Parishes need to create ‘intentional disciples’

Mags Gargan talks to author Sherry Weddell

Catholics don’t talk enough about Jesus according to American author, Sherry Weddell.One of my friends says we treat Jesus like Voldemort in Harry Potter – we don’t even say his name,” she says.

Sherry co-founded and serves as co-Director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, an affiliated international ministry in the United States which aims to equip parishes to form lay apostles. Her book Forming Intentional Disciples – The path to knowing and following Jesus has sold 50,000 copies world-wide, and she was in Ireland last week to speak at the Tine Network Leaders two-day conference in Maynooth and a one-day conference in the Fr Peyton Centre, Attymass, Co. Mayo, where she has already inspired the Diocese of Achonry to dedicate 2014 as a year of prayer.

The main message she brought to Ireland is that “Jesus has asked us to follow him intentionally and consciously as disciples” and that is something that we need to talk about and discern how to make it a reality in our lives.

“I have met very mature and active lay people, leaders in the Christian community, and they tell me ‘I didn’t know until today I could have a personal relationship with God’. We hear it over and over again,” she says.

“Many people don’t know it is possible because no one talks about it – we have a culture of silence.”

Role model

Sherry says part of the problem is that we never talk about Jesus in a living way. We hear his story as children, but he does not become a role model or an active part in our lives.

The Catherine of Siena Institute works to break this silence and have found success rates among parish who have set out to create intentional disciples.

“We are working with parishes in North America and other parts of the world encouraging them to break the silence and talk about Jesus and their own relationship with God. To tell Jesus’ story, of God becoming human and his suffering, death and resurrection, that is the great story and a lot of people have not heard it as a story,” Sherry says.

“Studies show you need to hear the story of Jesus not once but many times to grapple and process it before finally saying thoughtfully and meaningfully, I want to follow him. We can create the environment where this is an ordinary conversation with ordinary men and women in ordinary parishes, saying yes to follow him and seeing the incredible grace from the Holy Spirit that flows from that.”

Sherry says some parishes in the US have set out to deliberately double their number of intentional disciples in five years, and have done so by breaking the silence and offering people chances to encounter Jesus. “We have talked to people whose lives have been dramatically changed. Life-long Catholics who went to a Catholic school but weren’t surrounded by people who talked and lived it, say it makes a huge difference in their lives. The whole culture and climate of the parish changes – people discern priestly and religious vocations; people attend Mass; people give to charity – some parishes now say they have the highest per capita giving in their diocese – people are really hungry to learn,” she says.

“It takes a certain level of spiritual rootedness and maturity to go public with your faith and apply it in creative ways in the marketplace. All things come when you create an environment to have this encounter and walk with Jesus in the midst of the Christian community and take it out into the wider world.”