He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (mark 3:13-15)
To be with or not to be with...
This passage,more than any other of recent, has dramatically shifted my relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Beyond my life, I would admit that it has radically altered the way I approach youth ministry at St Patrick's and is fast transforming the lives of our teens. Let's dive in. What blows me away is this: just like he called His first disciples, so too does Jesus call each of us by name. The first and logically most important part of discipleship is the call that we should "be with Him." This summer I interviewed 20+ incredible teens for our peer ministry team and asked each one of them what it meant to be a disciple. Each and every teen responded with the works of a disciple...ie witnessing, evangelizing, serving, leading etc. Before being enamored by this passage I would have responded with my favorite quotes on the missionary discipleship from Pope Francis and the great commission of Matthew 28. A discipleship defined by doing for Jesus without being with Jesus brutally misses the heart of discipleship. Discipleship is first about being rather than it is about doing.
On our Eucharistic fall retreat ADORE (which was full of incredible signs and wonders!), one of our senior Servant leaders shared her testimony. She said her greatest struggle involved anxiety and fear about not knowing where Jesus wanted her to be next year after graduation. During her seeking of God's will, it was around that time that I had shared this Scripture on the heart of discipleship as first being with Him. She recognized that no matter where she chooses to go or not go, she will be fulfilling her call to discipleship if she simply is with Jesus. This is the heart of discipleship! Our theme for the year is in medio ecclesiae (in the center of the Church). Fr. Michael Mary has taught us that as we draw closer to Christ, he draws us closer to that which He has left us; his bride, his body the Church!
Called into Community
Not only did Christ call his first disciples into personal relationship with Himself but he has done so in the mode of a community. In his time it was 12 other people in a tight community. In my experience, the element of faith community is either incredibly overemphasized to the point that discipleship is reduced down to the horizontal human activities with a prayer at the beginning and end, or, it is completely neglected with such a vigorous focus on one's personal relationship with Christ that the people worshipping next to you are accidental to ones faith. No, the role of faith community must be a balance between these two extremes. Our goal is that intense personal relationship of "being with Jesus" and Christ wants us to experience that in an intentional faith community. Why does it have to be intentional? Because just as Christ intentionally called together the first faith community of 12 specific individuals, so too does he have one ready for you! The good news is that you don't need to go looking for it. Its right in your parish. One of the challenges I am charged with is working to create an authentic and intentional faith community in participation with our friars, religious, CORE team and parents. Unless we work together to intentionally build it, its not going to happen. The further I look for what God is doing at St Patrick's, the more I see him wanting to knit together a more intentional, open, seeking, and maybe at times messy community of teens seeking to be authentic disciples.
Discipleship is not easy. In being with Christ he wants us to gradually give up our sins, fears, future plans, anxieties, worries, desires...well everything...and transform us through death to self so that we can rise and be like Him. If we are truly with Him, then we will become like Him. In becoming like Him, he wants to "send [you] forth" to participate in His awesome work of salvation. At some point we can freak out and not want to surrender the little that we have. When we stop trusting that Jesus' plan for our life is truly a better plan of happiness and fulfillment than our own, we don't usually stop following Christ altogether, rather, we take a step back and follow from a distance. Where do we see this in Scripture?
"Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest’s courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome." (Matt 26:58)
In case you don't know, Jesus was arrested and about to face great suffering. Where John went into the trial to remain with Jesus we see that Peter is all alone by himself. He's not with Jesus. He's not with the Christian community. He was simply following Jesus by himself. Following Jesus at a distance. Instead of following and doing God's will, he reduced himself to a mere spectator. I could lament the vast numbers of teens I see who are like Peter in this way, but that would be despairing. I thank God for the grace He's given to so many teens to be with him in both authentic personal relationship AND intentional faith community. What I do lament, and even at times weep and mourn, are those teens who I see at times distancing themselves from their faith community in exchange for a worldly peer group not concerned with being authentic disciples. In my many years of youth ministry, there is always one discernible outcome of those who follow from a distance.
Distance Precedes Denial
We read on, "Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about!” As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazorean. Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man!” A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.” At that he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately a cock crowed." (Matt 26:69-74)
What is Peter being accused of? Being with Jesus. Peter is accused of being a disciple. Once we start following from a distance, it becomes easier to deny. Most of us will not actually verbally deny Christ with our words, but we can do so with our actions "in what we've done and what we've failed to do." In plain language, when we're not with Jesus actively and intentionally part of the Christian community that he wants us in, we are SO vulnerable to living life in mortal sin. To placate our conscience we might still go to Church, receive the Sacrament and check the Catholic boxes but in our hearts we are still like Peter only following Jesus from a distance and living a life that denies His Lordship. And then we're met with these words : "And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed." (John 3:19-20)
But do you love me?
Fortunately, our God is so much greater! Where sin is increased, His grace abounds even greater ( Rom 5:20). Jesus wants to meet us where we are in our denial and bring us back to him! In John 21 Jesus appears to the apostles again and asks Peter 3 times if he loves him, one time for each of his denials, and three times Peter recommits his love for Jesus. Do you know someone who has been following Jesus from a distance? Have you? Where can you find the risen Christ and recommit your love to Him? In the Sacrament of Reconciliation! It is there that you can bring your denials to Christ and then come once again to be with Him in His love and mercy! Then you can go forward and build up your faith community in intentional discipleship. Don't have a faith community? Pray for God to lead you to one? Don't know where to look? Come to St Patrick's and meet an army of teens who desire to be with Jesus in Christian community. What's the worst that can happen? Well you might get sent forth on mission. More on that next time...