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Discipleship (Part II) – A Vision of the Discipleship Process [D1]


In Part 2, we examine the 3rd stage of the discipleship process, Pastoral Activity (which includes adherence to Christ, ongoing formation, and missionary initiative).


Listen to the podcast here:



3. Pastoral Activity


The Church’s Pastoral Activity (as the 3rd and critically important stage of the discipleship process) includes adherence to Christ, ongoing formation, and missionary initiative. These processes often take place in parallel and may be repeated, if necessary.


Lee Robertson tells this story [1]:


A father and son arrived in a small western town looking for an uncle whom they had never seen. Suddenly, the father, pointing across the square to a man who was walking away from them, exclaimed, “There goes my uncle!”


His son asked, “How do you know when you have not seen him before?”


“Son, I know him because he walks exactly like my father.”


If we walk in the Spirit, the world should know us by our walk.

In a similar way, as we continue to walk with Christ daily, we should begin to see, judge and act like Him over time, and the world will see Christ through and in us. This process is called “adherence”.


3.1. Adherence


Adhering to Jesus Christ is the disciple’s process of life-long and continuing conversion or journey towards perfection like and maturity in the fullness of Christ (see GDC, 56; Eph 4:13-16).


Ladder of Divine Ascent, depicting the famous ascetical treatise of the same name by St. John Climactus in the 7th century on the 30 steps to grow in perfection

In this process, we begin to imitate the Saints [2], gradually growing in virtues and overcoming vices [3], gaining God’s view of authentic human sexuality [4], learning an appropriate balance in the use of earthly goods including money [5], developing a deep devotion to our Lady [6], and to be taught how to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12) [7].


Are you adhering to Christ?

3.2. Ongoing Formation (Perfective Catechesis)


In the next (and frequently parallel) stage of pastoral activity, the disciple undergoes continuing or ongoing education in faith within the Christian community, which is termed as “ongoing formation” or “perfective catechesis” (see generally GDC, 69-72) [8].

Progressing from the “milk” of initial catechesis for spiritual infants, perfective catechesis is the “solid food” for spiritual men and women (1 Cor 3:2). This is where the earlier topics in previous stages are extended and deepened, as well as adding on other areas such as Christian discipleship, [9] moral theology [10], the New Evangelization [11], to be equipped for giving a reason for our hope in the present relativistic and secular world [12], catholic social teaching [13], and the role and impact of the Church in shaping history so that we can apply the best lessons learned to shaping our world today for Christ [14].


These days, many young (or even older people), including Catholics, get their news or learn things primarily from social media sites, streaming entertainment platforms, online influencers or celebrities. To a large extent, we become what we learn and love. Are they on the path to life-giving truth and lasting joy – or will they become shallow, confused and unhappy?


Ephesians 4:13-16 tells us the great importance of attaining to “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”, so that we may “no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles”.


What Do You Want from Your Child? [15]: A teacher once asked a group of parents, “How many of you are ok with your child ending their formal education in Sec 3?”

Nobody raised their hand. Some thought that the teacher was “siao”!


The teacher then pressed further, “How many of you are ok with your child ending their formal faith education in Sec 3 i.e. Confirmation?”


Cue embarrassed laughter.


This is because some of them know that this is precisely what they want for their child.


Are you regularly and diligently receiving perfective catechesis, as part of a life-long process and culture of learning? To stop learning is to stop growing or to even decline.


(In this regard, the A-Z of DiscipleSHIP program is well-positioned to provide ongoing formation for disciples, covering 26 essential topics in the life of discipleship [16]).


3.3. Missionary Initiative

The Suez Canal is a human-made waterway that cuts north-south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt. It connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, making it the shortest maritime route to Asia from Europe. Since its completion in 1869, it has become one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes.


In March 2021, a giant container ship called the “MV Ever Given” become wedged across the Suez Canal after running aground amid high winds, and blocked the route for 6 days. Global trade was disrupted as hundreds of ships were stuck in the traffic jam, causing huge losses for many.


If we are ever-given good things from God and the Church, they need to outflow from us in good works and the apostolate [17]. Otherwise, like how the “Ever-Given” blocked the Suez Canal, we will end up blocking the channels of grace which were meant to flow through us to others.


St Francis Xavier preaching and healing. Oil painting after Peter Paul Rubens - The missionary success of St. Francis Xavier in Asia was only possible because he had been mentored by his roommate in the University of Paris, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Initially resistant to his zeal, Francis developed respect for St. Ignatius and became one of the best missionaries the world had ever seen.

