Part 26: Why all this talk about discipleship?

Friday, April 01, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am
By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 26 of a weekly series.

Have you ever been struck by the abrupt way the apostles just dropped everything and followed Jesus (Mark 1:18)? Did they leave the front door unlocked at home? What about their family? "Hey, is that Simon’s boat drifting around out there?"

I was always perplexed by this until it occurred to me that perhaps the Gospel writers were conveying something different than I imagined. The image of "abandoning their nets" is really a metaphor for a radical change of direction in life.

There comes a point in every serious Christian’s journey when we realize that Jesus Christ is the one to whom we want to dedicate our lives. It’s that realization that we truly believe in him and we want to change the axis around which our lives revolve — a deeply personal inspiration that moves our lives decidedly toward him.

This conversion doesn’t have to happen instantaneously; nor does it have to be some dramatic turnabout from a gravely sinful life, although it can certainly be either. What it does have to be is an awakening to the realization of God’s profound and personal love for us in Jesus Christ and our willingness to embrace that love as the purpose of our lives.

For most of us, I imagine, this awakening is more like the sunrise. It happens as sacramental graces gradually penetrate the heart and gently captivates us.

What we learn from Scripture is that abandoning our nets happens in the context of a personal encounter with Jesus. For St. Paul it came as an epiphany of Jesus in a flash of light. Or, as it did for the villagers of Samaria, Christ was joyfully brought to them by the woman Jesus encountered at the well. If you recall, Andrew did this for his brother Simon (Peter). "We have found the Messiah" (John 1:41).

Discipleship doesn’t end, however, with abandoning our nets — that is only the beginning. As we take up with the Master, we soon discover that he wants to change us. He wants to transform our inner self and make us holy.

Accepting the deeper reality of ongoing conversion explains the word "discipleship" more fully. Discipleship requires us to open our hearts daily and allow Jesus to heal us of sin. This is not easy because the disciple not only has to learn what Jesus teaches in general, but he or she has to embrace what Jesus teaches about their life in particular. "Peter, do you love me?"

However, discipleship is not merely a "private" matter either. As members of his body, Jesus wants to transform our lives so we can transform the world through the message of the Gospel. Together, disciples are the salt of the earth, the city on the hill and a light to others (Matthew 5:13-14). As church we become the place where the world discovers Christ.

So, why all this talk about discipleship? Because the key to being On Mission for The Church Alive! is our total commitment to the path of discipleship. If we abandon our nets, recognize our call to holiness and carry out the mission Christ gives us, together we will overcome the challenges we face and renew the Church of Pittsburgh.

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic Education. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive! on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is "On Mission?" Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

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