The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

Editor's Reflections: Forming Disciples who Make Disciples

Authored by Dr. James Pauley in Issue #7.3 of Catechetical Review

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Stained glass window of John 21:7-14 from St Patrick's Seminary in Palo Alto, CA. Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP at  Creative Commons LicenseIt was yet another miraculous catch of fish. When Peter saw the fish and heard John say “it is the Lord!” he dove into the water in his zeal to be with the risen Jesus, rather than waiting to bring the boat to shore. After the meal, Jesus took Peter aside and asked, “do you love me more than these?” And then Jesus asked again. And a third time. After each consequent profession of love, which must have brought Peter healing from the wounds he inflicted on himself by each of his three denials, our Lord entrusted a sacred mission to Peter: to tend and feed his sheep (cf. Jn 21:1–17).

Few accounts in Scripture show more vividly the beautiful depths of what intimate communion with Jesus means. He takes the initiative toward us. We must respond to his loving invitation by making steps forward of our own. Throughout such an exchange, he makes himself present in his fathomless mercy. We should note, though, something quite important in this scriptural account: communion with Jesus always comes with a new responsibility.

In their own distinctive ways, each of the Lord’s disciples was formed and empowered to make new disciples. All through their time with the Teacher they were intentionally prepared for this mission. And once the Holy Spirit had come upon them at Pentecost, they were able to boldly go forth and propose the Gospel message and bear tremendous fruit.

In the early centuries of Christianity, the Church grew exponentially because becoming a disciple meant becoming a missionary disciple. Being in intimate communion with Jesus was not just a private affair, as if it were only about my own salvation. Rather, this communion with Jesus was a communion in his mission as well, for all that is his belongs to those who are members of his Body, to include his zeal for bringing as many as possible into his Father’s house.

This characteristic mark of discipleship is what is meant by the term “spiritual multiplication.” It raises the key question related to becoming again an evangelizing Church: what becomes possible today if, like in the early Church, Christians become invested in and equipped to make other Christians?

We are touching here on the essential mission of the Church. This work of making disciples is the Church’s reason for existence, “her deepest identity.”[1] Consequently, it must be the fundamental mission in life for each of the baptized.

There can to be a tendency today, when surveying the enormous missionary needs of the world—and these same needs in Catholics who remain on the peripheries of the Church’s life—to move catechesis to the side in favor of investing in initiatives of first evangelization. It does no good today, the argument goes, to catechize those who don’t already know and love Jesus. In reading the newly published Directory for Catechesis, the Church is clearly not making this argument. Instead, she continues to insist on seeing catechesis as a means of evangelization.

The Church today cannot only be about catechesis and the celebration of the sacraments. We must also take seriously the Lord’s command to proclaim the Gospel, and to do so in such a way that it can be heard in the world. We Catholics must also become deeply rooted in the transformative encounter with Jesus (especially in prayer, in the Scriptures, and in the sacraments) so that we can be authentic witnesses capable of testifying to the reality of the One who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). We must also be about the mission of loving those who are in any kind of need. Because God is love and, St. Augustine explains, “if you see charity, you see the Trinity.”[2]

While each of these dimensions of the Church’s missionary mandate requires a realignment of what have been our traditional priorities, we ought to take up with a new intentionality and creativity this work of catechesis that the Lord entrusted to the Church, even if it be in significant need of renewal. This means asking ourselves the truly fundamental question: what would a catechesis that forms disciples who want to make other disciples look like?

Dr. James Pauley is Professor of Theology and Catechetics and author of two books focused on the renewal of catechesis: An Evangelizing Catechesis: Teaching from Your Encounter with Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2020), and Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship (Liturgy Training Publications, 2017).


[1] Pope St. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14.

[2] Augustine De Trinitate, VIII, 8, 12: CCL 50, 287, quoted in Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 19.

This article originally appeared on page 5 of the print edition.

Art Credit: Stained glass window of John 21:7-14 from St. Patrick's Seminary in Palo Alto, CA. Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP at Creative Commons License

This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting [email protected]

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