HEN I WAS ON RETREAT a few weeks, ago, I picked up a book I’ve been meaning to read for over a year now. It is titled Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. This book on evangelization has been receiving critical acclaim from many Catholic apologists and is being seriously considered by offices of evangelization in US dioceses.
There are many reasons to praise this book, from its statistical wake-up call in the first chapter, down to the practical considerations of creating disciples of non-Catholics and Catholic parishioners alike. The first chapter is terrifying: it is an analysis of several national surveys on church attendance with special attention to Catholics. The most important observation that Weddell makes is that church attendance is directly correlated with the belief in the possibility of having a personal relationship with God. We Catholics, by and large, do not talk about Jesus, do not even know how to talk about Jesus.
I know what you’re thinking, because my thoughts were the same, at first: “This all sounds very…Protestant.” Yup. I’m ashamed to say, that’s exactly what I thought. Then Weddell wrote about grace and the sacraments. After all, the normative relationship that we Catholics have with God is through the sacraments. Wedell explains that this is not enough. An individual needs to be prepared in heart, soul, and life to receive the sacraments fruitfully. Obviously, a validly celebrated sacrament contains the grace of God regardless of its recipient. I cannot alter the fullness of grace in the Eucharist by any action. I can, however, obstruct the reception of that grace by my disposition. I need to be willing to accept the inward change that that grace brings. (Weddell’s chapter on grace is reason enough to read this book.)
While Sherry Weddell doesn’t wade into liturgical matters in this discussion, this touches on why I love the tradition of our liturgy, and more specifically, solemnity in its celebration. One of those goofy Masses that you always read about online, with strange goings-on and hideous vestments, with irreverent music and odd posture, is still a valid Mass as long as the essential matter and form of the sacrament are present. However, such liturgical noise absolutely can run interference on one’s fruitful reception of the grace already present in the sacrament. Liturgy deserves seriousness in order to celebrate and prepare for fruitful reception of the sacrament.
Just like evangelizing disciples, liturgical catechesis starts in your own parish. In her many interviews with pastors, Weddell asked most of them: what percentage of your congregation would you say is made up of intentional disciples? The answer was consistently 5 percent. This is an unacceptable level of discipleship in our Church, and we are all responsible for it through our baptism. Liturgical catechesis will come along the way; our worst problem first is introducing people to Jesus.
While I’ve read many books on faith and apologetics, this is the one that is most relevant to the Church’s struggle today. I strongly recommend that you read this book, and then go make disciples of all people.