The Synod on the New Evangelisation: What it means to be a “converted, convicted, committed disciple of Jesus Christ”

Have I mentioned that in his introduction to the second volume of Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father speaks of the necessity of having “a personal relationship with Jesus”? Well, Sherry Waddell, the founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute and the Called and Gifted Program (run in the Melbourne Archdiocese by the Archbishops Office for Evangelisation), “gets it”. In a couple of posts on the Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelisation (We Cannot Transmit A Relationship We Have Not Lived and “Transmitting or Informing”) she highlights statements from the Lineamenta:

Transmitting the faith means to create in every place and time the conditions for this personal encounter of individuals with Jesus Christ. . . This personal encounter allows individuals to share in the Son’s relationship with his Father and to experience the power of the Spirit. [11]

The transmission of the faith is a very complex, dynamic process which totally involves the faith of Christians and the life of the Church. What is not believed or lived cannot be transmitted. [12]

. . . the goal of the transmission of the faith is the realization of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, in the Spirit, thereby leading to an experiencing of his Father and our Father.[35]

Now she is on Vatican Radio spruiking these ideas in further depth. In this interview, she says:

The Lineamenta says that the faith has not been transmitted unless the person and the relationship at the centre of the faith has been transmitted. So I can’t evangelise unless I am a disciple. And so it’s very different than just transmitting some kind of cultural knowledge about the faith. We can educate people about what the Church says about, say, moral issues, or the history or life of the saints, or some of the practices that we have… But knowledge of the “Catholic thing of the week” is not transmitting the faith. And it’s not going to be the kind of faith that can stand up to the demands of the 21st Century, a very different world that a lot of people who received the faith in “Christendom”, like Europe or in generations gone by… Today it has to be lived, personal, because we absolutely have to have the power of the Holy Spirit and the transforming presence, that relationship with the Trinity, to communicate the faith in this generation…

Part of it is recognising that conversion is a very different experience for post-modern people than it has been in the past. It’s not just inculturating somebody, you’re not just “raised in the faith”. In the US you will re-choose your faith as a young adult. All the studies show us that people do not simply accept an inherited faith anymore. For many, many young adults, it is now a rite of passage to rethink this issue as a young adult and to choose a faith that “fits you”. I mean, that’s how they look at it. And so we have to understand that even if we raise our kids in the faith, they will probably revisit the whole issue again as young adults, it’s just what happens in their generation. And so this need to re-propose it in a living way is constantly there. And if we don’t, they tend to spin off into space. And we will lose them, and we ARE losing them. Certainly in the US, the vast majority of Millennial Catholics don’t even darken the door. They’re not practicing. We really are on the edge of a demographic precipice here.

And so we have to realise that this is a personal proposal of a relationship and the whole life in the Church and, you know, that goes with it. But we can’t if we don’t possess it ourselves. We can’t transmit it. One of the things we teach people to do is to hear and to recognise prediscipleship levels of spiritual development. Which are true works of grace, but they’re not yet discipleship, and most of the time we haven’t, we’ve wondered what was wrong. Well a lot of our people are essentially in earlier, essentially, passive levels or stages of spiritual development. And even though they show up at our parishes and they consider themselves to be Catholic, their Catholic identity, but the sort of relationship that the Lineamanta is talking about and the Synod is focusing on, is not yet there. But we have to understand, to be able to hear their story, where are they in their lived relationship with God, and then know how to respond in ways that are really helpful to help 21st Century people in our generation make the rest of the journey…

I would say that our single biggest delima and issue is our failure to make disciples. In our work, when we talk to leaders all over the world, when we ask them to estimate what percentage of the people in their parish are what we call “intentional disciples”, that is, conscious disciples of Jesus Christ, they always, the estimate we get back over and over again, is 5%. All the things we struggle with, vocations, catechesis, the inability to pass the faith on to our children, the implementation of the Church’s social teaching, all of that stems from that first hole or vacuum, which is the lack of discipleship which affects everything in parish life, in the parochial life of the Church, in our sense of mission, and in our effectiveness, you know, in our accomplishing the Church’s mission to the world, and if we don’t make disciples, we’re dead in the water, period. You’ve never gotten past first base, if you want to use baseball terminology. And that is what I would say. And we are on the edge of a demographic precipice. Millennials, people raised in post-modernity, it’s the air they breath. They will not accept an impersonal faith. Catholic identity as an answer is not enough for them, it will never be enough. And we have to go out, we can’t expect them to come to us, we have to go out to that generation, and propose a living faith that speaks to their felt needs and that transforms their lives and gives them a hope and a destiny that and a sense of purpose, both earthly and eternal, that transcends the things they are being offered out there. But that means that we have to have a missional mindset and we cannot expect them to come to us. They’re not coming to us, they’re just not. About 85% of the Millennial generation is already gone. And they will not be coming back to us, most of them, we will have to go out to them.

