Written by Kevin Mak
From the great saints of old to the saints of tomorrow, the call to be a disciple remains unchanged.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to elaborate that it is “into this union with Christ [that] all men are called” (CCC 542). This gives us an inclination of Christian discipleship with Christ – to be in union with Him!
The call to be a disciple therefore resonates throughout the course of history and calls each of us by name. But what’s in it for us? What do we have to gain from such a discipleship? In fact, what do we stand to lose? Before we contemplate on discipleship regarding the various vocations the Church has to offer us, let us first and foremost examine being disciples in our day to day lives and perhaps, you will find the answers to the questions above.
Saint John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunt, re-proposes that “training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer”. Prayer is the fundamental basis and starting point of our conversions to disciples. Prayer develops that intimacy with Christ in our lives and refines our reciprocity towards Christ’s conversations with us. It is in this search for intimacy which made the first disciples exclaim: “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1) And it is in this very same intimacy which sees Jesus knocking down the walls of our hearts and intruding into our lives – the first steps towards being a disciple.
Having experienced an encounter of newfound intimacy with the Lord, life takes on a greater meaning and purposes. We no longer chase the mundanities of our daily toil but seek for something greater! As CS Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world”. Our lives take on a new lens, seeking for this greater world which we were made for – one in which we belong.
It is with this notion that I propose that discipleship then develops in us a greater longing and a search for what, or rather, who we were made for. In the words of St Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. Seeking, in itself, is therefore one of the joys of discipleship. It is a spiritual awakening where there is no room for passivity in our relationship with Christ but in place of it comes a reinvigoration of our pursuit of fullness of life with Jesus.
With this new lens, discernment then comes into play. The life of a Christian disciple is one of obedience to the Lord’s promptings, one that listens out to the still small voice of the Lord through intimacy with Him. Pope Francis goes on to say that:
“Discernment is a choice of courage, contrary to the more comfortable and reductive ways of rigorism and of laxness… To educate to discernment means, in fact, to flee from the temptation to seek refuge behind a rigid norm or behind the image of an idealized freedom; to educate to discernment means to “expose” oneself, to go out of the world of one’s convictions and prejudices to open oneself to understand how God is speaking to us, today, in this world, in this time, in this moment, and how He speaks to me, now”
No longer are decisions made solely based on where the voices of the world beckon us to tread but they are determined by the Lord’s call for His plans for us. Discernment is therefore a beautiful product of Christian discipleship, a stark reminder that “Yahweh himself will lead you; he will be with you; he will not fail you or desert you.” (Deu 31:8)
So what then are the costs of discipleship? The above graces are merely a few of the many products of Christian discipleship, however, they come at a cost of laying down our lives. Jesus proclaims that “anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it”. (Mt 16:25) But how difficult it is to unlearn the many lies and habits that have been deeply ingrained in us! The costs come where we are invited to die to ourselves, to slowly unlearn these false truths and voices that we feel so comfortable in.
Saint John Paul II warns us that “[a] new century, a new millennium is opening in the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this light.” Indeed, many voices will wrestle with Christ’s call in our lives but it is only with Christ that all things are possible, it is only with Christ that we can fight to live for a greater life as a disciple. The call to die to ourselves will then cease to be a call to discipleship and instead grow to be a lifestyle of discipleship.
Discipleship is not easy, but it is worth it. Pope Francis goes on to say:
“Jesus invites us to lose our life for Him and the Gospel, to receive it renewed, realized and authentic. We are sure, thanks to Jesus, that this path brings us to the Resurrection, to the full and definitive life with God. To decide to follow Him, our Master and Lord who made Himself the Servant of all, requires a strong union with Him, the attentive and assiduous listening of His Word – remember to read everyday a passage from the Gospel – and the grace of the Sacraments. There are young people here in the square, young men and women. I only want to ask you: have you felt the desire to follow Jesus more closely? Think about it, pray and allow the Lord to speak to you.”
Jesus invites each and every one of us today into a greater discipleship with Him. He invited us to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts by picking up our crosses and following Him. He promises us new life. Will you follow Him?
“And he said to them, ‘Come after me and I will make you fishers of people.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mt 4:20)