Chapter Two of Sherry Weddell’s book is entitled, We don’t know what normal is. Here she underlines the dramatic – but often unspoken – truth that a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is not the reserve of Protestant Evangelical language, but an authentic part of the Christian life as understood by the Church throughout the ages.
The writings of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI are littered with quotations about this ‘friendship’ with the Lord Jesus, but it is nothing new. Pope Saint Pius X, as noted by Pope Benedict, ‘teaches all of us that a deeply personal relationship with Christ that we cultivate and grow day by day must always be at the foundation of our work to spread the faith, wherever it may be’ (BXVI, General Audience, 18 August 2010). Saint Philip Neri spoke to the Lord openly and personally in many of his spontaneous prayers – Jesus, be a Jesus to me. This is not the mutterings of a crazed Televangelist, but a child of God who lives the promises of his baptism – his incorporation into the mystical Body of Christ – and wishes to make make disciples of all the nations (Mt. 28:19).
In other words, it is a normative and essential element of the Christian life, that the grace given us in the sacraments of initiation – in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist – is nurtured and brought to fruition through our exposure to, understanding of, and living-out of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – what we called the kerygma.
This is where the word ‘intentional’, used by Weddell, comes into play. We all know that this sort of language and attitude – the sort that places Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives and parishes – may well be normative in terms of the lives of the saints or the writings of the Popes, but it has become far from normal practice. A personal relationship with Christ has become the reserve of the Protestant Evangelical or, at best, the pious Catholic, rather than the normative state for those who come to faith, either as cradle-Catholics in adulthood, or as converts.
Weddell relates stories of catechists and clergy who have been unwilling to accept adult conversions that do not conform to a ‘normal’ pattern of an essentially intellectual conversion. She makes the point (again, like the issue of Protestant Evangelical worship we discussed here), that most Catholics are simply too uncomfortable speaking about their faith in an open way, even with fellow orthodox and practicing Catholics. It seems to me that an English reserve pervades our Catholic institutions and parishes and faithful, that in turn suffocates the Lord’s plea – his demand of us! – to go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News (Mk 16:15).
Intentional disciples – those with a profound, personal, articulate relationship with Christ – are not a crack troop of specialised Catholics who have nothing better to do with their time. The baptised people of God, as Weddell points out, cannot be divided into ‘ordinary Catholic’ and ‘saint’. All of us who have died to ourselves and to sin, and have been given new life in the baptismal waters of regeneration, are now very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, and have committed ourselves to the mission entrusted by the Father to the Son, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nothing less is demanded of us.
Finally, I wish to highlight one other important point from this chapter. Forming intentional disciples, requires there to be an intention. It requires us to work hard to teach the faith, to proclaim the person of Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and to engage those who are ‘sacramentalised by not evangelised’ in the process of kerygma. This means proactive evangelisation of those who are already baptised, creating disciples (followers of the Lord Jesus), and apostles (those sent out to create disciples) of Jesus Christ. Unintentional discipleship is a fond thing vainly invented, and we must strive hard to ensure that all those who open their hearts to the Lord in receiving the sacraments are not left with the water dripping from their foreheads asking, ‘What next?’, but rather see initiation into the Christian life as just that – a start, and a new beginning. Perhaps the question we must ask first is, do we see it is as that?