The Spiritual Life: Discipleship into Relationship—Discussing the Thresholds of Union

Authored by Claire Dwyer in Issue #6.3 of The Catechetical Review

Life is a Journey

We are on a journey. Our life, we know, is not meant to be static. It is rather an ever-deepening growth in union with the God who created us. He deliberately left an emptiness within us, a chasm, a desire. That longing is an invitation to set out and begin to seek God, to develop a relationship with him, which grows and develops in stages.

If you look at books on the interior life, you will notice that they are riddled, if not titled, with words such as navigating, journey, passages, heights, depths, valleys, nights. This is the language the Church uses for the journey of union with God in her attempt to explain what is mystical in earthly metaphors. The journey is spiritual, but because of sin, it is arduous and a struggle. The Catechism tells us, “Prayer is a battle.”  It is also, of course, in every way worth it.

Begin with the End in Mind

This journey also requires some supplies and preparation: prayer, sacraments, formation, grace; but perhaps the first thing we need is a map, so we know where we are going. The map must be unrolled all the way, past all of the benchmarks of conversion which we have become so familiar with lately in our work of formation: trust, curiosity, openness, seeking, and the big one: discipleship.[1] This benchmark, disciple-making, “drop-your-nets” conversion point (think St. Edith Stein reading St. Teresa of Avila and declaring, “This is the truth!” or St. Peter falling to his knees crying, “depart from me Lord, I am a sinful man”) is the focus of much of our missionary efforts. The movement into a place of intentional discipleship is absolutely essential and fundamental. The problem is when we begin to see discipleship as the end goal.

The end of our spiritual life is not discipleship but union with God. This union finds its fulfillment in the beatific vision of heaven but is meant to begin and deepen in stages here on earth. When we help people reach a place of discipleship, we have to be careful not to leave them on the side of the spiritual mountain without a guidebook, stranded because they haven’t learned to recognize the signposts. What may seem like an insurmountable peak or an impassible precipice or a never-ending night might just be a sign that they are about to reach a milestone in their journey.

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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 editor@catechetics.com

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