Counseling the Doubtful to Their Proper DiscipleshipDuring the gathering of the twelve, Our Lord did not seek out the most wealthy or influential people, but sought out the fisherman and tradesmen of various villages. These men were far from educated but had pure hearts. They were rich in spirit.
It is also noteworthy that these men gave up their lives for Christ. They put away their fishing nets and followed him. In contrast to the rich man who proudly told the Lord that he had observed all commandments but was unwilling to let go of his possessions and completely follow Christ as a disciple or apostle.
In this regard, the call of Christ is for all to fulfill discipleship in some way but many are unable to let go of the material illusions of this life to become spiritual and serve Christ. The particular vocational call for each differs but ultimately there is a univeral priesthood and discipleship that all must answer. Christian Counseling can help one find their particular call of discipleship.
Priest/Minister Call of Discipleship
While many would see this as the most important, I would contend that such callings although more rare are still nevertheless equal callings of discipleship. The function differs but the value of discipleship within the Mystical Body of Christ is equally yoked. Even Christian creeds with a value of hierarchy have re-evaluated the pyramid type scheme of their Ecclesiology to point out that all calls to discipleship are equal in sanctity. The Catholic Church, in “Lumen Gentium” clearly points out the importance of the laity and their equal calling before God. The Catholic Church has seen the value in other Eccesliological models that dismiss a pyramid image with a circular image. The circle portrays an equal plane that circumvents the central ties of unity.
With the proper perspective of priestly ministry understood as not a superior calling but a different and more rare one, people can begin to understand the unique call to discipleship that this calling encompasses. The call to serve and to feed Christ’s sheep. Did not Christ tell his apostles that they must serve. Christ, as the ultimate master, even took it upon himself to wash the feet of his apostles. How many times do we see the hierarchy parade as if kings-not portraying Christ but regressing to the behavior of the temple priests of Israel?
Hence the purpose of priestly discipleship which is in strict line with the work of the apostles is a mission of service to the church. In this special vocational calling, a man surrenders his life to Christ and accepts Christ’s special invitation to follow him as his apostles did. Christ comes to some early in life and to others older in life, but when the time is right, the soul feels the urge to answer “yes” to its master and follow him. Is this not the way an invitation to ministry or the priesthood happens? Can one not imagine the presence of our Lord at our door, knocking and asking if we will follow him?
Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen
Like the rich man, many do not answer this door. Maybe they are entrapped in this world or fear change. Christian Counselors, spiritual advisors and other men of the cloth can help encourage these souls to move forward with fortitude as Peter and his apostles did when our Lord visited them. Our Lord will aid the journey for his weight is light and his yoke is sweet. In fact, the life style that involves a discipleship of ministry is one of joy for those chosen for it. Many men who choose a celebrant life as a priest or minister find an inner strength. This inner strength was not developed but was placed by the Holy Spirit as special charism that gives such souls the ability to serve the church without need of companionship. Many of these men do not feel the need to have a woman at their side. They feel content in life with family and hobbies. Prior to their ministry, they usually found themselves without a girlfriend. This is not to say they never dated or were romantically involved in the past but the passion and necessity never burned in their souls. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has given them a self suffiency within their vocational call that will allow them, if they choose, to become instruments of God for his church.
Does this mean men must completely commit their life to Christ without a wonderful woman at their side? Defintely no. Some vocational calls of ministry include a loving wife at one’s side. Within Protestantism, ministers and priests are blessed with the joys of serving the church and enjoying the interior intimacies of companionship. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, there are married Catholic priests. Unlike the Western Church, the Eastern Church has celebrated a married clergy since the beginning. These priests can be found in the Byzantine traditions and also the Non-Catholic Orthodox traditions.
Yet, some men feel the need to totally separate themselves from such companionship. As another Christ, they become bethrown to the church herself. With the special spiritual graces and their interior make up, they are able to happily execute a life totally dedicated to God without human sexual companionship via a wife.
Neither calling of celibacy or marriage within the ranks of ministry or priesthood are superior to one or the other because all vocational callings are from God and it is the purpose of a person to fulfill the will of one’s creator.
