July 18, 2014

Catholic Evangelization Outreach / Fr. Eric Augenstein

Discernment, evangelization and discipleship

A year ago, I traveled with a group of young adults from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was an amazing experience of the universal Church—not often do we have the opportunity to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father and 3.5 million other Catholics on Copacabana Beach!

In his remarks during the closing Vigil at World Youth Day, Pope Francis summarized the basics of being a disciple of Jesus Christ—prayer, sacraments and service of others. Make those three things a priority, the Holy Father said, and we will grow in holiness as witnesses to Christ in the world.

It’s a simple message, easy to remember—and really nothing new or revolutionary. And it can apply to virtually every aspect of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.

In my work as director of vocations for the archdiocese, I am often asked how to go about discerning a priestly or religious vocation—or any major decision. More and more, my first recommendation is to discern by growing in discipleship, and to do that by focusing on prayer, sacraments and service of others.

Discernment must have a foundation in prayer—personal, intimate, heartfelt conversation with God, in which we listen for his voice as much as we give voice to our own questions and desires.

From there, the sacraments nurture the journey of discernment as instruments of God’s grace, gifting us with the wisdom and strength we need to hear and follow God’s call.

And service of others gets us outside of ourselves, putting the needs of others in front of our own, reminding us that our lives as Christians isn’t ‘all about me.’

How can we discern God’s call in our lives? Grow in discipleship through prayer, sacraments and service of others.

But it doesn’t stop there. The same three movements of discipleship and discernment can also frame our ministry of evangelization. Before we can spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, we must first spend time in conversation with God, be nourished, especially by the Eucharist, and serve the spiritual and material needs of the people around us.

In fact, in doing those very things, we are evangelizing because an evangelist is nothing more than an active disciple, and by committing ourselves to the daily work of discipleship, we naturally discern the path God has set out for us.

One final point of connection—while it’s possible to pray, receive the sacraments and serve others on our own, the life of discipleship and evangelization is only really fruitful when it is done within the Church, as a Church. So, too, with discernment.

Discerning God’s will on our own can sometimes work, but when we discern within the heart of the Church—with the guidance of a spiritual director or a vocations director or faithful Catholics who walk with us—then we truly are able to see where God is leading us through prayer, sacraments and service of others.

(Father Eric Augenstein is archdiocesan vocations director.)

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