As the calendar year begins we celebrate two important feasts, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and the Epiphany. With the first celebration, we see in the person of Mary what God can do if we follow him, while the second shows us that wise men from the East paid homage to Jesus. These two feasts have a theme in common that also resounds throughout the history of our salvation: God brings forth greatness from those who follow him with their whole being.
When I think and pray about what it is that God is calling me to do as the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Denver, I keep returning to the importance of helping every Catholic become a lifelong, authentic disciple of Jesus Christ.
Looking to 2016 and beyond, my vision for the Archdiocese of Denver is that it become a Church that is filled with men, women and children who have discovered the Father’s love for them in Jesus and the sacraments, who have become filled with the Holy Spirit, and who have allowed God the Father to claim them as his sons and daughters. It doesn’t stop there, though, because when a person falls in love, they cannot help tell others about their beloved. Authentic disciples seek to follow Christ in all things and share him with those who do not know him or have rejected him.
When I look at the Church in northern Colorado, I see many people who have been profoundly changed by Christ and become disciples. They do this not out of some kind of conviction to follow rules, but because they have experienced Jesus Christ’s limitless love for them, his healing, and the freedom that comes from sin no longer dominating their lives.
Even so, there are tens of thousands of Catholics in northern Colorado who are not disciples of Jesus. The reasons for this are numerous and can range from family experiences to the behavior of Church institutions or clergy, and everything in between.
In his Apostolic Letter “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis wrote about the importance of missionary discipleship and the Church developing and supporting this among the faithful.
“I dream,” he said, “of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG, 27).
Pope Francis is right. All too often, the Church focuses on maintaining the status quo because doing any more than that seems impossible. But we must remember, we believe in a God who does the impossible. As the Archangel Gabriel told Mary when he announced that she would conceive Jesus, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
Initiatives aimed at promoting discipleship in all dimensions of the archdiocese have already begun. However, in 2016 – the Year of Mercy, I ask that every parish, priest and deacon, family and individual examine how they are pursuing and supporting authentic discipleship.
In the Jewish tradition, boys became students of a rabbi after their Bar Mitzvah. For years, they would follow their rabbi to learn how to study the Scriptures and practice the faith. The degree of imitation was far greater than what you might think. If the rabbi wore his clothes a certain way or walked with a stoop, his disciples would follow suit. The goal was for the disciple to absorb the spiritual and moral gifts of their teacher that couldn’t be learned by merely studying books.
Christ asks us to follow him in a similar way by imitating him, trusting him, and leaning on him for the grace to accomplish what is otherwise impossible. When the rich young man met Jesus, he was told to sell his possessions and follow him. The disciples were shocked at Christ’s response. They said, “‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible’” (Mt. 19:25-26).
Becoming a disciple begins by responding to Jesus’ call to “Come follow me.” You will find him in the Scriptures, in the sacraments, in personal prayer, and in your every day interactions with others. Seek him with all your heart, grow in your love for the Gospels, and you will find him. Turn to him for healing and learn to trust him. Then, when Jesus calls you to follow him by taking a leap of some kind, you will answer as a disciple.
May God help us open our hearts to him this year and fill us with the courage to follow him wherever he leads!
For a deeper understanding of what it means to be a disciple, I recommend reading Sherry Weddell’s book, “Forming Intentional Disciples.”