How Would You Describe a Disciple of Christ?

(The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time on Saturday, Aug. 27, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, and on Sunday, Aug. 28, at St. Peter Church in Washington, VA.)

In the area of employment in which so many among us find themselves, job descriptions are very familiar and even necessary. A job description not only outlines the duties and responsibilities of a specific job, but it also becomes the measuring stick against which the employee is evaluated.

Using “job description” as an analogy, how would we describe “the disciple of Christ” and evaluate such a person? Could we not say that the disciple of Christ is a person who has the mind of Christ? In other words, the true disciple of Christ thinks, sees, hears, speaks, loves and wills as Christ would or as close to doing so as he or she can, given our human frailty and weakness.

Yes, we must have the mind of Christ. But what does this mean in the concrete? First, possessing the mind of Christ " His attitude " implies a transformation of our own minds and hearts. This is precisely what St. Paul is telling us in today's second reading from his Letter to the Romans: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

This renewal or transformation also implies an actual following after the Lord Jesus. The words of Jesus to St. Peter in today's Gospel account from St. John unmistakably point out that the disciple is to follow Him " literally, to get behind Christ. This following after Jesus, this imitation of Christ, involves both a renewal of mind and heart and a share in carrying Christ's cross. “You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do,” says Jesus and then He adds: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

To be sure, this closer identification with Christ and imitation of Him, which includes the transformation of mind and heart, is not often easy or comfortable. In today's first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear the prophet himself complain: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” And, in today's Gospel account, St. Peter balks: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing [suffering and death] should ever happen to you.”

This closer identification with and imitation of Christ, along with its renewal of mind and heart, lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. It describes so well and summarizes so keenly who and what the true disciple must be and how he or she must live. This transformation of mind and heart is ongoing, because we discern God's will within a specific context and new issues and situations continually arise. Yet, at the heart is the key element: do we possess the mind of Christ and evaluate all things according to His mind?

In order to maintain our closer identification with Christ and to be continually renewed in mind and heart, we must pray, understand Christ's teachings through His Church and surrender ourselves to Him in obedient faith. Then, our witness to others will ring true and attract them to Jesus.

Prayer is essential, both personal " at home, and liturgical " united with Christ and with one another in the public prayer of the Church. Every day, we must ask God the Holy Spirit to guide us as we pray, so that, more and more, we can acquire the mind of Christ " His way of seeing and acting. Liturgical prayer is also so necessary, especially the celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday. As Pope Benedict XVI told the over 1 million youth gathered in Cologne last Sunday, “The Eucharist must become the center of our lives. If the Church tells us that the Eucharist is an essential part of Sunday, this is no mere positivism or thirst for power. Sometimes, our initial impression is that having to include time for Mass on a Sunday is rather inconvenient. But if you make the effort, you will realize that this is what gives proper focus to your free time. Do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it too. This is because the Eucharist releases the joy that we need so much, and we must learn to grasp it ever more deeply, we must learn to love it” (Homily, World Youth Day, 2005).

Through prayer, we more and more acquire the mind, the heart and the will of Christ. Understanding what Christ teaches us, specifically through His Teaching Office within the Church, also assists in our thinking with the mind of Christ. We cannot separate Christ from His Church. The truth which He teaches comes to us through the Church He founded.

Transformed through prayer and assisted by the Official Teaching Office of the Church (the Magisterium), we can then give our surrender in obedient faith. We can then evaluate all issues from the Light of Faith.

Then more conformed to Christ, with a renewed mind and heart, we can witness to Him more clearly and more faithfully. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was fond of saying: “Keep giving Jesus to your people, not by words but by your example, by being in love with Jesus, by radiating his holiness and spreading his fragrance of love everywhere you go. You belong to Him.”

Yes, in the end, we will be evaluated by whether or not we possessed the mind of Christ and followed in His steps. Indeed, Jesus' final words to us today are precisely these: “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and he will repay all according to his conduct.”

On Aug. 27, Bishop Loverde addressed these words to the permanent deacons and their wives:

Your ministry as permanent deacons is rooted in your ongoing renewal in mind and heart and in your following Jesus more closely. In this way, you are equipped to help the rest of us in the Church to come to Jesus through your three-fold service of the altar, of the word and of charity. As we thank you for your faithful service among us " and your wives for their support of you in your ministry, we pledge to each of you our own prayerful support and our willingness to collaborate with you, so that more and more Jesus may be adored and loved and His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church be filled with authentic disciples who possess the mind of Christ. Amen.

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