Mar 4, 2009 |

The dominant image which emerged from the AGC in Madrid last September was the image of the Disciple – Apostle. The inspiration for this image came from Fr. General’s quotation from Fr. Eymard:
“This is the beautiful amiable mission of every religious of the Blessed Sacrament: disciple and apostle of Eucharistic love: this is his true name, his grace, his life. Pray that we may become true disciples of the love of Jesus Christ, in order to be one day worthy apostles”

In this first session, I want to outline the elements of Discipleship, the following of Christ.

One could argue that there are three forms of Christianity in our world today.
First, membership of the Church is the predominant form of Christianity for many. And there is a sense of chaos caused by changes in the church.
Secondly, for many, Christianity is a form of intellectualism, an –ism, religion, an ideology – how the Church deals with the problems of today.
The third is intimate following of and relationship with Christ – Discipleship. Conversion to Christianity is primarily conversion to Jesus Christ.

Discipleship is the more contemplative aspect, apostleship is the more active, taking the Gospel to the people. But they are both aspects of the mission.
Discipleship is the start of apostleship: “That they might be with him, and that he might send them out( Mark 3:14)”
Discipleship is the following of a Master, accompanying him, following him, imitating his way of life, learning from him. The apostle is a disciple who gives teaching to others.
The word disciple appears two hundred and thirty times in the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

Called by Christ: “ You have not chosen me. No, I have chosen you”
In the Jewish Rabbinic tradition, at the time of Jesus, the pupil choose the rabbi.
Not so with Jesus. His disciples were called by him: “ As he was walking by the Sea of Gallilee, he saw two brothers, Simon and his brother Andrew, and he said to them: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men ( Matthew 4: 18,19 ………..He called his disciples( Mark 1:17/ 3:13) ………….he called those he wished”.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle ………we know brethren, beloved by God, that he has chosen you ……. To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints ( Romans 1:1, 1:7)”

When a person is called, like an athlete who is chosen to represent his country at the Olympic Games, he feels privileged and honoured, more than if he decides himself. Many will say that they made a decision for Christ, but that is not so – it is always Christ who takes the initiative in some mysterious way.

Called to the person of Jesus primarily, not just his teachings
In the Rabbinic tradition, the disciple is a pupil who learns the rabbi’s teachings,and then when the Rabbi has nothing more to teach him, he leaves and becomes a teacher, a rabbi himself. Rabbi’s disciples were only required to have an openness to the Law and the teacher’s knowledge. Jesus looked for much more than that.
Jesus calls his disciples primarily to himself personally, not just to his teachings. His disciples never leave him. “ Come and see” he said. “ And they stayed with hin that day. Forever.
They never become rabbis themselves either. Christ forbade them to do so: “ You are not to allow yourselves to become rabbi. Only one person is your teacher, the Christ ( Matthew 23:8)” They become apostles, not rabbis.

Jesus’ disciples are dedicated to him, rather than just his teachings. He is the ground and goal of man’s belief and action. “ I am the light of the world ……..I am the door …………I am the way, the truth and the life ……….I am the Bread of Life” His disciples more than just imitate him He calls them to him personally, to be united with him, to share his life with him, to be committed personally to him, to be totally dedicated to him.
After the crucifixion disciples were devastated, because, although they still had his teachings, they had lost the one to whom they were totally dedicated, the very essence of their discipleship.
It would not be so with a rabbi’s disciples, because for them it would be his teachings that mattered, not the rabbi himself.

His teachings
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples: “ I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father …… I have made your name known to the men you took from the world to give to me…. I have given them the teaching you gave me
( John 17:26)”

He was a different kind of teacher to the teachers of his time.

First of all, he had no formal teaching programme. His disciples were formed by being with him. He called them to be with him, to share his life: “ You are my witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning …. you are those who have continued with me in my trials
( John 15:27)”
His disciples learned a way of life, not just an academic education, not just a study of the law. They learned about a person, rather than the subject of the Law. He formed them in his image. When he complained: “ have you been with me all this time and still you do not know me”, it was about knowledge about him, not his teaching, that he spoke about.
Secondly, unlike the Rabbis and teachers of his time, he spoke with such authority that the people were astonished( Matthew 7:29)” The teachers of his time, the Scribes and Pharisees, were blind guides, corrupt, hippocritical, laying burdens on people that they themselves were not prepared to carry. Jesus was altogether different. He spoke with authority. When he was only twelve years old, all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and wisdom. When the soldiers sent to arrest him came back without him, they said they had never heard a man speak like this man. People were astonished at his words, and said where did he get it all.
Where did he get this authority. All the great teachers down the ages – Buddha, the Rabbis, Mahommed etc. – they all taught about another, God. But Jesus Christ was both the teacher and the source of his own teaching – he was God. So he did’nt just teach about himself, he shared his very self with his disciples, above all in the Eucharist. No human teacher could ever have given his disciples his flesh to eat.

