Welcome back to Lawn Chair Catechism! This project is being headed up by the lovely ladies atCatholicMom.com; this Summer we’re discussing Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. An introduction to the project and information on ordering the book, as well as the study guide and links to all previous posts I’ve written on the topic, can be found on my Lawn Chair Catechism page.
Let’s take a look at this week’s chapter, which is called “The Third Threshold: Openness.” We’ve been working through the various stages that everyone goes through as they make the transition to becoming a disciple of Jesus. I’m learning so much about these stages as I read, and am trying to see when each of the stages happened for me. (Gosh, I hope I get to the Intention Disciple stage and find myself there!)
Openness is a stage that can be confused with being a disciple. Often, being open to the ideas of Jesus and His Church look a lot like someone ready to jump in and BE THE DISCIPLE! But we mustn’t rush things here. As the CatholicMom.com study guide says, “Openness means acknowledging that we are willing to change. Curiosity says, ‘Tell me a little more.’ Openness says, ‘If this turns out to be true, my life is forever changed. And I’d have to follow through on that.'”
The idea is pretty frightening for some people. Well, really, it is for everyone. The call to be a disciple of Christ is not an easy one, and it looks a little different to each of us. What Jesus asks of us will be different for every person as an individual, and the call is a little scary even if you’ve already gotten to a level of trust and have been curious about the Church and her teachings enough to go further.
Really, we can look at a couple of different examples from the Bible when it comes to this openness, which I also see as the first clear sign a person gets that he’s being called to Jesus personally. That openness is an internal signal, and if the person accepts Jesus for Who He says He is, it’s going to change everything. We’re all made with a longing for God, which anyone who has spent a little time with a Baltimore Catechism can tell you.
The first example I think of when I contemplate openness to God is the story of Saint Matthew. Several apostles’ stories are told in the Gospels, detailing how and when Jesus first called them to follow Him, but I love Matthew’s story.
Maybe Matthew had heard of Jesus – voices from Heaven don’t happen every day, and I’m sure word got around about this Jesus from Galilee who saw that desert preacher John the Baptizer. Word had it that when John baptized Jesus, a booming voice – from the Lord, could it have been? – proclaimed Jesus was His Son. That’s not the kind of story people can keep to themselves. So Matthew probably had, at the very least, heard of Jesus. Then Jesus comes back from praying in the desert and starts gathering followers of his own. Fishermen. Weird. They go to a wedding near there and now there are rumors about some miracle wine.
Matthew hears that this Jesus is nearby, preaching and telling people about the Kingdom of God. So he goes, lingering around the outside edges of the crowd. This isn’t that hard, since most of his fellow Israelites don’t like him much, anyway. ”Tax collector,” they hiss under their breath as he strolls nearby.
But this Jesus is different than other preachers. He’s different than even the prophets in Scripture. He speaks with authority like no one Matthew has ever heard. He sees the Apostles, sitting near Jesus, and has the sudden urge to join them. ”I want to follow this Man,” he suddenly says to himself. And in the next breath he thinks, “How preposterous! As if this Man – it’s obvious He’s Holy! – would want someone like me near him. Sure, those fishermen are an odd choice, but at least they aren’t tax collectors!” And, though he longs to be near Jesus, follow him as a distant disciple, at the end of Jesus’ lessons, Matthew goes back home.
What Matthew doesn’t see is Jesus looking after him, even as the crowds draw nearer, asking Him to bless their children, heal their sick, listen to their needs. Jesus knows. Jesus sees Matthew’s heart and the desire within it to change his life and follow God.
I love the idea that Matthew must have been completely open to Christ, but afraid to follow until invited. (And, by the way, we ought to remember that little bit about invitation, right?) He was open, and when Jesus pointed at him and said, “Follow me,” Matthew left and never went back to his old life again.
But not everyone is as open as Matthew. Some are curious, but they aren’t quite open enough to accept. Remember the rich young man who asked Jesus how to be His follower? Jesus asked him about following the Law, and when the young man answered truthfully that he did this, Jesus asked him to go further: give up everything you have, follow me.
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
My older daughter read The Bronze Bow for English class this year, and that young man makes an appearance in the book. We hear of him as the antagonist of the book, Daniel, talks to Jesus about being His disciple. Daniel tells Jesus that he’d give up everyone one of his possessions to follow Him. Jesus looks at Daniel and tells him that this is not what He wants Daniel to give up for Him. Instead, Jesus demands that Daniel give up his hatred for his Roman occupiers. At the time, Daniel, too, goes away sad, for he feels as if his hatred is nearly all he has.
Jesus asks each of us to give Him something, and it’s different for each individual; being open means realizing that we’re going to give something in this relationship with God. We must be willing to smash our idols, give up the things we love more than God right now. We must be willing to give everything to God, our Creator Who loves us beyond all measure. This is what openness means: you have begun to recognize that. Whether or not we accept this challenge seems to be what determines if we move past this threshold and into the next stage of discipleship.
Let’s have some discussion questions! Join in here or at CatholicMom.com.
Questions for Discussion
In your own faith:
- To believe in a personal God is to believe that God truly will meet us in prayer. It can be difﬁcult to evangelize when we ourselves are going through a “dry spell”, or struggling with some spiritual question. Do you have difﬁculty trusting that God will show himself to those who do not yet possess the faith?
In your parish:
- Over the next six months, what changes can you personally make, to help your parish disciple those who are at the threshold of openness?
- If you are currently at this point yourself, to whom can you go for spiritual mentoring?
Dry spells. Oh, how I know about these. I’ve even written about them somewhat recently. I am learning to work through them, and not to let it get in the way of my prayer life, though I admit that I still struggle with a vibrant prayer life when I’m getting little-to-no consolations. I wrote about it during Easter:
It’s Easter, and all my Catholic friends are rejoicing and Alleluia-ing everywhere. And I’m here struggling to get to evening Mass or sit through Adoration. I pray “Alleluia” during Lauds and Vespers, but I don’t feel it. I know He is Risen (truly, He is risen!), and yet my heart doesn’t feel it.
And yet I know that if I persevere in prayer and continue to feed my soul by going to Mass when I don’t feel like it, praying a Rosary when I’m not in the mood, maintaining my morning and evening prayers, that this is like watering and feeding plants during a drought: the roots will grow deeper and stronger, and when the drought is over, big things can happen.
And so I’m trying to thank God for the dryness I’m still experiencing. If I keep going, I will grow in maturity.
I’m still not sure if I’m living the life of an intentional disciple. At the very least, I’m open, and I truly believe that God has put the Dominican Laity in my life just to assist me in growing in holiness, and to help me get closer to Him and be a true disciple. I don’t want to go away sad; I want to be like Saint Matthew, who looked at his table of tax forms and walked away for better things. I want to give up my idols to be God’s Own Girl.