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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Missionary Discipleship

To form a missionary disciple, the first task is to accompany him as he journeys to the truth in his humanity. When the Word became flesh, he constituted all that is good, noble and true about humanity as the pathway to the Father. Coming into maturity is part of this pathway. This means that a missionary disciple needs to be accompanied into facing difficult personal challenges inherent to natural maturation, or else his discipleship risks self-contradiction.

One of the first obstacles a man faces is ignorance over who he is and why he is alive. When a man does not have a sense of firm purpose, he is going to lack motivation, initiative and self-control. Any lack of firm purpose involves three factors: lack of self-knowledge, blindness to the beautiful mystery at stake and a lack of courage before the challenges that must be confronted if he is to realize what he desires.

Without a great purpose, a disciple will “go away sad.” That is he will constantly be haunted by feelings of inadequacy, depression, and anxiety. Resentment, aggression and self-indulgence are born in him because he is either refusing, resisting or trying to escape the void that only God and his sacred purpose could fill.

The sadness and nostalgia that can overcome a disciple whose purpose is void can be disguised in self-reliant spiritual practices and harsh judgments. The heart lacking in self-knowledge is an aching vacuum vulnerable to all kinds of deception. For the religious person, even prayer and solitude can be used as an indulgent escape from this pain. Righteous indignation toward the failures of authority can become a cancer of the heart and self-justify forsaking responsibility and disciple out of devotion for Christ. Left unchecked this disease, which has both despair and pride at its root, will drive a man away from his community, out of the communion of the Church and trap him into an alienated childishness.

The inability to see what is at stake requires both contemplation and instruction. Until a man sees the beauty of a woman, he has no affectivity that moves him to fight for her. Internet pornography is singularly destructive because it blinds a man from the true beauty that alone can move him with firm purpose. False beauty can only move a man with false purpose. This presumes that “being itself” constantly presents to the eye of the heart situations where something good and beautiful is at stake before which a man ought not be indifferent, that summon a response from the very depths of his being.

The supernatural purpose unveiled to the disciple of Christ bespeaks a contemplation of the beauty unveiled by Christ and the Church. It presumes instruction about the nature of this beauty and the specific demands it makes as to a way of life. Holy conversation, filled with words of truth, bring out the implications of this glory before which no heart ought long be indifferent without betraying itself.

If he is accompanied by a heart that he knows is listening to him, the disciple will receive a wholly new presence of Christ in his heart. With this new presence, he gains an awareness of what the Lord sees is at stake and, with this, new inner fortitude that only the Holy Spirit can produce. This kind of accompaniment is possible because through contemplative prayer, the Father can communicate the Sonship of the Word.

With the right instruction, contemplation confronts self-doubt. This silent prayer does not replace accompaniment, but requires it: what is received in the human heart in such prayer is subject to strong doubts and insecurities, and only the counsel of another can help a disciple discern how to respond. The soul, with the help of another, needs to test what God is asking of him if he is to more deeply accept it.

Not only does the Father confer identity and thus, self-knowledge, but with self-knowledge, He also communicates mission—a purpose in life that is worthy of His Son. The Father has chosen to communicate this by means both of mental prayer with the accompaniment of a fellow disciple - so what is received in silence is confirm in conversation. As a man firmly accepts this purpose and learns to sacrifice for it, His identity in Christ’s sonship deepens until he becomes who the Father intended him to be from all eternity.

Accompanying a disciple whose purpose is not yet firm requires walking with them through all kinds of challenges. This testing that every disciple endures will cause them to question everything that they thought and believed. In the face of these difficult trial, a man will runaway and hide, just as did Adam when shame overtook him. As did Adam, he fears the burden of guilt would be unbearable.

Though God would that no man suffer such pain alone, this shame, unaddressed, leads to death because as long as it drives the heart, the disciple is closed to what the Father would otherwise reveal. Only by helping a disciple connect his own trials with what is common to all men can we accompany a man from such fear into a new trust. This requires carefully listening to the burdens that he bears.

A disciple left unaccompanied or who forsakes the accompaniment of another will not be able to assert himself into the situation at hand. The Father has chosen to give him confidence through the ministry of another. Until he humbles himself to receive this gift, a disciple will not have the confidence required to make the painful sacrifices by which along the Father’s glory is manifest.

Among the sacrifices needed is self-assertion, and on this point, a fellow disciple can speak of word of encouragement and even admonition. If we do not assert ourselves as sons of God, others powers will fill the vacuum—and the noble voice that might have humbly proposed a way forward will go unheard by those who most need a word of hope. This means encouraging a disciple to go beyond the comfortable and convenient. Such self-assertion requires an obedience always ready to abandon what is familiar. For greatness and glory are not familiar to a disciple until he has come into maturity.

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