Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The accidental disciple

I've been pondering the various posts about intentional discipleship all weekend, and I realized something: there has never been a time when I have asked myself whether or not I am a disciple of Christ.

I've just, in that lazy, cradle-Catholic sort of way, taken it for granted.

I'm kidding. Well, sort of.

I'm kidding in the sense that this really isn't a cradle vs. convert argument. There are plenty of converts who take their discipleship for granted as much as I do; that is, having made the decision to follow Christ specifically by embracing the Church He founded as the ordinary means of salvation for all mankind, they quietly go about carrying on the business of living like a disciple without giving a whole lot of thought to the daily intentionality of this conduct.

But I'm not kidding in the sense that being a disciple of Christ means following Him, and following Him means striving to know, love, and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him forever in Heaven:

--to know Him, by learning and studying about Him, about His Father and the Holy Spirit, His Church, about faith, morality, virtue, sin, and the like;

--to love Him, by worshiping Him as His Church commands, by frequent reception of Holy Communion and Confession and worthy reception of the other commandments as applicable, by habits of private prayer and devotion, and by, through all of these things, learning to love Him by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (for thus does Christ love us);

--to serve Him, by carefully discerning His will in our lives, above all discovering our vocations and embracing them with the spirit of self-sacrificing love which each calls forth from every person; by following His commands, and by fostering a spirit of obedient love and willing service toward His Church and His people.

If we are doing these things to the best of our ability; if we are placing our love for Christ ahead of everything else in our lives, striving to remain in the state of grace by frequent Masses and worthy reception of Holy Communion, seeking Confession at once should we be out of that state of grace, and doing everything possible to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strengths, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we are being disciples--whether intentionally, or merely accidentally.

Sure, sometimes we can fall into a sort of rote habit of discipleship, where we are following Christ, but not really thinking about it. At these moments, it may be that we would benefit from a program of instruction to help us know Him better, or a particular prayer or devotion to help us love Him better, or an opportunity for sacrificial service to help us serve Him better.

Other times we might encounter a neighbor, family member, or friend who is struggling with his or her relationship with Christ and His Church; at those moments our ordinary discipleship might take on an evangelical tinge, as we remind these people of the Good News He gave us, and call them to take on the challenge of living the Gospel more fully.

Still other times we might meet strangers who are not Christian, who do not know Him Whom we follow. We might be called to proclaim the Gospel through our actions, through our examples, through our service, or even perhaps with words; or we might be called to stand by quietly and wait for God's instructions, lest we drive away a seeker by hasty or inconsiderate actions or speech.

And if God wants to make use of us, He will! I am His most unworthy instrument, but even I have known what it is to help someone find Christ who was seeking Him, or re-connect someone to the Church who was apart for a time. And if I, the most accidental disciple imaginable, have done this, then so can any Christian...

...if God wills it. Because while we can present the Gospel joyfully, faithfully, with words or silently, with actions of love and attitudes of hope, only God can really make disciples. And He alone never does so accidentally.

5 comments:

MightyMighty said...

This is something with which I always struggle. I feel like it's practically a full time job to learn half of what I want to know about the Church, God, etc. My endeavors have equipped me for some touch conversations at times, but just as often I'm left feeling guilty that I wasn't better prepared for a given situation.

Scott Hahn gave a good talk ten years ago, at a conference of very orthodox Catholics, saying that "before God wants to use you to evangelize to others, he wants to save you" (except in better words). He kept driving home how our focus has to first be on having a genuine prayer life, and then being open to the work that God calls us to. If the prayer life isn't there, it's hard to hear the call, and impossible to evangelize.

On the other hand, lots of people abuse the quotation, "Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary," and indicate that we hardly ever need to speak up if our behaviors are righteous. They forget that St. Francis was trying to tell his brothers that they had to be pure before they could tell others to be pure, charitable before they could tell others to be charitable, etc. He didn't mean that we should feel bossy or out of line for speaking up.

Thanks for posting!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Erin you sound like a Protestant... or is it because we're all Christian?

The Wittenberg Door had a funny article once about a born-again evangelist recounting his surprise to learn that there are Bibles in Catholic book stores.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

The Wittenberg Door had a funny article once about a born-again evangelist recounting his surprise to learn that there are Bibles in Catholic book stores.

It's all a plot. The Church wants to lure unsuspecting people in, and then when they decide to become Catholics, the priest demands they hand over that contraband literature :-)

Good thing I kept all my Bibles hid and out of sight!

jj

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Touche John.

(I hope you understood that the article was making fun of the evangelist's ignorance.)

John Thayer Jensen said...

@Siarlys:

(I hope you understood that the article was making fun of the evangelist's ignorance.)

I did, indeed, but sadly I have met with things not much less weird.

jj