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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Session 4: Chapter 3 The Fruit of Discipleship

Extracted from the study guide on LAWN CHAIR CATECHISM AT CATHOLICMOM.COM

Sherry Weddell opens chapter three by looking inside a parish where intentional discipleship is the norm. Vocations flourish (over 1/3 of the diocese’s religious vocations coming from just two small parishes), financial support is abundant, and parishioners are actively involved in ministry within and beyond the walls of the parish.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable at Mass – the fruit of a laity wholeheartedly devoted to prayer.

This, she emphasizes, should not be considered an aberration.  As a priest once shared with her, opening her eyes to a deeper understanding of lay and religious vocations, a steady flow of new disciples – Christians actively growing in their faith – is the expected fruit of priestly ministry:
No matter how many institutions we sustain or how much activity goes on in our parish or diocese, if  new intentional disciples are not regularly emerging in our midst, our ministry is not bearing its most essential fruit.
Why would a ministry fail to bear fruit?  Orthodox priest Fr. Gregory Jensen writes:

I would argue that what typically happens is that we ask people who haven’t yet repented (and so who are not yet disciples of Christ) to take on work meant for apostles. 
. . . We do this because we ourselves in the main are not disciples of Jesus Christ.  Having neglected repentance in my life, I am indifferent to it in yours.
. . .We cannot ask even good and talented people who are not yet disciples to undertake the works appropriate only to apostles.  And yet we do this all the time.
The standard operating procedure is backward. The question is not, “Who can I persuade to fill this vacancy?” The question is, “Who has God put in my parish, and what does He want them to do?” The supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit enable the believer to carry out his or her vocation.

Questions for Discussion

In your own faith: 

Can you recall a “before” and “after” time in your life, when you became a true disciple of Jesus Christ?  Have you ever witnessed that change in someone else?

In your parish: 

What success stories can you share? In what ministries of your parish is “discipleship thinking” the norm?  In what areas is Christian discipleship not yet the standard for ministry?

Since I've taken on this book on as "my project" for this summer, I'm really trying hard to confine my reading to the week's chapter and not to read ahead. After finishing Chapter 3, it was difficult to close the book, reflect, write and wait to continue next week - I'm really liking where this is going.

I grew up in southwestern lower Michigan - maybe the two parishes spoken so highly of are on the Eastern side of the State (Christ the King in Ann Arbor and Most Holy Trinity in Fowler)? I've never heard of them or their reputations.
Lower Michigan (A = Fowler)

They sound like parishes we all should try to emulate. I have been blessed to participate in some extremely vibrant parishes and some where I've wondered if the poor pastor's ministry ever bore fruit. I think the long term success/growth of a parish has to be tied to charisms of the laity AND the those of the its priest. Maybe there is less rotation of pastors now, but the whole thought seems to stir a lot of anxiety in many parishes . . . maybe there just weren't enough intentional disciples?

 One of the most memorable “before” and “after” times (moments of conversion) in my life would be before making my Cursillio weekend and after. I was thirty-something, and at the retreat's conclusion we were all asked to name something that happened to us on the weekend. As I was standing up font in the sanctuary of the chapel - with all my new brothers, it finally sunk in that God loves me - and everyone else, as much as He ever did right here, right now. The idea/words sounds so simple - even sitting here reading this one more time before I post it, but the profound clarity of that truth I never grasped before.

Our author doesn't seem appear to give a whole lot of weight to the RCIA experience. Maybe if it's done as a "school year-like' program and you simply graduate at the Easter Vigil, I can agree. When I was part of the team, it was a year round process. We put strong emphasis on participating in the period after the Vigil - Mystagogia. This is a time for the neophytes - the newly initiated, to explore their gifts and decide where they were going to apply them. The Mystagogia atmosphere is intense. Several if not most of these folks had the intensity of the Holy Spirit in them and the rest of us were energized just being around them.

The most visible success story at our parish today is our food pantry. I know numbers don't always tell the whole story, but since last July we have served over 16,000 people and supplied over 10,000 weekend backpacks for children of the public school across the street. It wouldn't be possible without an awful lot of disciples donating food - parishioners of our Church and the Foursquare Church next door, neighborhood grocers, plus all the people who are directly involved with passing out all that food. The gifts of so many people coming together helping those less fortunate is what we're called to do as Church.

There are many others ministries at our Church and while all of them don't have “discipleship thinking” as the norm, one more that is working through this process is our Small Faith Communities team. The number of communities has grown over the last four years, but more importantly the number of groups gathering on an ongoing basis is on the rise. Facilitators with the gift of administration are essential for making this go.

I am a member of our parish council. As part of our summer homework, we're reading and working through the ideas and processes of Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcran's new book Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter (Ave Maria Press 2013)- the story of the Church of the Nativity in suburban Baltimore. I'm not even half way though it yet, but from what I have read and seen on their website the gifts of the discipleship were non existent there. Check out what they did with hard work and a common vision.

"Vision is an image or picture of what could be and should be.  It is a preferred future in which life is better.  Vision says that the status quo isn't good enough anymore; there is a better way.” (Rebuilt, pg. 255)
Back to Lawn Chair Catechism: Session 4

1 comment:

  1. Your Cursillo experience reinforces my point (in the Oz Moments post) about the importance of retreats in opening wide the door to your heart and letting Jesus in. Sometimes we are so engrossed in the parish ministries that we need to get away for a refresher course so we can be more effective disciples.