My vision: Form disciples in 2016

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.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash