Intentional Disciples, Arrested Development, and Maturity

This was one of three contributions to the panel discussion which introduced the workshop on “The Icon of Emmaus”, at conference 2014, “Preparing for a Great Sea- change”

At Easter a friend recommend that I read a book published in America entitled, “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus”.

The author, Sherry A. Weddell, claims that the vast majority of Catholics in the US are still at an early, essentially passive stage of development. Most have yet to become disciples and this goal will continue to elude them until they have really begun to follow Jesus. My initial response was to agree with the book’s premise, but then doubts began to arise. If the claim made in the book is true, I thought, who might be responsible for this arrested development? Might it not suit the Church to have a compliant laity, with a limited understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus? And, isn’t there a case to be made for all Catholics, at whatever stage of their development as disciples, to get to know Jesus a lot better. And is this not a lifetime goal, something we can never say we have attained to perfection?

Then another question arose, might it also not be the case that some bishops and priests, for all their years in seminary, are themselves still at an early stage of discipleship?

God knows that they, the bishops have heaped abuse, misery, wound upon wound on LGBT Catholics over decades/centuries with little or no dialogue having taken place with the very people who have been harangued. Unlike Jesus, who engaged the two disciples in a conversation as they made their way to Emmaus, who listened to their complaint, heard the despair and disappointment in their voices and then responded so that, as Luke tells us, they could later say, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road?” Incidentally, I do not believe I am alone in thinking that hearts were burning within some of us as we listened to our speakers yesterday?

God mediates grace within us in many ways: through the sacraments, yes; through scripture, yes; but also through our interactions with nature, animals, literature, social and religious institutions, the arts and through loving, interpersonal relationships, sometimes in the most intimate ways.

I readily admit that there have been occasions in my own life when I have been graced by the embrace of a lover, waking up to a warm smile beside me, experiencing the fondness of a kiss. Such are the experiences that we can and must bring to any dialogue with the hierarchy. We have been told for too long that they are wrong, that they stand in contradiction with natural law, and therefore we are to be denied those experiences and abandon our disordered ways. The Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, once said, “God’s mystery saturates everything”, and, for me, that includes the intimacy of LGBT relationships.

What Luke tells us is that once the moment of insight has been received around the table, the action is no longer around the table, it is somewhere else. “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.” They left the safety and familiarity and nourishment of their table fellowship in Emmaus and returned to the risky business, the complexity and even the barrenness and challenge of Jerusalem. In the complexity and confusion of my personal quest to find myself and my place in the Church, Quest has been a place of safety, warmth, challenge, acceptance, nourishment, friendships, family. Now we have what I believe to be a God-given opportunity to risk the messy business of engaging with the bishops.

Let us not get carried away with thinking that Catholic teaching on sexuality or any other matter is about to undergo a sudden, Damascene conversion. It isn’t going to happen. What we may discern, at least in some parts of the world, is a more positive pastoral, listening ear approach that has been lacking in the past. It may simply be a case that some bishops are jumping on the bandwagon, attempting to score “Brownie points” with Pope Francis: how could I be so cynical as to think such wicked thoughts? But the opportunity has presented itself so let us grab it, albeit for some with a hint of cynicism, with a touch of disbelief that Quest will be allowed to come in, as it were, from the cold. Maybe we are being hoodwinked, perhaps we are being led down the garden path, we won’t know if we don’t try. We may not only speak of love, we must show love, and love others as God loves them. That love must flow out of us to embrace all and not only those whose mind sets, as we were warned yesterday, happen to coincide with our own.