I expect we will hear much more about this, but I think she has put her finger on the problem in a way a lot of recent Australian and American studies into this question have not. Ie. the key to effective evangelisation and catechisation, the “silver bullet” for avoiding the “precipice” that she talks about, is what the Holy Father says is the one thing necessary: “a personal relationship with Jesus”, being, as I put it, “converted, convicted and committed disciples of the Lord.”

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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11 Responses to The Synod on the New Evangelisation: What it means to be a “converted, convicted, committed disciple of Jesus Christ”

  1. Stephen K says:

    Yes, David, and that’s why mostly there is widespread disengagement with traditional Christianity and Catholicism in particular: what I mean is, that it is not as if people no longer want to be committed emotionally and psychologically to something good and wholesome and uplifting etc. It is because what many people see – with the benefit or simple fact of their modern experience and premises – is the haranguing, divisive, raging face of the Church in the people insisting on what it means to be a Christian (or Catholic): especially in much blog-land. It is as if there is this great seething cyber-crowd crying, not “Barabbas”, but, “you’re all gonna go to hell!”

    It may be that one of the first steps – for most of us – is to cease blog-commenting, because as far as I can see, it appears to keep most of us in non-discipleship. But there may be a true dilemma there.

    I don’t include your gentlemanly approach in all of this, and a very few others, but you know what I mean: very few can really say they’re “disciples”.

    And I’m not confusing discipleship with impeccability by the way, or there would be none at all; what I’m calling discipleship is the thing most of us have never had the courage or recklessness to embrace: the 70 times 7 rule, the absolute service of the poor and weak, the surrender of family and possession for the sake of community, the kissing of the leper, the turning of both cheeks.

    I’m not a Christian disciple, I know that: in my mind and heart I’m beyond the Pale. But nor, dare I say it, are most of us. And many, many people, especially youths, know it and see through it when we posture and declaim all manner of things against each other. The only thing that can provide a converting glimpse is the direct experience of a truly holy person ( a “saint”) who lives those things and conveys the serenity of peace and humility and non-aggressive courage. Only when a person feels touched by something like this in sufficient intensity and intimacy can they let go in the kind of love and sacrifice we think Jesus meant.

    And, in my opinion at least, this does not mean ipso facto that it will lead to embracing the Catholic Church: discipleship of the kind I think Sherry Waddell is talking about (and what you yourself have alluded to in the past) leads to an embrace of something active that transcends preoccupation with, or primary focus on, particular alignment. Only when one can be truly confident that x or y psychology of faith and community of charity produce what they say will one embrace x or y. You may have done this, but this is an intensely subjective and personal thing.

    Yes, I dig Ms Waddell’s commentary and you’re to be commended for bringing it to our attention.

    • Catherine says:

      HI Stephen K, I always your posts. I loved your comment on Christian discipleship. On of my brothers is a lapsed catholic and over the years has prevailed upon my very devout and saintly mother to let some of his dysfunctional mates stay in her bungalow in the backyard free of charge. When she was not appearing overjoyed at the prospect of having yet another waif/stray living in the backyard he said ” But you’re a catholic, you are supposed to be help people”‘ and thus she ended up with another stray in the backyard getting on her nerves. LOL.

  2. Terra says:

    I have to say I’m not particularly convinced by Ms Waddell’s argument.

    How on earth can her workshop participants possibly know whether their fellow parishioners are ‘conscious disciples’ or not, whether tbey have a deep and intimate relationship with God? My suspicion is that the implicit measurement is activity – whether they go to parish meetings, are extraordinary ministers etc. Yet that doesn’t really seem like a particularly good measure of a deep spiritual life to me at least.

    My guess would actually be quite the opposite – these days most people who turn up at Mass have made a conscious decision to do so, and they are there precisely so that their relationship with Christ can be nourished, through the Eucharist, the homily and the liturgy more generally. These things are not separate from having a personal relationship with Jesus, they are part of it.