Called to Love and be Loved
The personal relationship with Christ that he wanted with his disciples was none other than a relationship of love: “ This is what I command you: Love one another as I have loved you
John 13:34)” And he went on: “If you love me and keep my commandments, my Father and I will love you, and we will come and make our home in you, and you will know that we love you ( John 14:23)”.
No rabbi ever spoke like this, or ever could.
John’s Letters have whole passages about the God’s love for us, and our love for God.

Called to Radical, Uncompromising Discipleship – Simplicity of Life
Rabbinical pupils endured sacrifices and hardships, but only for a while – eventually they would become teachers, rabbis themselves with financial rewards.
The cost of Christian discipleship is high.
Christ demands total dedication, total loyalty: “ If a man comes after me, and does not hate his father and mother, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, yes his own life, he cannot be my disciple ( Luke 14:26)” One interpretation of this hard demand, is that Our Lord is telling us that if we experienced his love, it would be so great that love of others would almost be like hatred.
In other radical demands, he says “ Leave the dead to bury the dead ( Matthew 8:22)” and “The man who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God
( Luke 9:62)”.

By worldly standards, it entails uncertainty, insecurity. Christian discipleship is incompatible with materialism, though not necessarily wealth in itself. Christ calls us to put aside all earthly securities.
“ The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head ( Matthew 8:20)”. When he sends them out on a mission, he tells them to take with them “ no coins, no gold or silver, nor copper on your belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, not staff, for the labourer deserves his wages ( Matthew 10:9-10)”.

“Receive without pay, give without pay”.
To the rich young man he said: “If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor and come follow me( Matthew 19:21)” Christ is not against wealth in itself, especially when it is use for the good of others, but he is against all forms of attachment, which stand between him and his disciples, attachments which are preferred to him. Our God is a jealous God,it has been said. Christ does’nt want half-hearted disciples. Either we trust in Christ for everything, or we depend on our worldly securities.

Called to Suffer
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine he must take up his cross and follow me( Mark 8:34)”.
Jesus is absolutely clear about this. If there was any doubt about it, any attempt to get Christ to water it down, he very quickly dispelled any possibility of it, when he corrected Peter for trying to wish it away: “ Get behind me Satan, for you do not think as God thinks( Mark 8:33)”
The cross in Jesus’ time meant death. Someone said people are afraid to follow Christ, because they might end up on the cross. Indeed they might! Dietrich Bonhoffer, the great German Lutheran Bishop, who was martyred by the Nazis during the war said that “ When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die”.
We cannot escape the cross, if we want to be his disciples – “ No disciple is greater than his master. If they hated me, they will hate you too (John 15:18)”.
When the sons of Zebedee ( Mark 14:12-26) asked Jesus if they could sit on his right and left in his kingdom, he asked them if they could drink the cup that he would drink. They said they could. And Jesus said my cup indeed you will drink.And we are told that they all drank of it. Indeed they did.They were subsequently beaten, imprisoned, stoned and put to death.
Paul said that “ It has been granted to you, that for the sake of this ( discipleship), you would not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake (Phil: 1-29) ”
It is said that more Christians have been martyred in the Twentieth Century, than in all the previous nineteen!
One Christian who spent ten years in a communist prison in Chechoslovakia said that his torturer broke his bones, but not his spirit. He referred to those years as the richest of his life. “We must pray, therefore”, he said, “not that persecution will not come, but that we may be worthy of it, open to the blessing God offers through it”

