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Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus – Chapter 6

From Fr. Bennet Tran, Pastor: One of the more significant books that has influenced my thinking and ministry is Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. I hope that we as a parish will engage with the insights offered by Weddell. In the coming months, we will print a summary of a chapter of the book the first and third Sundays of each month. I hope this book will spark interest in our discussions about what is happening in the Church among our family members and friends and encourage us to take action to respond to the signs of the time. The book is readily available on line.

Chapter 6 – The Second Threshold: Curiosity

Summarized by Brad Bursa, edited and revised November 2018

Once someone has a bridge of trust in place, our role as evangelizers is to help our friend move toward the spiritual threshold of curiosity. The first and most obvious question is “Curiosity about what?” The answer is that if our ultimate mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, our task at this stage in the journey is to first arouse curiosity about Jesus Christ. To do that, we have to talk about Jesus.

About Jesus Hardly at All: I have been part of many conversations about the Catholic discomfort at using the naked name of Jesus. We talk endlessly about the Church but so seldom about Christ as a person with whom we are in a relationship. How easy it is to talk about everything, but about Jesus hardly at all. Whenever we treat Jesus as a “topic” within the faith instead of as the “whole spiritual good of the Church,” or as a “belief” among other beliefs instead of as Lord, Bridegroom, Savior, and Elder Brother, we profoundly distort the faith and communicate an impersonal or institutional understanding of what it means to be Catholic. Pope Paul VI wrote, “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed.”

We must talk about Jesus because we can no longer presume solid knowledge of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on the part of Catholics. For instance, a 2010 Barna Group study of American perceptions of Easter found that while the majority of Catholics understood Easter as a religious holiday (65%), only 37% listed the Resurrection as the meaning of the day.

The threshold of curiosity is a perfect time to explore the possibility that a personal God exists and that you can have a personal relationship with that God. It is essential that we help people wrestle with this first, most crucial issue of a personal God.

You can easily quench inquiries by drowning a teaspoonful of curiosity with a gallon of answers. Match your response to your friend’s level of curiosity, and then wait for the friend to become curious again.

The Pedagogy of Curiosity: There are three basic stages of curiosity.

  1. Awareness: This is the moment when people become aware that there are more possibilities in life than they had imagined or experienced. One such possibility can be “I can have a personal relationship with a God who loves me.”
  2. Engagement: This is when the curious person takes steps on his own to pursue his curiosity by, say, making friends with a Christian, reading about Jesus, and so on.
  3. Exchange: The convert begins to experience intense curiosity. He moves from merely listening and
    semi-covert examination of Christians and their faith to actively asking questions and exchanging ideas.

One of the best ways to rouse curiosity is to ask questions, not answer them. There is a point at which basic catechesis becomes very important, but for most people that comes later in the journey. We are not, at this threshold, about the business of telling people all that the Church teaches. Rather, our goal is to arouse spiritual curiosity by our lives and by raising questions that pose the ultimate question: “Who do you think Jesus is?”
Allow the natural curiosity of the human person to draw him or her to encounter with the person of Jesus. One powerful way to rouse curiosity is to tell stories. Again, Jesus was masterful in his use of parables and stories. Telling stories of Jesus from the New Testament and stories of your own or someone else’s experience of healing and forgiveness can be very thought-provoking.

Curiosity Is Not Seeking: Curiosity is important but still essentially causal and passive. Curiosity involves truth but not openness to change – not yet. And it is certainly not the intense spiritual quest of true seeking. Curiosity is natural.

We have come to accept passivity as “normative” Catholicism because the majority of Catholics are, in fact, spiritually passive. All the statistical indicators suggest that the majority of our “active” members are in early and essentially passive stages of spiritual development, such as trust and curiosity.

It has been our experience that the communal spiritual norm of an average American parish – one that is not influenced by an evangelizing or other special movement – is usually somewhere between trust and curiosity.

Living Curiously means more than being “nice.” It requires that we think and act in Kingdom-oriented and countercultural ways in our daily lives. We have the freedom in Christ to say unexpected and even borderline outrageous things, not to shock, but to genuinely “subvert the dominant paradigm” with the prospect that the Kingdom of heaven is here, that the risen and supernatural Lord Jesus Christ is in our midst with power.

A prayerful life that springs from the supernatural power of the Eucharist and the sacraments, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, are all powerful signs of contradiction that creates the curiosity that calls a soul to Christ.

Helping Catholics Come Home: Most initiatives aimed at lapsed Catholics do not address the question of discipleship. Their impact could be multiplied many times if we understood these outreaches in light of the overall journey that twenty-first century people typically make. Most programs aimed at lapsed Catholics won’t have the impact we desire as long as we presume that luring Catholics to cross the threshold again and restoring trust is
all that needs to happen. We won’t have the impact we desire until intentional discipleship has become our
common norm.

“There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promise, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.” When St. Paul VI wrote these words in Evangelii Nuntiandi, he provided a challenge to the church.

 

Do we prepare people in our parish with the gospel story so that they can take that story into their own hearts and out to the marketplace?

When was the first time or the most recent time that you proclaimed “the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus”? Discuss that time.

How comfortable are you in speaking about discipleship?

How can we make our parish a more welcoming place so that our evangelization efforts can be more effective in reaching others?