    Similarly, I reject the idea that dogmas is somehow off to one side in this process, or dependent on some added extra mysterious ompf! The content of our faith and the practice of it both help develop that personal relationship and reinforce its ongoing importance.

    In fact the Catechism says that there is an ‘organic connection’ between our spiritual life and the dogmas of the faith (CCC88-89): ‘dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure’. Which is exactly why those who consider themselves to be ‘intentional disciples’ or whatever the in term of the moment happens to be, should also care deeply about the clarity and fidelity with which the faith is taught.

    • Schütz says:

      I didn’t pick up Sherry’s criticism of dogma, Terra. What I heard is that giving “information” isn’t sufficient; the “information” (if that is what you see as = dogma) needs to be approached as part of a living relationship with Christ (the only way the Church’s teaching can be really understood). As for external tests of “converted, convicted, committed discipleship”, the first thing she would say is that you can’t look into a person’s heart. The last thing that she is referring to would be measurement on the basis of “activity” such as you describe, turning up to parish meetings and being an extraordinary minister. Prayer life is a far better indication. Another indication is how willing they are to speak of their faith to others, and how ready they are to give themselves to the service of those in need. That’s her main point: only one who is an “intentional disciple” can be an effective evangeliser.

    • Susan Peterson says:

      I think I agree with this. But at the same time, many of those who are there don’t know all that much about what the church teaches. They are believers and they want nourishment within the tradition they know. They do get it in the Eucharist, but they also need desperately to get it from the pulpit. Without the signposts of dogma their journey of discipleship can be stalled or sidetracked. Or perhaps I should say “our journey” as we really oughtn’t to be setting ourselves apart as if we weren’t some of the people in the pews.

  3. Susan Peterson says:

    By intentional disciple, doesn’t she just mean a Christian? Or am I being too Protestant here. I guess I am. There are many baptized who don’t exactly NOT believe, but as old fashioned Catholics would say, the spark of grace is barely kept alive in their souls. At times I have been one of them. I guess it is not for me to say that these folks are not Christians.

    I was thinking about the attempt to use confirmation as a time for people to declare themselves as Christians. It never really worked as I have experienced it, because parents and social pressure decide for people when they are far too young. But even when one has answered the question as I did in my Book of Common Prayer Baptismal ceremony at 20, “Dost thou accept Him and desire to follow Him as thy Saviour and Lord?” -even then, one can fall into whole swathes of years when the spark is barely alive.

    Being preached well to does help. I remember going to see an old college friend of mine ordained. The living and full Catholic faith of the people there was very clear to me, and the preacher’s words fanned my spark and got me into the confessional as soon as I could. (I snagged the new priest and made him hear his first confession!) Later I met the priest who preached that day, and he said “You were there at Fr. D’s ordination? I preached at it…” and he looked at me, disappointed that I didn’t remember him. I wanted to tell him about the effect his words had upon me, but I didn’t quite know how.

    Susan Peterson

  4. Terra says:

    I’m with Susan – what is the difference between being a Christian and being an ‘intentional disciple’? There shouldn’t be one. The only real difference is surely between those who practice and those who don’t.

    I’ve read Sherry’s blog from time to time, and it all seems to smack of protestantism to me – you are only a ‘real disciple’ if you have done the course and declared that yes, I am an intentional disciple, I’m saved….?!

    Now I’m all for stealing the things that really work for evangelization from protestants and others, there are some good ideas out there! But what we take on board does have to be consistent with catholic ideas. And the Catholic idea is surely that we must strive continually for perfection, but there is no magic line we can cross from passivity to activity or whatever; rather there is a continuum.

    Now of course there are ways of firing us up a bit, recharging the batteries. But our first aim, and thus the first aim of any retreat, mission or other activity should getting ourselves to heaven, not ‘discovering’/discerning/being pressured into finding what gifts we have to offer the Church.

    Nor do I agree with the idea that fervent commitment is absolutely essentially to pass on the truths of the faith – desirable, sure, but what about those like Blessed Edith Stein who initially got it all out of books?! It is our personal gift of grace from God that does the work in the end, not someone elses. My own view is that there is something of a chicken and egg thing in this area – simply by reading and studying dogma, we become more fervent…And yes, we do need some preaching of that content at Mass on Sundays!

