February 21, 2014

Be Our Guest / Tom Yost

From membership to discipleship

I was born into a Catholic family. I was baptized at 3 weeks old. I received the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist at age 7. I was confirmed at age 10. I received the sacrament of matrimony at age 28. I have attended Sunday and holy day Masses throughout my life.

I attended a Catholic grade school, participated in my parish junior/senior high faith formation program, and received an undergraduate degree in theology and a graduate degree in religious studies. I have attended or facilitated numerous retreats and Bible studies. I have attended countless programs or workshops related to Church or faith.

I have been a registered member at three Catholic parishes during my lifetime. I have been a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish for 31 years. I am a member of the Cursillo community and the Saint Meinrad Benedictine Oblates. I have been a member of several lay professional groups both locally and nationally.

While I am very grateful for all of the above, none of it guarantees that I am a disciple. None of it guarantees that I am following Christ.

Receiving, attending, participating and registering implies membership or accomplishment, but it does not make me a disciple. These activities may lead me to follow Christ, but they are not in themselves following Christ. I need to be intentional about being a disciple and following Jesus.

What is discipleship? What does it mean to follow Christ? Scripture has some insightful images of discipleship that I would like to share with you—members/disciples of my parish and faith family.

The most profound image of discipleship for me comes from the Gospel of John. Jesus clearly tells his disciples: ‘I am the vine you are the branches. Apart from me you cannot bear fruit. It was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure” (Jn 15:5-8).

Fruitfulness is a measure of discipleship. A Catholic member may or may not produce fruit, but a Catholic disciple by definition bears fruit (witness and good works).

My reception of sacraments, attendance at Mass, participation in retreats and Bible studies, and accomplished degrees can lead me to produce fruit, but they are not the fruit. The fruit Jesus is talking about is loving and serving both God and neighbor with no strings and no conditions.

We are more than members—we are disciples—when we are light of the world and salt of the Earth (Matthew 5:13-16). We are disciples when we leave our nets (distractions or worldly things) behind and follow Jesus at his invitation (Mark 1:16-20).

We are disciples when we, like Zacchaeus, encounter Jesus, repent of our sin, and change our life (Luke 19:1-10). We are disciples when we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus (all the Gospels).

Discipleship is proactive and intentional. It’s what Jesus calls a Christian to be. No more, no less.

I find myself living somewhere on the continuum between membership and discipleship. I appreciate my membership Membership is important, but it’s really just the beginning.

I believe Jesus is calling me to progress from membership to discipleship. Jesus doesn’t want me to simply be a branch hanging on the vine only receiving from him and his Church. Jesus wants me to bear fruit that gives witness of God and service to others. There is a difference.

What kind of branch are you? Where are you on the continuum? How can we as a parish grow disciples?

These are important questions for each of us and for our parish. You are welcome to share your thoughts with me or other pastoral leaders.

(Tom Yost is pastoral associate of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany.)

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