January 17, 2024 at 10:37 a.m.

Being disciples: a relationship and a response

Jesus calls each one of us, personally, by name, to follow him and he has a unique and special purpose for each and every one of us that nobody else can do.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By Father Anthony Barratt | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Our Gospel this Sunday (Mark 1: 14-20) recalls the life-changing encounter between Jesus and four fishermen, namely Simon, Peter and Andrew, and then James and John. We can imagine that they had all worked hard at their task of fishing; indeed, Simon Peter and Andrew were still busy with their job. James and John were also busy mending their nets, perhaps before going home for a well-earned rest. As we read, despite their busyness with their job or their tiredness, they respond immediately to Jesus’ call. They leave everything and follow Jesus.

Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. 

— Mark 1:20

This every day and yet life-changing incident is, of course, a model for us and an invitation from the Lord to follow him; that is to be his disciples. First, we know the reality that the Lord can indeed come to us and call us when we are in prayer or in church. However, his calling and his coming to us are most certainly not limited to these times and places. As with our Gospel, often he comes to us when we are at work or school, or dare one say, when we are shopping or driving. He may even come to us after a long and hard day, as we are beginning to relax and unwind!

The Gospel also makes us pause and think: am I a real disciple or a true follower of Jesus Christ like those four fishermen 2,000 years ago? In a recent book (and one that I would recommend) called “Forming Intentional Disciples,” Sherry A. Weddell draws on a huge amount of research and her own interviews with thousands of Catholics to give a picture of the current situation in the Catholic Church in the USA. 

One surprising outcome concerns the Catholic understanding of “discipleship.” She found that nearly one-third of self-identified Catholics stated that they do not believe in a personal God, or feel that they have a personal relationship with Him. Even more surprisingly, over 50 percent doubt that such a personal relationship is ever possible. Furthermore, although some Catholics may receive the sacraments and believe in some form of God, they do not see themselves as being “disciples” of Jesus Christ. Yet, as she points out, discipleship, or having a personal relationship with God, is both the foundation and the outcome of the sacraments and having a Catholic faith. As Pope Saint John Paul II put it, “Without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ they (baptized Catholics) only have the capacity to believe placed within them by baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit.” That capacity has to move to a reality!

Therefore, discipleship, that is personal discipleship, or an explicit and personal attachment to Jesus, is at the heart of our faith and is normative and essential. We can find this in the person of Jesus and this is, of course, the real thrust of the Gospel encounter we hear this weekend. In fact, we can see it in the many other life-changing encounters between Jesus and the people that we read about in the Gospels. When they met Jesus and allowed him into their hearts, their lives were transformed forever. We can also find this personal discipleship in the lives of all those early Christians and it has been taught and preached about by numerous popes, councils, saints and teachers for 2,000 years. We also see it in countless Christians who bear witness to their faith each day, such as those in the upcoming March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Matthew Kelly in his book, “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” (another one I would certainly recommend for reading), gives four simple and “doable” signs of what he calls a dynamic Catholic (or disciple): prayer, study, generosity and evangelization. He suggests some practical and simple ways for us to deepen our discipleship and relationship with the Lord in each of these four areas; things that when we read about them, we could say, “Yes, I can do that!”

Jesus calls each one of us, personally, by name, to follow him and he has a unique and special purpose for each and every one of us that nobody else can do. Like the fishermen in the Gospel, he comes to us at work, at school, at home, or at rest. He also wants us to share our good news with others. Perhaps at the beginning of this New Year, we can rededicate ourselves to being open to our Lord’s call to us and resolve to share our faith with others. So, let us listen once again to that call of the Lord, and let us answer that call with renewed courage and purpose. Let us be His true disciples … and disciple-makers.


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