What is the deepest meaning of being a Catholic?
It is being a disciple of Jesus. This is what JPII, who always referred to Mary as the first disciple of Christ, called the ‘Marian profile’ of the faith.
Mary, he suggested, was the first disciple, for her assent to the angel’s message made possible the incarnation of the Son of God. The incarnation had been “extended” in history through the Church, the mystical Body of Christ. Mary’s assumption into heaven prefigured the glorification of all who will be saved. Thus Mary provides a “profile” of what the Church is, of how the people of the Church should live, and of what the destiny of disciples will be…
The ‘Marian profile’ in the Church is, John Paul suggested, even “more…fundamental” than the “Petrine profile”. Without being divided from it, the “Marian Church” – the Church of disciples – preceded and made possible the “Petrine Church” – the Church of office and authority… The two profiles were complementary. But the “Marian profile is…preeminent” and richer in meaning for every Christian’s vocation.
Put another way, the deepest meaning of what it means to be Catholic is to be like Mary. She came before Peter, Paul and all the rest. She shows us what we should be. She shows that what it means to be a Catholic is to be a disciple. This is the “preeminent profile” of the Catholic life.
The very first days of the Church, documented in the Acts of the Apostles, further depict this. The early apostolic years of the Church is a Church without buildings, programs, budgets, conferences, theological degrees, academic institutions, books, blogs, Catechism or Bible. It was simply a people obsessed with Jesus and living a new way of life by the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t obsessed with itself (‘ecclesiocentric’). It didn’t even seem to think of itself as ‘a religion’. The Church was ‘The Way’. It was a people with eyes fixed on Jesus and hearts set on learning Jesus (what it meant to live His way of life in the world). It was a people incarnating Jesus in the world. It was a people following Jesus into the world and into eternity.
JPII’s words help remind us that absolutely everything we do as the Church must flow from discipleship.
What is discipleship? It is the commitment to be a lifelong learner of Jesus. The commitment to be at His waist, looking over his shoulder, seeing what He does, how He does it and why He does it. It is to become an apprentice of Jesus. It is a complete way of life. It is the process of daily laying yourself on the altar so that the Holy Spirit can reproduce the life of Jesus in you. It is the process of learning to become a “little Jesus”.
This starts with first realizing that Jesus is alive and living within us, by the Holy Spirit given to us at our baptism. This means we can have an ongoing dialogue with Him for the rest of our lives! We can listen to Him, hear from Him, respond to Him. Hence, to be a disciple means essentially to live in two ever-repeating, foundational questions: 1) “what is God saying to me?” and 2) “what am I doing about it?”
Do we live with Jesus like that?
Being a Catholic is not just about a set of statements to which we intellectually assent and reinforce through ‘growing in our faith’ (a phrase which often means becoming spiritually consumeristic). It is not about adhering to an ideology. It is about being like Mary. It is about being a people who follow (and therefore incarnate) Jesus, who hear and respond to His call, and thereby live intimately the way of life of the only One through whom we can receive the life of God (the Holy Spirit) and by whom we can be led back to the Father.
Where do we start? With desire. For the next 30 days, take your desire to be more like this into the wilderness of prayer and say: “Jesus, I desire to become more deeply, totally, and radically your disciple. I don’t know how. Help me. Show me the way. What are you saying to me?” Then listen, day after day, and follow Him.