Dis­ci­plines of Dis­ci­ple­ship:

Matthew 28:19 is one of the most often quot­ed and eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able vers­es in the Bible. “Go, there­fore, and make dis­ci­ples of all nations, bap­tiz­ing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spir­it, teach­ing them to observe all that I have com­mand­ed you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” These final words of Jesus before ascend­ing to Heav­en must bear some great sig­nif­i­cance not only for the Apos­tles but for all the Church.

Of the 366 men­tions of Dis­ci­ple or Dis­ci­ple­ship in the Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church, none of the ref­er­ences actu­al­ly give a def­i­n­i­tion of what a dis­ci­ple is. The dic­tio­nary defines a dis­ci­ple as a fol­low­er, one who sub­mits to the dis­ci­pline of anoth­er. The word dis­ci­pline evokes a bad con­no­ta­tion. We think of dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ans and pun­ish­ment. How­ev­er, the real­i­ty is that we all sub­mit to some rule, dis­ci­pline, or rou­tine. Dis­ci­plines and rou­tines allow us to achieve our goals, and keep our lives from falling into chaos. Ath­letes, good stu­dents, skilled crafts work­ers, and suc­cess­ful busi­ness peo­ple all have prac­tices and habits that pro­vide guide­lines for becom­ing excel­lent. While it is easy to see the val­ue in these dis­ci­plines in achiev­ing earth­ly goals, we often find it more dif­fi­cult to apply the same prin­ci­ple to our faith lives. In a monastery, the reli­gious men or women make life work by fol­low­ing a Rule of Life. The Rule is a set of dis­ci­plines that allows them to accom­plish tasks togeth­er, nav­i­gate rela­tion­ships, and ensure peace. But for the rest of us, where is the train­ing guide for being an excel­lent Catholic Chris­t­ian?

This past week we cel­e­brat­ed All Saints Day. We hon­ored the sev­er­al thou­sand Catholics who came before us, and were very con­spic­u­ous­ly dis­ci­ples of Jesus, and also MAKERS of dis­ci­ples. After hear­ing the Gospel (whether once or over a course of years) they made a choice (or a life­time of choic­es) to be unafraid to show the world the One that mat­tered most to them, in all aspects of their life. They then began a life, ruled by dis­ci­plines and good habits that caused them to grow clos­er to God. We can look to them like spir­i­tu­al nutri­tion­ists or train­ers, fol­low­ing the train­ing pro­gram, or rule of life, that they used. Here are sev­en habits, or dis­ci­plines, that make a good dis­ci­ple:

  • PRAYER: Talk­ing to God, but also tak­ing time to lis­ten to God, every day. Saints pray like teenagers use their cell phone: often, with­out inter­rup­tion, and with extreme ded­i­ca­tion. The Mag­ni­fi­cat mag­a­zine or Ibreviary.com are good places to start.
  • SACRAMENTS: Dis­ci­ples make fre­quent con­fes­sion, reg­u­lar­ly attend Mass and receive the Eucharist, ful­ly live the voca­tion­al sacra­ments of Mar­riage or Holy Orders. We see and fol­low doc­tors, train­ers, ther­a­pists, nutri­tion­ists and coach­es rou­tine­ly and with­out ques­tion. Dis­ci­ples do that for their souls.
  • STUDY: Learn­ing about God, who He is, and how He thinks. This is done through the Scrip­tures and the teach­ing of the Church. Hint: Sun­day Mass atten­dance alone does NOT cov­er this!
  • FELLOWSHIP: Com­mu­ni­ty life is essen­tial to dis­ci­ple­ship (except for the very few called to her­mit life). The sup­port, account­abil­i­ty, mutu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, and love learned in com­mu­ni­ty allow us to tran­scend our own abil­i­ties and become holi­er than we could be on our own.
  • STEWARDSHIP & TITHING: True dis­ci­ples gen­er­ous­ly give as much of their time, tal­ent and trea­sure to the work of the Church as they can, stop­ping short of being reck­less or irre­spon­si­ble.
  • SERVICE: Dis­ci­ples DO their faith. Read James 2:14–26. Faith is proven by works, and by good works made per­fect. Chris­tians who do not serve the needs of oth­ers are, well, not…
  • EVANGELIZATION: In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells all of us dis­ci­ples to make dis­ci­ples of oth­ers. It isn’t for a few in black shirts with white col­lars. It is an imper­a­tive for all of us. But it hap­pens in a nat­ur­al way when we live the oth­er six dis­ci­plines. Not by shov­ing our beliefs in their face or coerc­ing con­ver­sions, but shar­ing the great­est gift we have in an entic­ing way. Help oth­ers find answers to ques­tions, peace and heal­ing, and the Love of God.

In Gala­tians 6, St Paul tells us that the rule of life that leads to peace and mer­cy, is one that makes of us a new cre­ation. When some­one has accom­plished a great goal, like sig­nif­i­cant weight loss, run­ning a marathon, achiev­ing some big advance­ment… they often say, “I feel like a new per­son.” And it is because in some way, they are a new per­son. The dis­ci­plines they fol­lowed have altered their char­ac­ter, made them stronger, and built good habits that make it eas­i­er to suc­ceed. This is true of Chris­t­ian dis­ci­ple­ship as well.

Coordinator of Discipleship & Mission at the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.

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