Forming Intentional Disciples within our Diocese
|Sherry Weddell affirmed that this emphasis on personal conversion and encounter … is at the heart of the Catholic tradition. Photos: Alfred Boudib|
Originally published in Catholic Outlook December 2014/January 2015
By Pastoral Planning Office Director Daniel Ang
The Church and its parishes exist to make disciples, disciples in the midst of the Church for the sake of the world. This was the simple and yet revelatory message of Sherry Weddell, international Catholic speaker, co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute and author of the best-selling pastoral work, Forming Intentional Disciples.
Sherry was joined first by the clergy and then 125 lay leaders of the Diocese of Parramatta in a session hosted by the Institute for Mission in November 2014.
While praising our Diocese in particular for its proactive stance towards the future, the building up of lay leaders and a growing seminary, Sherry also challenged us with the findings of some 20 years of pastoral work with Catholic leaders and parishes.
The most confronting learning of this time was that many Catholics, when asked, not only struggle to describe their relationship with God but are not yet deeply aware that a personal relationship with God in Christ is even possible.
Even among those who attend Mass, Sherry noted, there are many good people who have not yet ‘dropped their nets’, given themselves over to a personal relationship and journey with Jesus as the living, all-embracing centre of their lives.
That is, many parishioners could not yet be described as ‘intentional disciples’ and are in the pews seeking God or still learning to be open or establish initial trust in God.
|Sherry Weddell was welcomed by Fr Paul Roberts, Director of the Institute for Mission.|
Suggesting that ‘cultural Catholicism’ is now dead and remarking ‘God has no grandchildren’ – that is, faith is not vicarious but must be personally active – Sherry challenged each member of our parishes to play their part in recovering the ‘norm’ of the Catholic parish.
This norm includes people speaking about Jesus openly and by name, knowing and telling the great story of His life, death and resurrection, and providing as many opportunities for Catholics as possible to personally encounter Jesus.
Disciple-making parishes invite people to explicitly ‘drop their nets’ and hand over their lives to Jesus, expecting such conversions in their community.
Within reading Sherry’s words on ‘The Five Thresholds of Conversion’, I reflected on my own journey of faith and those people and experiences within my life which led me to my vocational work as a teacher in a Catholic primary school. As I reflected, I could see those moments in my life when I had been challenged in my faith, lacking spiritual curiosity and openness, and times when I was spiritually seeking the wonders of God’s endless love and made the conscience decision to follow Jesus.
MV, Catholic Education
Sherry affirmed that this emphasis on personal conversion and encounter of Jesus is far from being a Protestant focus or a religious pretence but is at the heart of the Catholic tradition, something reiterated by Pope Francis.
Drawing on the insights of Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry noted that one of the unfortunate consequences of the lack of such a culture of discipleship in some parishes is that we do not even expect to witness God’s gracious deeds in people’s lives.
Conversion stories and passionate faith in Jesus should be the norm, not a rarity, in our parishes and diocesan communities when they are experiencing genuine growth in faith.
Discipleship is a concept we explored as a school, through the heart with each term having a leadership meeting focused on prayer. This prayer immersed us through song, artwork, poetry, chants and scripture. As a leadership team, we explored the idea of discipleship being a time where you are alone but together. The importance of needing to be both alone and together is also evident in Jesus’ Great Story.
AK, Catholic Education
In zooming in on the story of a young convert in Colorado Springs, Sherry commented that as a youthful, single man, passionate about his new discipleship, he was automatically assumed to be destined for the priesthood.
However, the reality was that the young man had never read a book in his life and was unlikely to make it through the requisite study in theology and philosophy.
The community’s response to his discipleship, Sherry noted, highlighted that in the Catholic imagination there can be seemingly only two spiritual ‘tracks’ – ‘ordinary Catholic’ or ‘saint’.
There was no working category for this young man with a powerful, personal encounter of Jesus other than the priesthood, in other words, no concrete imagination of what lay discipleship, brimming with enthusiasm, could look like or where it would fit in within the life of the parish community.
During her visit to our Diocese, Sherry Weddell also spoke to our school principals and religious education coordinators, affirming that discipleship is never unconscious and cannot be assumed by our communities.We were given encouragement to become parishes and schools that support personal discipleship in adults and students, and to commit ourselves to our own ongoing conversion as leaders, ordained and lay, so our Church can live its mission more fully, and more intentionally, in a restless and longing world.