Called to Community.
Christ calls us individually, not to stay in isolation, but to join the community of God’s people. He called his disciples individually, but he called them into the community of the apostles. He called them to fellowship, to interdependence, to a depth of sharing that they had never known. They shared everything – joys, sorrows, possessions: “ All who believed were together, and had all things in common ( Acts 2:44)”. Judas Iscariot was in charge of the common purse, we are told.
Christ’s disciples were called to relationship – intimate relationship with Christ, and with each other in community. Relationship can be hurtful – the image of the porcupines is a good one – when they are cold, they huddle together to get warm, but then they prick each other, and the pull back again – just like us.
There is always the temptation to erect barriers, to protect oneself from pain. If Christ had withdrawn from his disciples when they hurt him, when they walked away from him over the Eucharistic doctrine, when they betrayed him, then there would be no church community today.
The church will be judged on whether it is a community or not – if it displays these values, it will give a powerful witness to a world, which is crying out for community.
The primary witness of Christ’s presence in the world is not in purity of doctrine, but in the community of the living church.
It was community which enabled Christians to withstand the persecutions of the early church: “ See how these Christians love one another” the pagans said.
There is no place in the New Testament for the solitary, private Christian.
The division in the community of the church today – nine thousand denominations at the last count, is the greatest scandal in the church, and a direct contradiction of Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper: “ Father, keep them in thy name … may they be one as we are one, so that the world may know that it was you who sent me( John 17: 21)”.

Called to Pray
It is incontestable that prayer to his Father was the driving force of Jesus life, the very secret of his ministry.
Jesus constantly taught, exhorted, encouraged and inspired his disciples to pray. He gave them numerous examples of prayer. He spent forty days and forty nights in prayer and fasting in the desert before he began his ministry. He spent the whole night in prayer before choosing his disciples. He prayed outside the tomb of Lazarus before he raised him from the dead. He prayed in Getsemane before his crucifixion.
He gave great importance to communal prayer: “ Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them( Matthew 18:20)”. And he went on: “ If two of you agree on earth about anything, and they ask for it, it will be done for them by me in heaven
(Matthew 18:19)”.
And he prayed to his Father for his disciples, so that they would be able to endure the trials ahead of them, resulting from discipleship: “ Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren (Luke 22:31).

Called regardless of Qualification
The rabbis only accepted those pupils who were ceremonially ‘clean’, those who were righteous according to the Law, those with sufficient intelligence to study the Torah, with a view to becoming rabbis themselves.
Jesus, a humble carpenter himself, chose a cross-section of society. He did not chose the intellectuals of his day – the scribes and doctors. He did not chose the rich and powerful and influential of his day, who could have promoted his message – the Jewish equivalent of the spin doctors of today employed by the Beckhams of this world. No, he chose simple men – fishermen, tax collectors.
Paul tells us in Corinthians: “ God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame what is strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God ( 1 Corinthians 1:27)”

Called as Sinners
Jesus said “ I came not to call the righteous, but sinners ( Matthew 9:13)”.
For his very own disciples, those closest to him, those on whom he would depend to carry on his mission, he chose doubters, thieves, men who would abandon him and betray him in his hour of need, men who were ambitious, fearful, impulsive, immature, men full of human faults and failings:

Called to be People of Faith
Why did he call such weak and ineffective men, men who were sinners.
Because they were men of faith, because they recognised their weakness, he could do greater things through them that the most competent people in the world. Paul says: “ When I am weak, then I am strong …………I must glory in my weakness ……God’s power is made perfect in weakness ( 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)”. He is not advocating weakness for its own sake. He is saying that when we recognise our weakness, God can work great things in us. Such a man was Peter. Although he was weak, impetuous, a sinner by his own admission ( “ depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord( Luke 5:8)”, he had the one virtue that Jesus needed above all else – he recognised his weakness, and he was a man of faith who knew who Jesus was, and what he was about: “ Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” Jesus, very human, would have worried about who would continue his mission, who would understand him. He found his answer in Peter.

The Disciple is called to be an Apostle ( Not developed here in this Paper)
The disciple is formed, not for his own benefit, but to go out and bring the Gospel to others, to become an Apostle.
As Fr. Eymard said: “ Pray that we may become true disciples of the love of Jesus Christ, in order to one day, worthy apostles”

The cost of discipleship is very great, very demanding and very radical.
But the rewards of discipleship are very great too, as Jesus tells us:
“ I tell you solemnly, when all is made new, and the Son of Man sits on his throne of glory, you will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life( Matthew 19:28-29)”.
And in his final prayer to the Father at the last Supper before his death, he prayed: “ Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold the glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me, before the foundation of the world( John 17:24)”.
Finally, let us listen to St. Paul telling the Philippians the rewards to be gained from the hardship of discipleship:
“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For him, I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish, if only I can have Christ( Phil. 3:8)”.

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