"Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations." Those words from the Gospel of Matthew undergird this congress every year. But what does a disciple look like? What does a disciple do? Well, maybe we should start with what a disciple doesn't do.
A disciple doesn't merely assent to Jesus Christ, with this or that intellectual reservation, because Jesus is not an idea. A disciple doesn't endorse the message of Jesus Christ from the sidelines. A disciple doesn't relativize Jesus Christ as a First Century reformer who would have included this or that social issue in His agenda if He'd just had the benefit of 20th Century hindsight. A disciple doesn't merely admire Jesus Christ as a great teacher and prophet.
Jesus is so much more than all these things.
On the contrary, the disciple of Jesus Christ loves and follows Him. The disciple of Jesus Christ accepts Him without reservation as the Son of God. The disciple of Jesus Christ submits and conforms his or her whole life to the Gospel. The disciple of Jesus Christ believes that He is "the way, the truth and the life," the only redeemer, the only messiah, the only sure path to eternal joy. He is the savior; there is no other.
I could go on, but you get the point. Discipleship is not the equivalent of a club membership. Properly lived, it's sacrificial. In fact, it's all-absorbing . . . which is why real discipleship is so unpopular in contemporary American culture. It gets in the way of consumer self-indulgence. Discipleship is the total dedication to following Jesus Christ, preaching His Gospel and serving His Church.
In his recent apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America, the Holy Father says, ". . . the vital core of the new evangelization must be the clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ that is, the preaching of His name, His teaching, His life, His promises and the kingdom He has gained for us by His paschal mystery." That's the apostolate we've chosen as Catholic educators. That's the task we're called to do. And the virtues it requires are simple but demanding: trust in the authority of Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic faith; zeal to spread the Good News of the cross; and humility to put aside our own agendas and submit our wills to the guidance of the Church.
To which I would add the following: To make and form disciples, we first need to be disciples ourselves. Nothing bears more fruit than personal witness. If we really believe, we will bring others to believe. In fact, in the words of John Paul II again, "The burning desire to invite others to encounter the One whom we have encountered, is the start of the evangelizing mission to which the whole Church is called."
Do we have a desire that burns in us to bring others to Jesus? That's strong but liberating language. And that evangelizing mission should target not just the hearts of others, but the structures of the society within which we live. As the Epistle of James reminds us, "Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:17). This is why the American bishops called us so articulately to struggle on behalf of the unborn, the infirm and the terminally ill in their statement Living the Gospel of Life last November. Helen Alvare from the NCCB's Secretariat for Prolife Affairs will be speaking on this document tomorrow, and I encourage every one of you to attend her session, and read and pray over the bishops' statement.
And when you do, read it in concert with the other outstanding document the bishops produced last November Everyday Christianity. We have an obligation to live our faith in defense of human dignity, at both the beginning and the end of life. We also have the duty to carry Jesus Christ into the everyday rhythm of our work and civic environments. And that's the message of Everyday Christianity. Discipleship is a call to action, not just an invitation to agreement. The maps to an active Christian discipleship already exist in documents like Living the Gospel of Life and Everyday Christianity. If we don't use them, we won't be forming anyone or anything and we'll have no one to blame but ourselves for the results.