“What does it mean to be a disciple?” and “How will I know if I am a disciple?” are two of the most common questions that I am asked about discipleship.
By virtue of our baptism, each one of us is called to be a disciple. We are disciples of a person and that person is Jesus Christ. Our identity as a disciple springs from Jesus Christ, through faith and baptism, and grows in the church, which is the body of Christ. To be a disciple is to grow in holiness.
Easier said than done, right? We all know that being a Christian does not mean an easy life, but a life filled with joy and purpose. It is a life centered on Jesus Christ, who shows us how to be a disciple, and the Blessed Mother, who was the first and best disciple. This is what it means to live as a disciple or what I call “living in the key of D.” D for discipleship.
Every time we grow in our discipleship efforts, the music of our lives is one of harmony and melody. So, what are the essential characteristics of a disciple’s life? Here are my seven “D Keys” of discipleship:
Desire: The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes meaning pupil/student of the master. The Master is, of course, Jesus Christ. We began our journey as a disciple in baptism but must also continually affirm our desire to grow in relationship with Jesus and his body the church.
Discern: Being a disciple means that we must make the time to reflect and pray. Just as Jesus went away to pray and discern who to choose as his disciples, we must also discern what it means to be a disciple and grow in love for him. Discernment and prayer are at the heart of the disciple’s life.
Decision: At some point in our lives, we recognize more fully that we need to set aside those distractions and habits that lead us away from Christ. This decision or series of decisions to say “no” to the things of the world and “yes” to Jesus Christ is at the heart of our ongoing conversion.
Discipline: Saying “yes” to Christ involves personal sacrifice and discipline. Time is the currency of discipleship and if we want to grow as a disciple we must be disciplined in spending time with Christ and learning from him.
Dwelling in the Word: The Word of God holds the power to form and transform us. A disciple cannot grow and be nourished apart from the word of God. Dwelling in the Word of God is absolutely essential for growth in the Christian life.
Dependence on the Holy Spirit: All of the good that we do in life depends on the action or animation of the Holy Spirit. It is he who awakens in us the desire to follow Jesus and to grow in holiness. It is the Holy Spirit who shines through us and we must become more dependent on listening to his promptings.
Do: Pope Francis reminds us that “being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (Evangelii Gaudium , #127). Jesus asks us to “go and make disciples” and to “do this in memory of me.” We must move from being hearers of the Word to “do-ers” in the world. All that we do should be in memory of Jesus.
Discipleship is not a program but a process, a way of life. This is a process which takes place over a lifetime and grows as we grow, being shaped by our experiences of the world around us. Where Jesus leads, we must follow. And when he asks us to lead, let our answer be a resounding “yes!”
Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization. She is the author of “Developing Disciples of Christ” and co-author of “The Catechist’s Backpack.”