Work on forming intentional disciples in the US–efforts from various sources–parallels much of this important description in section 278.
I find it fascinating to compare with discipleship materials I’ve read from Evangelical Christians of the 70s, and various Catholic efforts in and out of campus ministry over the past decade. I reminder myself that the bishops writing here preceded much of the American efforts of the past decade. The emphases are slightly different.
But those differences highlight some possibilities:
- the Latin American situation may be different,
- the perspective of a bishop is different from a pastoral minister,
- the unique history of Catholicism in the US,
- perhaps no single group has the full grasp of the whole problem
My own sense is the latter is certainly true. It’s also important to remember that even within a large group–college students, Latinos, or a large parish–no single approach will work in all circumstances. So, we’ll look at “Aspects of the process.”
278. We highlight five fundamental aspects in the process of forming missionary disciples. They appear differently at each step of the journey but are closely intertwined and draw nourishment from one another…
One might consider these aspects as “stages.” But that might be better to consider as a guide rather than a dogmatic pronouncement. We are speaking of human beings, after all. We’re going to look at each of these over the next five days. First in our view is “The Encounter with Jesus Christ.” The bishops write of people “already seeking him.” What does that mean?
Those who will be his disciples are already seeking him (cf. Jn 1:38), but it is the Lord who calls them: “Follow me” (Mk 1:14; Mt 9:9). The deeper meaning of the search must be discovered, and the encounter with Christ that leads to Christian initiation must be fostered.
My own sense is that discipleship is a pilgrimage for those who are searching for something deeper in their lives. Christians living in a Christian milieu–an American ethnic parish, a Europe steeped in centuries of culture, a satisfaction with maintaining the status quo: this is not fertile ground for discipleship. Does that mean such persons aren’t real Christians? That they aren’t going to heaven? I wouldn’t say that. But it does mean that many Christians are persons with a basic belief in God but who have not engaged the mission of the Gospel, especially Matthew 28:19-20.
What does that mean for those who consider themselves disciples? It could mean a lot of things. Primarily, it means being open to attracting any person who might happen to have that spark for the pilgrimage in their hearts. The bishops speak of kerygma, which some define as the explicit preaching/proclamation of the Gospel. I think the Aparecida bishops are getting at something deeper:
This encounter must be constantly renewed by personal testimony, proclamation of the kerygma, and the missionary action of the community. The kerygma is not simply a stage, but the leitmotiv of a process that culminates in the maturity of the disciple of Jesus Christ. Without the kerygma, the other aspects of this process are condemned to sterility, with hearts not truly converted to the Lord. Only out of the kerygma does the possibility of a true Christian initiation occur. Hence, the Church should have it present in all its actions.
Everything the Church does: does it exemplify the message of Jesus and invite an encounter with him? For those of us in comfortable North American surroundings, we might well ask: do our dinners, clubs, meetings, and social gatherings have the same potential for drawing in seekers as prayer, classes, and good works? Do we expect to touch one person, be it a party or a Saturday afternoon confession line, a children’s class or a senior citizen bus trip, a sidewalk protest or a counseling session?
Notice that the bishops envision kerygma as not just a head (brain to mouth to ears) operation. The aim is not to argue someone into a position close to Christ, but to inspire hearts to draw near.
For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.