On the road to discipleship

How often have we described ourselves as Christians and Catholics, followers and disciples of Jesus Christ? We attend Mass and volunteer for all manner of church events. Many of us actively participate in various ministries, both liturgical and communal, and yet, just how many of us can honestly claim to have a lived relationship with God?

Seven men were chosen

There is” according to Sherry Weddell, “a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between the Church’s sophisticated theology of the lay apostolate and the lived spiritual experience of the majority of our people. And this chasm has a name: discipleship. … the majority of even ‘active’ American Catholics are still at an early, essentially passive stage of spiritual development.”1

Interestingly, the first need at the parish level is not catechetical. Rather, the fundamental problem is that most Catholics are not yet disciples of Jesus Christ. “They will never be apostles until they have begun to follow Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church.”

Accordingly, at the parochial level, this chasm between the Church’s teaching and our lived relationship with God has been accepted as normative, thus shaping our community culture, our pastoral assumptions and practices with disastrous results. Even more surprising is that many pastoral leaders do not possess even the most fundamental conceptual definition for discipleship. “As long as this holds true, the theology of the Laity and the Church’s teaching on social justice and evangelization will remain beautiful ideals that are, practically speaking, dead letters for the vast majority of Catholics.

At dawn of the first day of the week, Matthew tells us two women set out for the tomb of Jesus, intent on anointing his dead body. What they found was an empty tomb and an angel sitting upon the stone who told them, “He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”2

Why Galilee? We tend to think of Galilee as a place, some geographical location, a dot on a map, but Galilee is much more than that.

It is first of all a place in the heart. As well, Galilee refers to the dream and to the road of discipleship that the disciples once walked with Jesus and to the place and time when their hearts most burned with hope and enthusiasm. And now after the crucifixion, just when they feel that the dream is dead, that their faith is only fantasy, they are told to go back to the place where it all began: “Go back to Galilee. He will meet you there!3

And that is what we are ultimately asked to do as well, to return to Galilee, to return to the dream, the hope, and the discipleship that once burned within our hearts but has been lost through disillusionment.

The same disillusionment can be found in Luke’s gospel, on the road to Emmaus. For Luke, the dream, the hope, and the center of it all is in Jerusalem, where it all began and where it ultimately culminates. The two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, away from their dream, headed toward Emmaus, a Roman spa, a place of comfort, a place of relaxation where they can forget that which they have lost. Their dream crucified, their despondency real, they are simply walking away, despairing of all for which they had hoped.

It is the essential message of Easter:

Whenever we are discouraged in our faith, whenever our hopes seem to be crucified, we need to go back to Galilee and Jerusalem, that is, back to the dream and the road of discipleship that we had embarked upon before things went wrong. The temptation of course, whenever the kingdom doesn’t seem to work, is to abandon discipleship for human consolation, to head off instead for Emmaus, for the consolation of Las Vegas or Monte Carlo.4

Discipleship calls us to a lived relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; no one can come to the Father except through the Son, that is through Jesus; and the Father and the Son are one. Through discipleship we demonstrate our faith in Jesus and in God, the Father. And a place has been prepared for those who have faith in God.

There are moments in our lives when we encounter such transcendent beauty which surrounds us and it is in those moments that we feel the intimate presence of the Creator God. Each moment is a gift, created for us out of God’s love. But gifts cannot define a relationship, they do not define discipleship.

Such moments are infinitely valuable and meant to be enjoyed but they can also distract us, causing us to lose sight of what is most important. We cannot progress in spiritual growth without a firm relationship—a true discipleship—with Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Pope Benedict once spoke of the crucial importance in having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ… Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians… Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.5

We hear in the Acts of the Apostles of the appointment of the first seven deacons to a ministry of service.

Over the past two millennia, the function and meaning of the diaconate has taken various forms and its hierarchical importance and position has likewise changed, but it has always been integrally linked to service, whether liturgical or communal. In the contemporary Western church, the hallmark of deacons is that they assist, not preside, even though, in response to need, deacons do preside at baptism, marriages, and burials, thus more closely linking the diaconate to the priesthood. That is not to suggest that the two should or will ever become one and the same. As in the apostolic age, each serves a specific role, each has unique charisms which they are called upon to utilize in the service of the Lord. As described by Father John Kavanaugh:

A significant charism of deacons in the contemporary church is related to the fact that most of them are married, have other places of work, have had an active career, and have no reason to give service to the church other than their faith. The work of priests, even their preaching, can be subconsciously passed off as “what they have to do.” But when a deacon visits the sick, when a mail carrier or a business person gets into the pulpit, something else is going on. And people know this. It is not just “their job.”

The witness of married folk, living ‘ordinary’ lives, is most powerful precisely because they do not need to do it, nor are they expected to do so. … the primary source of vocations to the priesthood or conversions to the Catholic faith is the example of family members, friends, and co-workers. It is a matter of persons, not institutional strategy. …

We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation. The ritual prayer that commissions deacons should be for us all, “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you are; believe what you read, preach what you believe, put into practice what you preach.”

Whatever our office in the church, we are all called to be deacons, just as we are called to the priesthood of faithful believers. The diversity of roles is life-giving.6

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and we are his disciples, living stones, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own,” called to announce the Good News and to be living examples of Jesus Christ.

We are called to discipleship, to be faithful members of His family. Jesus gave us his Father. At his death, he gave us his mother. He calls us all his brothers and sisters. And he asks us to have that lived relationship with him and his Father and his mother.

Amen.

 

Homily #122
Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
Acts 6:1-7
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

 


1 Sherry A. Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, (Huntington, Indiana: OSV Publishing, 2012), 11.
2 Matthew 28:7.
3 Ron Rolheiser, In Exile: Where To Find Resurrection, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.
4 Ron Rolheiser, In Exile.
5 Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, September 3, 2008.
6 John Kavanaugh, SJ, Deacons, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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