In his book, Divine Renovation, Father James Mallon explains that the origin of the word "disciple." In Greek, the word "disciple" is mathetes, which is derived from the verb manthanein, meaning "to learn. Thus, to be a disciple is to be a learner. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, Father Mallon explains that this involves being engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus the master. Dave Nodar, the Executive Director of ChristLife, explains it this way: "To be a disciple of Jesus today means to not only profess certain views about Christianity, but apply the teaching of the Lord Jesus and his Church to every aspect of our lives (24/7)." (emphasis added). From the word "disciple" is derived discipline. The learning process is not accidental. There is an intentional element to being a disciple. It involves a choice to follow Jesus.
Recall the command of Jesus in the great commission where he said to go forth and "make disciples." Jesus was not just speaking to his followers, he was giving this directive to all of us. But herein lies the challenge. We are all called to "make disciples," yet most of us have not yet become disciples. Additionally, if discipleship involves a lifelong process of learning, Father Mallon points out another challenge. He observes that being an adult learner of the faith is viewed by many as being entirely optional and non-essential. For many of us, our formal catechesis and education ended with our confirmation. Father Mallon observes that the laity of the Church is more educated and professional than at any other time in history. Yet, the corresponding literacy in things of faith, theology, scripture and the spiritual life lag far behind. He is so right! Many of us are professionals who are required to maintain continuing education hours on an annual basis to maintain our proficiency in our field. This is so we can continue to excel at what we do and earn a living for our families. Why don't we take that same approach to eternity and our own salvation? How would you respond to a Protestant or Evangelical Christian who approached you and asked you if you had been saved? Do you know the the Catholic response? If not, why? Perhaps we need some continuing education in order to maintain our proficiency in Catholicism.
What does discipleship look like? This is a good question without an easy answer. I think Matthew Kelly gives us a pretty good idea in The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. The four signs are PRAYER, STUDY, GENEROSITY, AND EVANGELIZATION. Actually, the first two signs might not be obvious to an onlooker. Daily prayer and study are generally done individually and in private. But make no mistake that these two signs are essential to discipleship. If being a disciple means being a learner, you cannot do that without study. This can involve reading Scripture or spiritual books, listening to CDs or DVDs about the faith, or attending spiritual retreats. It could also involve attending adult faith formation classes. As for generosity, you may not be able to observe financial generosity. However, you can certainly observe those who are generous with their time and talent because you see them involved in the life of the parish. Perhaps the most visible sign of the disciple is the last one, evangelization. Candidly, this is the sign that we probably see the least, despite the fact that it is at the very heart of Jesus's final command to us.
What does discipleship feel like? It is like having Jesus with you at virtually every minute of your day, helping to guide you through each of the decisions and situations that we encounter on a daily basis. There is a sense of peace that I am not alone and that Jesus is with me. But the feeling of discipleship has to be nurtured daily with prayer and study. If we are to have a personal relationship with Jesus, we have to speak to him and open our hearts for a response. How many personal relationships have you had where you did not communicate with the other person? Likewise, if we are to be a disciple, we have to be continually learning about Jesus. A good study Bible is a great start. I highly recommend the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible - New Testament. Also, there are some great Catholic authors to consider. A definite must-read is Born Fundamentalist Born Again Catholic by David Currie. I also highly recommend anything written by Scott Hahn.
My personal prayer routine consists of reading the daily Mass readings. I will then review the explanatory notes from my study Bible. I will then read a daily reflection, either from LIving Faith, or Magnificat, or Word Among Us. You can also find daily reflections (as well as the daily readings) on the St. Francis My Parish App. My prayer time also includes personal prayer. My prayer time is about 30 minutes. However, you might need to start out with 5 or 10 minutes and build from there. The most important thing is to start. I like to do my prayer time first thing in the morning. Please feel free to share your routine as there may be someone who reads this who may find it helpful.