The New Evangelization and Discipleship

Those involved in the New Evangelization are starting to become more attentive to the meaning and importance of discipleship for all Catholics.  Various ecclesial movements have emphasized authentic discipleship for some time, and now their influence is starting to be felt in the wider Church (e.g. The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, The Catherine of Sienna Institute, Communion and Liberation, The Neocatechumenal Way, and Opus Dei).

Some like to point out that in Jesus’s Great Commission to His disciples, He commanded them to go out to make disciples, not converts, of all non-believers (see Mt 28:19).  In the context of the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the Rabbi who called disciples to Himself.  Disciples would yoke themselves to a rabbi (also called teacher and lord or master), even more than as students of a teacher. Their goal was to conform themselves to their master in order also to become a rabbi after the pattern of their master, having their authenticity ratified by the degree to which they became images of him.  Jesus uses this imagery many times when He tells His disciples that they rightly call Him Teacher and Master (Jn 13:13); that it is expected that as disciples the Apostles will become like their Teacher and Master (Mt 10:25); moreover, that it is in becoming like their Master that Jesus’ disciples should expect to be persecuted as was He (Jn 15:20).

In this way, one is not an authentic Christian simply by being baptized and confirmed.  He is, of course, ontologically a Christian in receiving these Sacraments.  However, his faith is only alive to the degree he acts in conformance with it (see James 2:17).  Faith is only something salvific if it is enlivened by love (see 1 Cor 13:2).  An authentic Christian is one who conforms himself to Christ in holiness (see The New Evangelization and the Human Person) and thereby becomes a living witness, a living image of Jesus Christ.  A Christian must endeavor to love like Christ did, even to love one’s enemies as Christ did, in order to save some (see 1 Cor 9:22).

As mentioned in the article on ardor (see The New Evangelization is New in Ardor), Jesus Christ manifests the kenotic (the self-emptying, see Phil 2:7) poverty required of every disciple.  Jesus in His humanity is the created manifestation of the eternal self-emptying of the Son who returns Himself totally and eternally to the Father.  For Christ’s disciples, this spiritual poverty is one of embracing the fact that one has nothing of his own that is of salvific value to offer himself or others apart from Christ.  This explains spiritual poverty as the first rung of the ladder, if you will, of the beatitudes (see Mt 5:3).  An habitual attitude of spiritual poverty keeps the disciple close to Christ and reminds him that while his best efforts are required, it is his acting in fidelity to the Master rather than in his own ingenuity that success will be measured.  Spiritual poverty will not let the disciple stray too far from the Cross, the seed of evangelical fecundity. It aids in keeping the disciple joyful, rooted in theological beatitude in the midst of overwhelming odds and little visible fruit for one’s efforts.  In sum, it helps to ensure that the one being evangelized sees more of Christ in His disciple than the disciple himself.

Authentic discipleship is a prerequisite for fruitful evangelization.  If the non-Christian does not see Christ in the evangelist, the evangelist risks becoming an anti-witness (an anti-Christ, if you will); he may become more of a stumbling block to faith than a step in that direction.  One cannot underestimate the importance of every Christian working zealously on his holiness if the new evangelization is to be effective.  Moreover, this effort for holiness is not inwardly directed, it is done out of love for Christ and for those to whom we wish to introduce to Him. 

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