Perhaps you have heard the terms “intentional disciple” and “missionary disciple.” What exactly do these mean? The first is probably the easier one both to grasp and to put into practice. Think about it in these terms: I presume dads want to be intentional dads; moms, intentional moms; students, intentional students; etc. If we are engaged in something, we want to make sure we are consciously engaged in it.
Now this does not mean that we are thinking about our role 24/7; after all, we do have to sleep! But it does mean that because we value being who we are so much, we want to make sure that we are as fully engaged in our lives as we can be. We don’t want to daydream our way through life.
Well, the same is true about being a follower of Jesus Christ. Most of us ended our formal education in the faith with confirmation or the end of Catholic high school. That formation was meant to set us on a path of being more intentional about being a Christian and a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. If we continue to say we are Catholic, do we give some time and effort into being engaged in what that means? Do we pray so as to be closer to Jesus? Do we seek ways to worship with other Catholics so as to give God his due? Do we seek to serve our neighbors in charity and in justice so as to demonstrate our love of God?
In these, and many other ways, such as regularly participating in confession and the Eucharist, are the signs of our being intentional about our following Jesus, and thus, being his disciples. As I said, this is the easier of the two terms to understand.
How, then, do I become a missionary disciple? Frankly, if we are really intentional about following Jesus, we will automatically become missionary. It really is not all that mysterious. Jesus told his disciples at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
The first task is to be intentional about making other disciples. When the priest at the end of Mass says, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” and we respond, “Thanks be to God,” we are taking on this first task. Our announcing and inviting others to discipleship may be subtle or not, be mostly works of charity or justice, or through other methods. But in whatever way we carry out this mission, it is intentional. We want to do this, and it is our ultimate goal.
Secondly, Jesus tells us to baptize. Now, of course, we don’t actually do this – but we do bring people to baptism. That is, we invite them to share what we value and treasure – our life with Jesus Christ and his community of faith. Many of our parishes are conducting Alpha programs and we all have RCIA programs – invite someone to join you in participating, with no commitment being required.
Thirdly, Jesus wants us to teach all that he has commanded. And we all know that the best teacher is someone who practices what he or she teaches – that is, being a real witness. We must live out our love of our neighbor, especially by being a neighbor to those most in need.
So, you see, being a missionary disciple is just being a good disciple, and being intentional about it will, in fact, make our discipleship itself deeper and richer.