Numerous people around our diocese are reading Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). We are doing so upon the recommendation of Father Chuck Edwards, who is leading diocesan efforts in stewardship and discipleship.
After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples: “Go … and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19). The term disciple — learner — is to be preferred to any other description of a Christian. We are not passive recipients of our church’s pastoral care. We are active in our openness to being changed and formed by our union with God and, in particular, by our friendship with God the Son, Jesus, true God and true human, the Word upon which all disciples depend for salvation, identity, and peace.
Weddell’s book explores the need, on the part of all Catholic Christians, to understand and experience our connection with Jesus as a truly personal relationship. I’m going to try to put words on this challenge in light of my own experience of discovering that faith must be personal.
We have been trained in a religious upbringing which has presented to us many religious truths to which we are to assent. We may perceive faith as a “system” by which salvation “happens” as we engage in expected worship, rites, and instructions.
In my childhood and youth, I was quite comfortable with thinking in this way. I learned what was good and true, and I sought to understand myself as safely conforming to the practice of faith.
In young adulthood, however, I found that this outlook was inadequate. My approach to faith did not include a sense of relationship with the God who has entered so humbly and personally into the things that people experience every day.
I was surprised by my being drawn to the contemplation of Jesus’ coming into this world. The figures which can be placed in a Nativity scene, I realized, gave a mute witness to the fact that the Son of God includes all of us in his adventure of confronting the sin of the world and liberating humanity.
I remember a seminary classmate who placed the traditional Nativity figures in the midst of olive-drab plastic soldiers on a battlefield. His point was that Jesus entered the world as it is, with all its horrors, so that every last grief of human existence might be raised up, healed, and transformed.
The study of theology helped greatly, as I confronted the idea that the Son of God became human — utterly, truly human — and I asked myself what sort of gift to me this was, that the Son should unite himself with things about me which I had trouble accepting.
The Letter to the Hebrews got through to me, as I came to understand within myself the urge, demonstrated from ancient times, to “offer sacrifice” and thus to try to prove to God that I had a right to be here. Hebrews, at chapters 9 and 10, explained that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all human beings. There’s nothing we have to prove to God.
Our reflection on discipleship holds out to us the promise that we can enter into real friendship with the God who became human. Christianity, and no other religion or philosophy, gives us this gift. Let’s keep learning together, that we may support one another in our accepting the gift of our amazing God.