There are almost 3,000 families registered at our parish. If we spent 5 minutes with every single person from our parish and asked them to describe their faith life, I think we would get just as many varied answers. Everyone is in a different place. Some are passionate. Some are struggling. Some are healing. Some are questioning. Some are involved. Some are busy. Some attend Mass once a month. Some attend Mass every day.
In the book “Forming Intentional Disciples,” Sherry Weddell unpacks a 2008 study indicating only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing, meaning they attend Mass at least once a month (p. 24). 79% of those who dropped the name “Catholic” and claim no religious affiliation did so before they turned 23 (p. 33).
“I just gradually drifted away.”
Why did they leave? Was it a specific Church teaching? Was it for lack of a solid Catholic education? Was it because the Mass wasn’t entertaining enough? Was it because of a more attractive Protestant Church down the street?
Overwhelmingly, the answer people gave was they “just gradually drifted away.”
“We can no longer assume.”
For too long, the practices of “faith formation” or evangelization and catechesis at most Churches in America assumed that the first step in a journey of faith had already occurred. We assumed that Catholics believed in God and had a personal conviction to follow the Church. We also assumed that they believed in a personal God – or a God who mattered in their daily life and desired a relationship with them.
We can no longer assume. We can’t assume everyone is in the same place in their faith life. And the burden is on us as a Church to ask the question “How are we helping Catholics overcome challenges to living out their faith, without taking for granted that they have encountered God in a life-changing way?”
Too often all the wonderful events, ministries, and service opportunities at our Church lack context. What event or ministry should I join if I am struggling with doubts about my faith? Where should I go if I want to grow deeper in my understanding of the faith? How can I experience Christian community? How do I share my faith with others? How should I get involved at Church?
A Clear Path of Discipleship
This is why we want to begin promoting and communicating what we call a “clear path of discipleship.” This is the path all of us are called to journey and grow in. It is the path of conversion and deepening of faith. It is a path that begins with a life-changing encounter with a personal God and a personal commitment to follow Him. It then continues into intentional discipleship and growth in our understanding of and living out the faith. And ultimately we are sent out into the world to serve in the mission of Jesus. We abbreviate this path of discipleship with the three stages—ENCOUNTER, GROW, SERVE.
The clear path of discipleship helps answer the questx=ions “What comes first?”, “What’s best for me right now?”, and “What comes next?” as we walk through the stages of growth as a missionary disciple. This clear path of discipleship empowers all parishioners to accompany others through an intentional path of discipleship.
Walking the Path of Discipleship as a Parish
In the upcoming year, we will begin walking as an entire parish along this path of discipleship. We can no longer assume everyone has had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Too many are leaving the Church. We will also begin organizing and communicating this clear path of discipleship, to help walk with each other deeper into the life of Christ. We are never “finished” growing. We are all called to renew our commitment to Jesus and to grow on this cyclical, not linear, path of discipleship.
As Pope Francis said, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.” (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel #3).
How different would our Church be next year if all of us committed to praying for a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and helped our friends and fellow parishioners journey deeper into this encounter with Jesus? What impact would it have on the Church if we all walked with one parishioner deeper on the path of discipleship?
We are convinced it would transform our families, our parish, and Grapevine with the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that makes it worth everything.
This story was originally published in September 2017 Edition of The St. Francis Grapevine, our parish newsletter.