of the Acts of the Apostles, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Similarly, St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 4, verses 9 and 13, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. ... For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Protestants refer to accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior as being “born again.” Catholic theology teaches that we are born again spiritually at baptism. Nevertheless, Catholics must also at some point in their lives make a conscious and deliberate decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. As the Catholic Bishops of the United States taught in their 1992 document, Stewardship:  A Disciple’s Response, disciples are those who “make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1428, calls this a second conversion: “Christ’s call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole church who, clasping sinners to her bosom, is at once holy and always in need of purification, and follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” In other words, conversion is a life-long process, but it must start sometime. For some, that may indeed be the moment of their baptism. For others, it may come upon receiving the sacrament of confirmation, or during a high school retreat, or on a Cursillo weekend, upon entering marriage or the birth of children, in the face of serious illness or the death of a loved one. The point is that being a Catholic Christian is not just doing the bare minimum of going to Mass on Sunday, donating to the church and following the Ten Commandments. Being a disciple of Our Lord means putting Christ at the center of one’s life, in the very depths of one’s heart, and living in such a way that reflects Jesus is your Sovereign Master.

The Catholic understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ also recognizes that there is an ecclesial dimension to discipleship. Thus, we say that “Catholic discipleship refers to a committed approach to living a Christian life within the Catholic church.” The Christian way of life is not a personal philosophy or a self-centered journey; it is a journey of faith for the community of believers travelling together on the path to heaven.

May God give us this grace. Amen.