Making Disciples

by Fr. Christian Mathis on January 28, 2011

Sherry, who writes for the Catherine of Sienna Institute, currently has a post up on Cultural Catholicsim, versus our efforts as Catholics to make disciples of Christ through evangelization. In it, she argues that we as a Church can no longer rely upon the simple cultural aspects of our faith that for many years held us together as Catholics. The thing that struck me most from her article was her reference to a comment by Sara S. at Mark Shea’s blog, Catholic and Enjoying It.

“I do wish we could stop referring to our experiences of 40 years ago when the crisis is with people who weren’t born when older Catholics were cutting and pasting for Jesus.”

I’ll raise my hand. I am a 29 year old convert from “nothing”. I don’t care one bit about how bad it was for the folks on my RCIA team when they were kids, and I wish they wouldn’t have wasted so much of my time trying to explain it to me when I was in RCIA.  Both sides think it was bad. The “old hippies” were all trying to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how bad it was when everyone had to speak Latin, and when they were finished, the angry young men were waiting on the other side to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how the old hippies had ruined the music.

I wish I could explain how disillusioning and ridiculous it all looks from the outside, and how much of it makes literally no sense to someone like me who doesn’t already have years of exposure to this stuff.   If you can “evangelize” more effectively– or put up a more heartfelt defense– about some bit of Church culture or liturgical issue or controversial teaching– than you can about the Kingdom of God– what is someone from the outside supposed to think is more important to you?  I literally thought that the majority of Catholics I met were just nice folks who liked music and doing good works but didn’t believe in God much… because every time I tried to talk about how I was falling in love with God they changed the subject to music and/or good works.

I love to evangelize and I don’t find it hard– to me it is just about, as another commenter said, living with my faith on my sleeve. There are a lot of “nothings” out there, like I was, who are so deeply moved by people who live joyful, counter-cultural lives and aren’t afraid to say that they are motivated by a deep love of Jesus and a desire to follow Him.

The 20 somethings I talk to, who have abandoned the religion of their childhood if they ever had one at all, might *think* that they are dead-set against the Church because of its teachings (so did I, 5 or 6 years ago)– and if I were to approach them with Church teachings I would have some very short conversations.  But I find that I can talk with these same people just by talking about my own life– about Scripture, about saints, about how faith informs my choices every day– just give them enough to start feeling hungry. I trust that the Holy Spirit will do the rest when they get to the point that they are worried about controversial teachings.

Sara’s description is exactly what I have seen in many parishes where I have served when it comes to RCIA, but it is not something that is limited to RCIA. How often are we as Catholics more than willing to simply push our own agendas so that the things that we like the most might become more prevalent in the Church? How many times to we fall prey to the false belief that we can somehow control how others act, simply by arguing our own position more eloquently than another? I honestly believe that all these different “camps” that continue to spring up within our Church do violence to others rather than calling them to relationship with Christ.

It seems to me that if we are to truly be a Church centered in Christ, we must abandon these internal divisions among us and try to understand the strengths found in each person God has called to be in His Church. I don’t suggest this path as simply a pious platitude. It is difficult to live as a disciple of Christ and we as Christians will undoubtably have disagreements with one another. The key, I think, is how we approach those disagreements. It has been fascinating for me, for example, to see the comments on my recent podcast about the role of women in the Church. I don’t think that there has been one person to comment who did not disagree, at least in part, with my thoughts expressed there. But almost to a one, there was mutual Christian respect and charity shown in how the disagreements were aired.

But returning to the idea of evangelization and discipleship, I must say that we as Catholics have many ways that we can improve our efforts to preach the Gospel. Too often we tend to sit back and wait for others to come to us, rather than following the example of the early saints who spent their lives going out to tell people about the salvation won for them by Jesus. Too often we sit back and let other Christian denominations convince our own members to leave the Church, in order to embrace something less than the fullness of the faith. We often take an approach of minimalism that creates weak Christians, rather than strong ones.

If we are to truly be Christians who share the Gospel with others, we must be bold in our proclamation. We must be strong in our prayer and understanding of our faith. We must show our love to the world. This is not an easy task. It takes discipline. It means we have to set aside petty differences and work together with those we don’t always agree with. It means above all else taking up our cross and following Jesus as one of his disciples.

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  • Ruth Ann

    I’m so happy to see this discussion emerging. I read Sherry’s essay before I came across yours, but I did not read the other posts she referenced. I hope her ideas and yours will catch on. We do need to focus on living a Christ-centered life and supporting one another in doing so.

  • Mark G.


    As you know, I have massively bull-headed opinions about how everything & everyone should be in the Church (or the church).

    I would be Satan’s own fool, however, to start with those when someone who is searching for God looks to me to help them find Him.

    Father, it seems that when I was on the parish council, there was an Evangelization chair that was perennially vacant. Is that right? Is it still?

  • Fr Gregory Jensen

    Well said Father! Well said indeed!


  • Marc Cardaronella

    Great thoughts Fr. Christian.

    I’ve had the same experience at times in RCIA. The candidates could care less about the old problems. They’re there to investigate/join a Church that in many different ways attracted them and is calling them. We need to put away the past and make a bold proclamation of the beauty of the Church, what we receive from her and what we love about her. Forget about what’s wrong if you’re going to evangelize! Talk about what’s right…and there’s a lot that’s right!

    Thanks for the post!

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    Thanks for the comments y’all!

