What Is Catholic Discipleship?

by John P. Moore

Catholic discipleship refers to a committed approach to living a Christian life within the Catholic Church. The term is generally applied to Catholics who sincerely attempt to live according to the instructions provided by Jesus in the New Testament. The U.S. Catholic bishops have described disciples as those who "make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves."

Conscious Choice

One of the characteristics of Catholic discipleship is that it requires a conscious choice about pursuing a Christian life. Therefore, it is a commitment that involves more than merely attending Mass and other Catholic observances in a passive manner. The Catholic who demonstrates discipleship exercises discipline in pursuing spiritual observances -- such as prayer or fasting -- as well as good works. Indeed, all aspects of the Christian life are to be performed with a sense of purpose.

Christian Actions

Catholic discipleship is visible to observers mainly in the Christian actions -- or good works -- performed by the individual. Such actions demonstrate the individual's commitment to helping other people in various ways. The traditional Catholic practices are the "corporal works of mercy" (including feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and clothing the naked) and the "spiritual works of mercy" (including converting sinners, comforting the sorrowful and forgiving injuries). Performing such actions is considered to be a way to follow the example of Jesus in the New Testament.

Sacrifice

Another mark of Catholic discipleship is a willingness to make personal sacrifices in pursuing the Christian life. This is reflected in the saying of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Luke 14:33, "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." This quote -- along with other similar quotes from the Gospel -- clearly indicates the level of commitment required of a disciple of Christ.

Being a Disciple

Catholic discipleship also requires that the individual be willing to use his talents and blessings in building the "Kingdom of God," which is the goal of all Christian activity on earth. Since talents and blessings are seen as coming from God, the Catholic disciple is expected to be unselfish in using these for appropriate purposes. Another mark of discipleship is an unwillingness to resort to excuses to explain inaction or poor performance. The true Catholic disciple is expected to follow through on all Christian commitments.

About the Author

John P. Moore has been writing about the intersection between faith and culture since 1997. His articles have appeared in both religious and mainstream publications, including the "Ottawa Citizen" and the "Montreal Gazette". He received a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Masters of Theology from the University of Toronto.

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