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.