If you follow this blog you know we are in the midst of a series that we have called ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ It began at the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, when we said that Jesus feels strongly that he was the Son of God, deeply loved by Him. We then said that we have to embrace that reality as our ultimate identity.
Last week we said that this identity is often in contrast with the identity we think we have. We also said that our sense of identity is crucial, because it shapes our actions, it shapes the kinds of relationships we establish and their depth, and it grounds our values (call them priorities, if it helps). We gave examples of different identities that we embrace—for instance, some people are about their work, their job defines them; or some hobby, or political affiliation; material possessions, race, gender, nationality; some people live and die for sports; for some it will be about material possessions, or the way they dress… Some of these identities are positive, some negative, some neutral. But what they all have in common is that they are all based on “passing things.” They are all a partial development of our human potential, when God calls us to fulfillment, to fulfill the potential of the person He created us to be.
We all are, whether we want it or not, whether we act on it or not, children of God—this is how He likes to call us (1 John 3:1.) Within that identity, Jesus is doing with us what he did when he walked on earth: he is calling us to be his disciples. This is what we read in this week’s gospel in Mark’s version: the call of the first disciples (same event in last Sunday’s gospel, then John’s version).
Jesus calls his disciples, taking them where they are—they were fishermen, and he turned them into disciples. Loving them way before they become the person Jesus saw they could become. It is the same for us: Jesus calls us where we are, loving us already, because we are God’s creation. God loves us already with our gifts and talents, but also with our fears, sins, past, mistakes. But in His love, He invites us to go beyond, and the way to go beyond is to answer the call to discipleship, the call to become disciples of His Son.
The call to discipleship is not an easy one. Yet early in his ministry, this is what Jesus did—call disciples. At the end of his life, it is what he commanded us: Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Most of us would not have a difficulty understanding that we are called to be Jesus’ disciples. But living that call out, making it part of our life, making it part of our faith, is an extremely difficult task. Why?
Because that kind of uneven relationship is not in fashion at this time and in this culture: master/disciple, teacher/student, mentor/mentee… Discipleship is a process of education, and who has a right to educate us?
Because we say we follow Jesus but we do not know Jesus very well. We know him very superficially, at best, from years and years of going to church. The main source to know Jesus is the gospels, ancient texts that need a lot of context, technique, studying… We have only understood the surface of who Jesus was, and we do not even comprehend completely what it means to establish a personal relationship with him.
Because the way we have been brought up in faith is that all we had to do is to live according to a few rules: come to church on Sundays, contribute a little bit, fast on Fridays in Lent, not to swear too much and if we do we can go to confession, lead a decent life… We have been brought up in a faith that is about keeping some rules, and believing some doctrinal statements (we do not even need to think too much about them.) It is like the Pharisees won! All this is good, but it’s little more than scratching the surface.
Because most people do not have a “Jesus is calling me” moment. Sacramentally, we have become children of God in baptism, but most of us were babies. Some may have experienced some dramatic moment, an accident that may have turned their lives around. We have not felt that moment when Jesus personally called us to follow him.
And because wanting to be a disciple of Jesus is a very serious decision, and we are in a time when many things are “casual.” We have become very casual about the role that faith plays in our lives. We have the intuition that becoming a disciple is anything but casual; it has a cost, it would change our lives, and we do not like change—fear of change seems to be inserted in our nature.
Once we have reflected on the difficulties of accepting discipleship as a call we have received, where is the Good News? I can answer from my perspective, as the person responsible for the pastoral care of a specific faith community: We can focus on discipleship. The same way we reflect about our personal identity, we also are invited to reflect about the identity of our faith community.
Our parishes should be places that focus on discipleship. Our mantra here at Sacred Heart is that we want to be a community that makes and grows disciples. We will continue learning about Jesus and the gospels; we will continue facilitating ways so that people can get to love other the way a disciple is called to do (and here we do it mainly through FaithGroups, our small group ministry); we will continue providing opportunities for service, which begins at our own parish (here, we call it Weekend Ministries) and beyond, learning to be especially mindful of the poor and the marginalized; and we will continue reminding our members that a disciple calls other disciples, especially those who do not go to church anywhere. It is what Jesus gave us in the “great commission” (go and make disciples!) and what he means when he tells the first disciples that he is inviting them to become “fishers” of people.
Any faith community needs to redefine purpose, and we need to communicate this purpose clearly and constantly: again, our goal is to make and grow disciples. It is our identity. Embracing the call to discipleship would change our lives and the life of this, or any, faith community.