Other Vocational Calls of Discipleship in the Religious Life
Some feel a deep calling to serve the church through the religious life. This calling is sometimes contemplative or missionary. Various orders throughout the Church have opened itself to men and women to enter into a particular discipleship. In Catholic circles, bound by the vows of chastity, obedience and poverty, these souls completely sever themselves from materialism and engage the world. Some orders seek deep contemplation while others preach, aid the poor, visit the sick, commit to pastoral care, or provide missionary activity. St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Dominic, St. Benedict, St. Claire, St. Theresa of Avila, and St. Theresa the Little Flower are just among a few handful of names that glow in this important call of discipleship.
Protestant churches while not bound to a particular order also courageously fulfill this religious call of discipleship with a variety of other charitable organizations. Protestant denominations can also be found in missionary activity bringing the Gospel of Christ to Africa and Asia. These pastoral services are a call of discipleship that ministers and priests cannot sometimes accomplish. The brave souls who dedicate their life to spreading the gospel and bringing compassion to the sick on a day to day basis is a calling of finding Christ in the least of one’s brethren. This calling also fulfills the great commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
What of the Laity?
The same vocational drive that pushes the religious is also found in the laity. First, for most laity is the vocation of marriage. Most are called to this discipleship. Yet how is marriage discipleship? One can only look at the model of the Holy Family. The Church in miniature starts at home. A good father and mother raising their children in the teachings of Christ is a vocation and a call to discipleship that many do not realize. It is through the daily lives of parents whether if it is mopping the floor, doing laundry, or going to the office that one fulfills his/her vocation to Christ. In offering their daily duty and raising their children, parents fulfill their “priestly” duties to the church. While they may not be giving a sermon on Sunday or visiting far away lands, these people serve the domestic church via their example. One can no longer devalue the universal priesthood of the laity and their extreme importance to the church. Those called to this are equally blessed by the Lord because this is what God wants of them! These domestic priests become the first preachers of Jesus to their children and become the cornerstone of the church.
Secondly, the laity fulfill a variety of needs to the church beyond domestic house keeping. Laity are involved at the parish or congregational level through their activities. Some help the minister or priest with book-keeping, while others help the minister or priest with Mass or services. Some lector, some distribute the Eucharist, some sing and others visit the sick.
Single people also represent the laity. They share the responsibilities of the church with the married laity. And they too are called to a discipleship of good example and worship of God. Yet in many cases they become the most disenfranchised. They are the least remembered but ironically the most talked about because they have not “chosen” a path or “checked” off a life achievement “box” of reaching societal norms. However, some are called to a vocational life of prayer that does not involve either avenues of choice. They are called instead to be helpers of their families or generous givers of their spare time to worthwhile causes. Some singles may be called only temporarily to this life as they discern and carry their cross of loneliness or doubt, but ultimately, our Lord will lead them to a particular calling.
Do Not Fear
Spiritual advisers and spiritual mentors should gently guide their spiritual children to the will of God, but ultimately it will be God who decides when the time is right for one to determine their particular calling of discipleship. While counselors can identify various signs within the soul and can help one see those signs, the inner calling of God and the peace of the Holy Spirit is what will eventually allow the Christian to discern his particular discipleship. As Christ takes one hand, we must not fear what our particular calling is but accept with faith. We are already spiritually predisposed to the calling God has given us and only by fulfilling God’s will can one experience true happiness.
Take Control of One’s DiscipleshipIn addition to not fearing, one needs to take ownership of one’s discipleship. Yes, via Baptism we all take ownership as a follower of Christ, but each one of us has a particular discipleship unique to us. One must take control of that.
In scripture, the Mother of James and John addressed Christ in regards to who will sit on his right and left in the next world. Christ did not respond to her but turned to James and John and told them that is for the Father to determine to who will sit where. Christ’s avoidance of their mother was not due to anger or dismal of the mother, but a statement to everyone that we must take control of our own discipleship. We cannot forever ask others what they think , but we must eventually take our own steps and make our discipleship our own by taking it on fully.
God Chooses the Lowly
In accepting our discipleship, we can definitely feel overwhelmed and unworthy. Many saints fled the priesthood because they feared the awesome statue of merely saying “This is My Body”, but while one should be humbled by such calls, one should also feel honored and excited that our Lord would come to us personally and ask of us certain tasks. We should embrace these roles of discipleship that our Lord has chosen for us and encourage others to embrace their particular role. In accepting our discipleship, we should imitate Mary, who accepted the greatest discipleship role of all time–being the vessel for the birth of our Lord.
Ultimately in the end, can we say we were as bad as Saul or Augustine? Judge not yourself or others for what the Lord had decided to make holy. He will make it clean and use it for his purposes.
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Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C