Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples

by Sherry A. Weddell (editor)

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


Weddell in this text reaches to the communal sense of discipleship that the Church wishes us to embrace! In chapter one Weddell investigates what the saints of the past did. She begins with St. Francis de Sales in 1594 who began his work with Forty Hours of Eucharistic Adoration that was held in the Chablais capital city of Thonon. Forty thousand citizens of the Chablais had become Catholic in only four years largely because of the tireless personal apostolate of this saint. This group became more holy and zealous from personal contact with each other. Paris was also the center of the great Catholic revival that followed the conflict and transformed France. It was really when they turned to prayer, penance and a life of serious, communal devotion and mission that the revival began. These were intentional disciples. What they did do was re-invent Catholic life, practice, and spirituality in an evangelical mode. Since we have a similar heritage we learn specific things from this group: they were intentional disciples together, they were in mission together, they collaborated on a grand scale, they were present and future oriented, apostolic creativity was the new norm, they expected God to act, they were deeply prayerful, they were faithful unto death. We can be open to, and are willing to answer God’s call with the same passion and lifelong obedience that enabled the generation of saints to transform. In the words of St. Vincent DePaul: “I’m sent not only to love God, but to make Him loved.”

In chapter two, it is noted that many parishes have a culture of silence, that is, a life-giving personal relationship with Jesus was not on the radar for most members of our community. The people in the parish were wonderful, giving and friendly people who just did not know that they did not know. Keith Strohm developed a sense of intercessory prayer that is, standing for others. He helped them to see that Jesus Christ is the perfect intercessor, who pleads for us at the right hand of God. Because of our baptism that empowers our prayers for others. Our prayers of intercession are ‘always already’ a response to what God is doing. When we are moved to pray for others, we are cooperating with God’s will. A common language of ministry needs to be developed.

In Chapter 3, Father Fones calls us to co-responsibility for the mission of Christ. This includes: Making the Eucharist the center of parish life and promoting other sacraments; instructing the laity in the faith and catechesis, knowing the faithful; cooperating with the bishop and other pastors; fostering the works of the Gospel including social justice; seeking out the poor, the afflicted, the lonely and exiles; promoting marriage and family life.; fostering the role of the laity in the Church’s mission and evangelizing with the help of the laity. Within each parish are “apostles of hope” those are people actively living out the mission statement. Three major resources help parishioners engage in their part of the mission given the whole Church by Christ: ministries, which are supervised by the Ministerial Staff; focus groups, which are called together by the parish council to provide insight into the groups of people living within the parish boundaries and the Apostle of Hope Coordination Team, which connects individual “Apostles of Hope” with people in need. In conclusion Fones states that ”This world, which God so loves, is served by the laity when they denounce the evil they witness firsthand, nurture the good they find there, and ‘restore to creation all its original value.”

In Chapter four Bobby Vidal states: “The seeds of grace mature not only through the personal response of the individual who receives them, but much of the development and growth of these seeds are dependent on the communal environment that can hinder or enhance the personal response of an individual an individual person grows in receptivity to God when surrounded by a community that collectively strives to care for the whole cycle of the life of grace.” As the parish develops spiritually, its members grow in their collective understanding of their identity and mission. We need to think about where a community is and where it needs to go! We can transform the parish culture by continually raising these missionary questions for ourselves and for others: 1. How can we create the opportunities for individuals to encounter Jesus Christ and experience conversion through this event or activity? 2. Now can we form individuals to discuss their charisms or vocation? 3. How can we assist individuals to commit their entire life to Jesus? 4. How can we create a path to discipleship that is owned, supported, and sustained by the whole community? 5. How can we transmit the faith through pre-evangelization, the proclamation of the kerygma, and catechesis in a systematic way? 6. How do we form others in the task of transforming the secular world with the light of the Gospel? 7. How do we communicate an event or experience we are planning in a way that parish outsiders and insiders will understand and will feel welcomed and challenged by at the same time?

This is a book that should be read by every parish pastoral council so the community can understand the sense of intention and purpose that should happen in each and every parish with Jesus in mind and heart so His community may be realized on earth.

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