Discipleship is a way of life for every Catholic, without exception, always and everywhere. Each person is to live out discipleship “in the tangle of one’s own mind.” Like Bernini’s “maternal arms of Mother Church” at St. Peter’s in the Vatican, the embrace of a disciple opens out to the whole world. The ambassador for Christ is an ecclesial Catholic, a person of the Church, and an apologist who defends the Church, if it becomes necessary. How does a disciple do this today?
Before all else, the Catholic Church is a church at prayer. The Church’s service to others emerges from the Eucharist, which sends out the disciple to love and serve the world. One’s personal prayer in solitude unites the Body of Christ offering the Eucharist. St. Thérèse of Lisieux discovered the apostolic character of prayer within the confines of her Carmelite cloister and yet, in 1927, she was declared with St. Francis Xavier, co-patron of the missions.
Second, at Emmaus, Jesus did not correct the two disciples, though they were confused and distraught. (Lk 24) He did not bombard them with information but established a rapport with them by asking why they were so downcast as they were walking along the road. They were actually going in the wrong direction. Instead of abandoning them, Jesus kept them company. Though it may have seemed easier to correct their inaccuracies and false assumptions, Jesus approaches them with respect, an essential quality of love. Through his beauty and through the “breaking of the bread,” Jesus wins their trust and companionship.
Third, the message of a late first-century document has much in common with today’s secularized culture. Part of the letter to Diognetus, written by a disciple known as Mathetes, describes today’s disciple: (a) Christians are indistinguishable from other people whom they encounter. Yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. (b) They live “in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.” Their vision is both present and beyond. (c) They obey just laws but transcend them. (d) They treat others as they would want to be treated. In biblical language, these are the anawim of the Lord.
Considered fools, the anawim of the Old Testament were the poor of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and socio-economically oppressed, those of lowly status without earthly power. They depended totally on God. In times of suffering, they remained faithful and awaited the good things of the Lord to fill their emptiness. (Lk 1:53) Jesus taught with the moral authority of the anawim, not with temporal power, and the Sermon on the Mount makes the ultimate counter-cultural statement. Mahatma Gandhi himself treasured the beatitudes as the core of his teaching, and it is said that he took a copy of them wherever he went. Today’s disciple, like the anawim, remains unbudgeable in the face of ridicule without appearing naïve or weak.
Fourth, an informed and faithful Catholic best proclaims the faith through the power of good example rather than debate or pietistic display. Personal testimony boasts five criteria in its favor: (a) convergence: though there may be many approaches, there is one vision of Christ and the Christian life; (b) firmness: disciples wear a breastplate of unwavering assurance and firm conviction; (c) novelty: disciples proclaim a message that they could not have accepted had it not been for the prompting of God’s grace, however manifested and received; (d) transformative: disciples have been transformed by the message they proclaim; (e) illuminative: they communicate clues to living a meaningful life, and, with no ulterior motive, offer Christian hope. (“Church and Society” 438-49) The joyful and good-humored disciple who gives personal testimony has been formed in the Church’s teachings on revelation, sacred scripture, Tradition, sacramental life and prayer, the energy of one’s activities. Whether complicated or simple, subtle or direct, the disciple of the Lord is a rich cake without the icing.