    • Schütz says:

      I’ve read Sherry’s blog from time to time, and it all seems to smack of protestantism to me – you are only a ‘real disciple’ if you have done the course and declared that yes, I am an intentional disciple, I’m saved….?!

      Terra, you may not like the terminology, but there are plenty of examples of a change in an individual’s Christian life in Catholic history that would serve as good examples of “intentional discipleship”. The distinction is not just between “practicing” and “non-practicing” Catholics/Christians. There is an experience that Christians, yes, even baptised Catholics raised in the faith from childhood, called “conversion”. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal guys have borrowed the language of Pentecostalism to call this experience “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”. I think that is a mistake, both theologically and because it sets up the idea that this experience of conversion will always be a great big one-off “bang” event of which one is entirely conscious.

      Nevertheless, I believe that every Saint who ever lived had this experience of conversion. It is, theologically, an outflowing of the grace of baptism and confirmation – in that the CCR’s are right in saying it is related to the Holy Spirit, just as Sherry Waddell is in connecting the Called and Gifted program to these sacramental graces. It is that experience where one comes to own the faith as one’s own, rather than as something that one has inherited from one’s parents or picked up at school. It is the experience one has when the most important thing in life becomes the Universal Call to Holiness. It can be dramatic, like St Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, or slow and gentle and constant like St Therese of Liseux. In fact, I think any story of the life of any saint would give you evidence of the experience of a personal encounter with Christ and consequent committment that distinguishes them from the great mass of Christians.

      Basically, the experience I am talking about is the experience of the grace of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. The point where they become real for you, and every word said in those rites actually apply to you and direct you in your life.

  5. Terra says:

    I certainly don’t dispute that people have conversion experiences, both major and minor. In fact I would argue that the tradition holds that we need conversion every single day!

    What I do dispute is that there is necessarily some magic moment when before we all just went along with what our parents taught us/school made us do, and after we suddenly had a personal relationship with God.

    And in fact your points about the quasi-protestant borrowings of the charismatics just confirms my view that this is imported protestantism!

    Maybe some people do go through the motions and then suddenly grace grabs them. The question is, are they the majority? I don’t think so.

    Most people I think, always have some vague sense of God, and their prayers, even as children, are real. And over time their faith gradually grows and matures and acquires more content…as you say the St Therese model. They don’t need a workshop to artificially ‘convert’ them.

    • Schütz says:

      Most people I think, always have some vague sense of God, and their prayers, even as children, are real. And over time their faith gradually grows and matures and acquires more content…

      Or not, Kate. I used to have very little sympathy for people who spoke about a “personal relationship with Jesus”, and even less for those who spoke about “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”. Yet the whole issue of personal conversion cannot be sidelined as a “protestant” concern.

      I can’t say that I every really had such a “conversion experience” as such. I have had moments of spiritual crisis out of which I have emerged stronger in faith (if not holier in life!). One would have been in my early youth, in connection (oddly enough) with my discovery of Thomas A’Kempis “Imitation of Christ”. Another would be in my early Seminary years, when I realised what it meant to be “forgiven”. And then, of course, there was my long, slow conversion to the Catholic Church, finally requiring an action of trust way beyond my own natural ability, which I can only put down to Divine Grace.

      So, I’m not talking about a “magic moment”, but I am talking about a real situation in which Christians find themselves, one that is more than simply going through the motions, and more than a vague sense of God.

      I certainly don’t want to suggest that Sherry’s “Called and Gifted” program is necessary, or that is “artificially converts them”. What I have found is that it can be a catalyst for Catholics to look at their relationship with Christ and the Church and discover their place in relation to both. There can be many other such catalysts, of course. World Youth Day for one. Many Catholics undergo conversion experiences and don’t understand what is happening to them. I have a student in one of my classes who describes herself as a “born again Catholic”. Her rediscovery of her faith in her later life has had a real impact on her children. Her youngest son, now 22, was confirmed only last year. But he caught the fire from his mother’s new found enthusiasm.

      My point is really quite simple: you need to know the Gospel to be able to convey the Gospel; or to put it another way, you need to know Christ in order to convey Christ. This does not rule out the possibility (such as Edith Stein which you cited) that people can come to faith in Christ by completely impersonal means such as via books, but one never becomes a full member of the Church – a fully evangelised Christian – without deep immersion in real personal relationships with real human witnesses to Christ.

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