Such good works and engaging in the apostolate is part of the “missionary initiative”, where disciples are sent out to the Church and the world to evangelize and to make disciples [18] In a certain sense, we have now come full-circle: we are now participants of and contributors to the Church’s Missionary Activity (the 1st Stage above), as well as helping in the Church’s efforts at Initial Catechetical Activity (the 2nd Stage), and its Pastoral Activity (the 3rd Stage). This is M.I.P. Mission In Progress. At this juncture, we are maturing disciples who are nurturing disciples.


It is therefore very important to be equipped to know and use our many and unique gifts and talents, [19] to develop as leaders [20], to discover and live out our vocation [21], to be able to concretely discern the will of God in our lives [22], and to carry our crosses well [23].

Conclusion


Lynn Anderson narrates this poignant story:


About 350 years ago a shipload of travellers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.


In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?


Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision.


With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.

How true this is! Thankfully, the Bible and the Church has provided us with a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, and the process to get there.


Where are you in this process? Are you becoming a maturing disciple, capable of nurturing disciples? Are there any stage(s) which you need to take deliberate steps to begin, to complete, or to repeat?


May the Holy Spirit give us the impetus and graces to move beyond our current boundaries!


Closing Prayer Prayer of St. Bonaventure


Lord Jesus Christ, pierce my soul with your love so that I may always long for you alone, who are the bread of angels and the fulfilment of the soul’s deepest desires.


May my heart always hunger and feed upon you so that my soul may be filled with the sweetness of your presence. May my soul thirst for you, who are the source of life, wisdom, knowledge, light and all the riches of God our Father. May I always seek and find you, think upon you, speak to you and do all things for honour and glory of your holy name.


Be always my only hope, my peace, my refuge and my help in whom my heart is rooted so that I may never be separated from you.


Amen.


* Thank you for joining us on the A-Z of DiscipleSHIP. We look forward to having you with us again next month, as we dive into the letter “E”, for the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life.


** Is there anything in this session which struck you or any thoughts, experiences or ideas which come to your mind? Please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.


Recommended Closing Song




Recommended Readings


Pope St. John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (“On Catechesis in our Time”), 1, 14-16, 18-20.



Footnotes


1. Source: The Gold Mine, Lee Robertson, extract found here.


2. We will discuss this in “I” for Imitating the Saints.


3. We will discuss this in “V” for Virtues and Vices.


4. We will discuss this in “T” for Theology of the Body.

5. We will discuss this in “F” for Finances.

6. We will discuss this in “Q” for Queen of Heaven, Mary.

7. We will discuss this in “Z” for Zion (4 Last Things).


8. It is also called “permanent catechesis (GDC, 51, 72) or “perfective catechesis,” which is a “systematic deepening of the Christian message by means of theological instruction, so as truly to educate in the faith, encourage growth in understanding of it and to equip the Christian for giving the reason for his hope in the present world” (GDC, 71).


9. This is what we are currently examining in “D” for Discipleship.

10. We will discuss this in “M” for Moral Theology.

11. We will discuss this in “N” for New Evangelisation.

12. We will discuss this in “R” for Reason and Faith.


13. We will discuss various aspects of Catholic Social Teaching in “O” for Opus Dei (Work).

14. We will discuss this in “Y” for Yesterday (History of Church).

15. This is adapted from a post on the Catholics in Singapore Facebook page, where the hypothetical exchange between the teacher and the parents was posted, and which generated a very lively discussion.


16. It is pitched at the post-confirmation or post-conversion experience level, for those desiring holistic, substantial, and systematic formation to become maturing disciples. See the FAQ here. See also all the footnotes in this session which connects the various topics from A-Z to the discipleship process.


17. “The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members.” See Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2.


18. Catechesis is also “open to the missionary dimension,” and “seeks to equip disciples to be present as Christians in society” and in the Church (“different ecclesial services”) (GDC, 86, discussing the “Missionary initiation”); Indeed, evangelization “continuously arouses mission, sending all the disciples of Christ to proclaim the Gospel, by word and deed throughout the whole world” (GDC, 48).

19. We will discuss this in “G” for Gifts and Talents.

20. We will discuss this in “L” for Leadership.

21. We will discuss this in “U” for Universal Call to Holiness (Vocation).

22. We will discuss this in “W” for Will of God (Discernment).

23. We will discuss this in “X” for Carrying our Crosses.

© Presented by the Catholic Theology Network (writers / contributors / sound): Dominic Chan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Nick Chui (MTS, JPII Institute for Marriage and Family, AU), Keenan Tan (M.A., Theology, Augustine Institute), Debra Dass (Diploma in Theology, CTIS), Marcia Vanderstraaten (Diploma in Theology, CTIS); publicity & design: Chandra Nugraha.

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