Over the next three months we will be looking at three key experiences that mark the journey of discipleship: encounter, engage and embark.
Discipleship is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that leads a person to engage more deeply with the life of faith and embark on a lifelong journey as a member of the Church. Thus, discipleship invites us to:
The encounter with the person of Jesus is a life-changing and life-defining event. Jesus invites all people to relationship with him no matter the circumstances in which they find themselves. He offers his love, mercy and healing freely, and invites all people to a new fullness of life (John 10:10).
Sarah, 22, knows what this encounter can look like. Despite a Catholic upbringing, for many years she never experienced God’s love in a personal way: ‘I grew up Catholic, going to Mass every week, but I was just going through the motions. We never spoke about the faith at home, and my view of God was that he was a distant, punishing God.’ But after being invited to a prayer and worship night when she was 18, Sarah encountered God in a new way.
‘That experience really opened up for me the possibility that God is love. I had a sense of being forgiven, and for the first time I felt able to embrace his love. There was a possibility of being more and being better—I so wanted that.’
Sarah is honest about her journey of faith beyond that first moment of encounter, and about the challenges she still faces.
‘I didn’t get on the straight and narrow right away but that was the moment of conversion; something changed in me. I realised I was trying to find love and meaning in a really disjointed way. I still struggle, but from that moment it was a change of direction for me—something had changed. I knew I was enough; I knew I was loved. I was comfortable in my own skin.’
Although Sarah had experienced the love of God, it wasn’t until two years later that she felt that she really discovered a personal relationship with God.
‘After attending ACYF and the online meet-ups put on by the Archdiocese last year, I got to hear and see other young people living out their faith and talking about a personal relationship with Jesus. Through those experiences, I discovered what a personal relationship with God was really about.’
Sarah’s story reminds us that we can know Jesus, not just ‘know of’ him and his teachings. It is possible to know him personally—as a close friend, in a real, existing relationship—because Jesus is alive. Although Jesus lived, walked, preached, performed miracles, died and rose from the dead in history, the grace, love and power of the living Jesus transcend history and can be encountered and experienced by us today. Pope Francis puts it this way:
Christ is alive! We need to keep reminding ourselves of this, because we can risk seeing Jesus Christ simply as a fine model from the distant past, as a memory, as someone who saved us two thousand years ago. But that would be of no use to us: it would leave us unchanged, it would not set us free. The one who fills us with his grace, the one who liberates us, transforms us, heals and consoles us is someone fully alive.
Jesus knows us personally; he calls us uniquely and has specific plans and a purpose for our lives. He looks on us with love, recognising the inherent goodness in us, and desires to heal us and free us from our brokenness. This is the Good News of the Gospel, the kerygma: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 2013, §164).
The initial encounter of God’s love is the first step towards following Jesus as a disciple. This initial experience of grace is at the same time an invitation to say ‘yes’ to God, to say ‘yes’ to receiving his love and living a life with him. Even after encountering God in a profound and personal way, a person needs other disciples to help them unpack the experience and accompany them into a deeper life of faith. In Sarah’s case, she encountered the love of God, but it wasn’t until she was exposed to the life and witness of other disciples, who explicitly talked about a personal relationship with Jesus, that she was able to deepen her own personal relationship with God.
Next month we’ll look at another key experience of discipleship as we explore what it means to engage—constantly assimilating the kerygma into every aspect of our lives as we grow in knowledge and love of Jesus.
Melbourne Catholic22 September 2021
Fiona Basile21 September 2021