    Mark — There hasn’t been a chair for Evangelization since I have been here, but the Communications Chair has taken on quite a bit of the duties I would think fitting to that. I also had a discussion this morning with our Junta Pastoral about starting (at least in Spanish) a group dedicated to learning more about evangelization and coming up with strategies to reach those we are not currently reaching.

    Fr. Gregory — Great to see you here my friend. I would have guessed you would be in favor, especially since I was introduced to Intentional Disciples by you!

    Marc — Yes, this seems to be a perennial problem in RCIA. Too many people seem to be participating as sponsors, leaders, etc. for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of those preparing to enter the Church. There is no doubt a need for these people to have their issues discussed of how they have struggled in various ways with our ever evolving Church, it just isn’t appropriate for the RCIA. When I was helping to coordinate RCIA at our Cathedral I had a rule that sponsors were not allowed to speak at all during the sessions, and if they did they were no longer sponsors. My own belief, is that if we can ever start using the rite we have been given, it can be a great force for evangelization.

  • Sherry Weddell

    Fr. Christian:

    I love the icon which comes with this post. I was wondering where it comes from?

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    It came from a Google search and to tell you the truth, I don’t remember what I was even searching for when I found it. Cool looking mosaic though, huh?

  • Kathleen

    What do you mean by “discipleship” and how does it differ from being a practicing Catholic who is developing ones interior life?

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    Developing one’s interior life would be a part of discipleship, indeed. It seems to me that there are those who are practicing Catholics, meaning that they do all the outward things, but don’t always engage in the deeper life that Christ is calling us to. I am planning on some future posts on this subject and would love to hear your comments, or maybe you have some now to share about what you feel is involved with discipleship. If so, post them for the discussion.

  • Kathy

    I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said Fr. Christian. The word “evangelize” brings up so many negative images in the mind of the average Catholic. The preacher yelling on the street corner, or TV evangelists begging for money, or the two neatly dressed young men at our door asking to be invited in to share the “good news”, along with a helping of their very litteralist views on Scripture. Developing one’s interior life is very important, and should be on going in all of our lives, but I view discipleship as a response to that continued development; that continuing conversion. We Catholics are pretty good at following the instrucitons of St. Francis to “preach the Gospel at all times, and if nessessary use words.” Not an exact quote, but close. We do many “good works” in our local communities, and world wide. That’s all good and an important responce to faith. However, we should also be very aware of the many people in our secular society who are searching and longing for a deeper meaning in their lives. So many are searching for Christ. They include people in all different circumstances from the completely unchurched, to “fallen away” Catholics. We need to do a better job at letting them know that our Catholic door is wide open to them. We can help and guide them in their search. We need to continually reach out to them. So often all they need is an invitation. That’s evangelazation, that’s discipleship as well. If one loves Christ and His Church; loves being Catholic, it’s not hard to evangelize. I wish that Evangelization Chair was filled at every Parish Council. It’s absolutely a very important aspect of disciplship and what Christ commisioned all of the Baptized to do. Go out into the world and make disciples. He didn’t mean just 2,000 years ago, but here and now and forever.

  • Kathleen

    Thanks, Father.

    I’m a new reader to your blog, and looking forward to your posts on the subject of discipleship (which I don’t really understand what it means) and the interior life (which I am reading about). I’ve been reading a lot about mental prayer, for example:

    «The Three Ways of the Spiritual Life» by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. It’s pretty hard ploughing. What are “sensible consolations,” for example? He says that the Dark Nights involve being deprived of them, but what are they exactly and how do you know if you’ve ever had any in the first place?

    «Difficulties in Mental Prayer» by Fr. M. Eugene Boylan, O.Cist.R. was good because it (mostly anyway) cleared up some terminology.

    «The Ways of Mental Prayer» by Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehody, O.C.R. was a very organized and well laid-out book, very interesting. I realized that what seems like it ought to be free-form praying is actually very structured indeed, with specific “points” to meditate upon.

    It all makes for interesting reading, but I’ve not found it much use in practice. Are you supposed to go through all the “points” in order before actually starting to “make acts?” Boylan says that is the actual praying part, the “meditating” is just thinking or ruminating and isn’t supposed to be prayer. But when I’ve tried it, but the thinking and the praying sort of seem to happen together, or not at all.

    And anyway, I’m not sure what is really supposed to be going through my mind when I am “meditating” on something. I can read the “points” stuff out of the book alright, but I gather I should be doing that the night before, then “meditating” on it the next day. But there are a lot of those “points;” I can’t even remember them all, or in detail, the next day!

    Mental prayer is supposed to be absolutely critical, and it is certainly a very planned and disciplined way of praying. It is something that I’d like to try, but I can’t really get it off the ground, so to speak.

  • Fr. Christian Mathis


    It sounds like you are reading some pretty heavy stuff!

    My own thoughts regarding prayer is that there are many ways to pray. Usually a good place to start is with something like the Lord’s Prayer or other set prayers that can keep us centered and show us the heart of prayer. Another good place to start is with the liturgy. It has structure and will not lead us astray.

    The type of prayer you are describing is more difficult. If you continue with it, you should expect all kinds of distractions and temptations. This is not necessarily bad as if you can simply let those distractions and temptations come and go, while simply making note of them, you can find the areas of your life that still need conversion. Many times it is helpful to seek someone who has experience with prayer that you can meet with to help guide you along the way.

    I will pray that you will keep searching and keep trying to engage in prayer as prayer is at the heart of discipleship.

  • Kathleen

    Thanks, Father. I really appreciate that!

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