We Didn’t Make Disciples

By Father Samuel J. Esposito

Part 21 of a weekly series

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“Everyone is looking for you” is what Jesus hears from his disciples when he goes off to be alone in prayer. Word had spread about this rabbi from Nazareth and what he was doing. People were attracted to Jesus and wanted to hear more from him because he taught with authority, unlike other religious leaders.

When God entered into a covenant with the people of Israel, they received an assignment. It would be their job to bring others to know God. God understands that at the core of every human person is a desire, a longing. And that longing can only be fulfilled by God. Why? Because God placed it there in the first place. As St. Augustine wrote, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you (God).”

A disciple is someone who has been seeking, and in the seeking has found what he or she knows to be real. That longing — that restless heart — is only satisfied by coming to know Jesus as the embodiment of God’s love.

The Greek word for disciple, mathetes, comes from the verb meaning “to learn.” So to be a disciple is to be a learner. In English we use the Latin root, discipulus, which gives us the notion that this learning is never haphazard. It is intentional. It is disciplined.

As a child growing up in a very Catholic environment, I often wondered why Protestants had Sunday school for adults. I went to a Catholic school, so I was getting everything I needed to learn about my faith. There would be no need to do that as an adult. By then, I would know what I needed to know.

I am sure many of you would resonate with that. After all, eight to 12 years of Catholic education in parochial schools or in religious education should give us everything we need. Except it didn’t and it doesn’t.

Disciples are intentional learners, and that means for life. If we believe we know it all, how can God get through to us? What surprises or teachings could God offer us when we think all we need to know has been communicated? We have to continue to study, to explore, to ask questions. We never stop learning.

Somehow we have come to think that Catholics who want to learn more are the minority. We think they should be priests or deacons, sisters or brothers. Certainly they aren’t the normal folks. Catechesis is something we do for children, not adults.

Truth be told, there are generations out there nominally Catholic — as well as the “nones” who don’t claim any religious affiliation — who have either never heard the story, have forgotten the story or are confused about the story.

Pope Francis is always exhorting us to share our faith in simply ordinary ways, beginning with our service to the poor. Do our lives reflect this discipleship to which we are called? Unless we can share what difference this makes in our lives — profound peace, joy and freedom — we won’t be able to invite anyone else to follow Jesus.

It’s time for every baptized adult to make a choice. Are we or are we not serious about what it means to be a Christian?

Father Esposito is episcopal vicar for Pastoral Vicariate Region 3 of the diocese.

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