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This chapter – “Thresholds of Conversion: Seeking and Discipleship” – covers what could be the two most frightening of the steps toward becoming an intentional disciple of Jesus: looking for real answers that will likely cause you to change your life and turn it over to God.
Let’s face it, it’s a matter of Original Sin that we all want control over our lives. Everyone likes to think he can do something about his life at will, especially here in the Land of Independence! We all look up to “self-made men” and dream of how we can make our lives the best they can be. Even Christians promote this kind of thinking on a pretty regular basis, at least within prosperity gospel circles. But for us to really live the life we’re called to, we have to be ready to give up that control and hand it over to Christ. That’s the discipleship.
And, of course, when we get to that point, we’re also out of our comfort zone on some things. We’re not called to keep our faith to ourselves, but to share it with others. For an extrovert, this might not be a big deal. For an introvert like me, it is a little terrifying.
Sherry talks about how these two thresholds work so closely together that we can think of them in one step, and that they share the nature of being active rather than passive. Instead of passively receiving information, this is the point in our journey where we are called to do something. She likens it to the moment just before Simon, Andrew, James, and John drop their nets to follow Jesus.
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
When you’re seeking and asking serious questions, it’s as if you’re standing there, taking in the information, holding those nets. The decision to become that disciple, to truly follow Jesus, is the moment when you let go of the nets and walk away forever.
And that’s the scary part: walk away from what you used to be and become a new creation.
But when you become that new creation, there is so much joy and vitality to be had! The trick is to fall back on the trust you’ve built up as you have been journeying toward this moment.
Sherry goes on to say that often, when you’re working to live as a disciple of Jesus, you’re called to help people on their journey by talking about your own faith, asking about theirs, and listening to their stories. And when we talk about our faith, it’s important to be sure that we aren’t whitewashing things. Don’t be afraid to show people that sometimes it’s hard, because that’s what gives others hope when they’re struggling.
I certainly feel anxious at the thought of exposing some of the reality of my own relationship with God to someone else. But seekers need to see what life is like for an authentic disciple of Jesus whose struggles are real—and whose victories are therefore believable. It is far more important that your relationship with Jesus exist and is real than that it conform to some imaginary template of Catholic perfection.
Really, it makes total sense: just take a look at the Gospels and look at the Apostles. Saint Peter has been my favorite saint for a long time because he’s impetuous and speaks before thinking and generally is a screw-up of sorts until Pentecost. And then he’s still not perfect. (For an example, take a look at the tongue-lashing Saint Paul gives him for not being honest about associating with Gentiles.) One of the biggest reasons for God to use the weak for His Divine Purposes is so no one can say that he’s not good enough to do the same. When someone imperfect attains holiness, it gives hope to the rest of us imperfect people! Our weaknesses demonstrate God’s strength – and prove that we can trust Him in our need.
Once we discover how to be intentional disciples, we must look back and help others through the thresholds.
In your own faith:
- Are you ready, spiritually, to acknowledge that certain leaders in your parish or diocese may not yet be disciples of Jesus?
- Are you prepared to treat those persons graciously?
- To let go of past hurts?
- To respect them as they make their journey to discipleship?
In your parish:
- What is the spiritual atmosphere in your parish?
- Have you noticed any change over the past several years?
- If God were to ask you to mentor a small group of seeking and new disciples in your parish, would you be ready to accept that task?
The questions about my parish lead me to some interesting thoughts, some of which started occuring to me before I read them.
Our parish suffers from a lack of discipleship as most parishes seem to. I think that for many of us, we are largely unchanged by what happens at Mass on Sunday. We hear the same Gospel readings in the same three-year cycle and the words wash over us like waves without really making an impact on how we live after we walk out the door. Don’t get me wrong! Our parish is well-known throughout the diocese as a friendly place, and we can attest to the welcome that’s given to newcomers. People reach out to new folks and invite them to participate in various activities around the parish.
But I sense that something is missing at times, that there is a disconnect. I see it especially in young people, and as the mother of two of the young people in the parish, it concerns me.
Lately, it’s been advertised that the parish is looking for a new director of Youth Formation (middle and high school), and I feel oddly called to apply. I did this the last time the position was open, but now we have had nearly every position in the parish turn over to new faces. I have been thinking a lot about how I might apply what I’m learning in this book to helping the young people of our parish come alive with love for Christ and His Church. I think about how I might help people become intentional disciples.
As a planner extraordinaire, I really would like to have assurances that I’m actually qualified to do this – that I might actually be a disciple myself! But I’ve decided I must pray about this idea some more, and perhaps do the most uncomfortable thing I can think of right now: put in an application and resume and think of ways to accomplish this goal at our parish.
I do think that there have been some changes over the last few years, especially the years in which we were blessed to have a young priest (well, he’s my age, so of course, he’s young!) at our parish for nearly three years. His energy and love for Christ drew many young people closer to discipleship, and I think that still lingers on.
Now the big question for me is the last one:
Am I being called to do more to bring people across these thresholds? Am I being called to do more? Do I throw my hat in the ring?
Join the discussion at CatholicMom.com, or leave your comments below!
*This post is also a part of Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 for 7 Challenge. Head on over to her blog for more details.