The Archdiocese is currently considering how we might more effectively draw young people into the journey of discipleship—forming and empowering them to live as disciples of Christ, and to go forth to make other disciples. This work will direct how youth and young adults are supported in our Archdiocese, particularly as we anticipate post-lockdown life and ministry.

In this series of articles, we look at the three key experiences that mark the journey of discipleship: encounter, engage and embark. Last month, we discussed why the (ongoing) encounter with Jesus is a key experience in the life of a disciple. This month, we’ll look at what it means to engage more deeply in a life with Jesus.

Saying ‘yes’ to Jesus and the Gospel is a turning point in a person’s life, but it is just the beginning of the life of a disciple. Jesus desires to heal and renew our hearts, minds and relationships, and to forgive our sins in order to lead us into a new life.

When the Pharisees questioned the company Jesus kept—with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes—he said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Go and learn what this means, My pleasure is in mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I came to call not the righteous, but sinners’ (Matthew 9:12–13). Healing and forgiveness were the central aspects of Jesus’ ministry, and are also what he wants people to experience today.

Melbourne parishioner Joe, 23, shares that after his initial encounter with Jesus, a deeper engagement in the life of faith and lifelong discipleship really became possible when his image of God changed:

‘Knowing that God was love; that he cared about me, loved me, and wanted my good really allowed me to trust him and be open to going deeper. Your prayer is inhibited by who your image of God is; having an image of God as a loving Father and knowing he is trustworthy really helped me.’

Joe’s newfound trust in God inspired him to actively engage in prayer, a practice that continues to sustain him in his ongoing journey of discipleship.

‘You need to have a relationship with God. Prayer is your relationship with God; if you’re not praying, you don’t have a relationship with God. Prayer is the place where I come to know who I truly am in the eyes of God. When I forget who I am or what I am about, I can come back and know who I am. Growing up in high school, I didn’t know who I was. When my mentors pointed out that my identity is found in God, as a son—my identity is ‘I am loved’—that’s when I felt that life really began. I didn’t have to seek love from anyone else.’

The experience of engaging more deeply in faith is the experience of conversion—of growing in knowledge and love of God in order to be interiorly transformed and become a new person in Christ (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17). In Joe’s case, this occurred primarily through a personal relationship with Jesus that was nourished by prayer, the sacraments and acts of love; but it also came about through a deeper engagement with the Church—other witnesses and followers of Christ who accompanied, supported, listened and encouraged him on the discipleship journey. He explains:

‘I had a few people I could look up to, a few priests, friends, people that challenged me. I could always dialogue with them and ask questions. We would go out for a beer or a coffee and our conversations were always honest, and I felt I could just share my heart and be transparent. Having that friendship, community and mentoring has been of paramount importance. Through those people, I realised that God loves me had has a purpose for my life—I realised this because someone actually told me!’

Although he had experienced the love and mercy of Jesus and had the support of other disciples, there were still some obstacles and barriers that Joe had to work through.

‘I thought I would be deeply unfulfilled if I was Catholic. I was searching for love, approval, intimacy, admiration in a variety of other places. I thought those things could only be found in a girlfriend, a job, a career or whatever. I didn’t think my faith could console me. [I thought] that if I was to live out what the Church was asking, I would be deeply unfilled, but that’s not true. God wants to fulfil the deepest depths of my heart. Realising that broke down other barriers.’

Along with an active prayer life and the accompaniment of other Christian witnesses, Joe identifies a sacramental life as foundational to his relationship with God.

‘Knowing that God gives himself fully, that he is truly present and meets me in the sacrament of the Eucharist and gives himself fully to me has been life-changing. I noticed within myself whenever I didn’t attend the sacraments, something was missing—I noticed a change in myself and my relationship with God.
‘For me, engaging deeper in the faith is the discovery of who I am in relation to the one who created me. I know I’m not perfect—I’m a sinner—but I just repent and try again. I don’t have it all together; I suck sometimes, but then I go back to confession and remember that I am good and I am loved.’

The experience of engaging more deeply in the life of Christ is about embracing the love, mercy and truth of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. Through knowing Jesus, we discover that he is very interested in our lives, that he has a plan for each of us, that he wants to renew, transform and heal us, and that ultimately we learn about our true identity in him.

Next month, we’ll conclude by looking at another key experience of discipleship as we explore what it means to embark on a life of mission, discerning the unique call of Jesus to share the Gospel, build the kingdom and convey the joy of the Good News to others.