This past week I was attending the mid-year meeting of the Knights of Columbus for State Chaplains and State Deputies. One of the discussions that took place involved the idea of Intentional Discipleship. This is not the first time that I've heard this idea. A comment was made that many Catholics seem to be accidental disciples. They were born into the faith and they go to Mass each week, but never really seem to do much to learn more about their faith, or really change their lives so that faith has the primary place. Many of the converts to the faith are truly intentional disciples. They chose to be Catholic and follow Christ through his Church. They have delved into the faith to learn all about what it means to be Catholic. They take seriously the precepts of the Catholic Church.
Many of those raised as Catholics do not even seem to know the precepts of the Catholic Church. They may have a vague idea about what they are, but they make little effort to make them the key points of their lives.
I believe that intentional discipleship begins with the Precepts of the Catholic Church. A person can find the precepts by making a quick visit to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Let me give my quick view of the precepts.
- "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation." This really does not need much explanation. One had better have a pretty good excuse not to attend Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation.
- “You shall confess your sins at least once a year." This is especially true if you are in the state of mortal sin. Each person should be in the practice of going to confession on a regular basis. The practice of regular confession helps people grow in holiness as they reflect upon their lives and then make efforts to change the lives they've been living for the better
- “You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season." You will note that while you are required to attend Mass each week, you are not required to receive communion. One should only come to communion in the state of grace. The going to communion once a year is tied in with the once a year confession. They should take place during the Easter Season.
- “You shall keep holy the holy days of obligation." Our focus on these days should be on God and the feast that we are celebrating. So often we put more emphasis on the secular side of many of these celebrations than on the religious side. It is like those who want to attend the 4 pm Christmas eve Mass so they can enjoy the rest of Christmas day in a secular way. We need to try to refrain from unnecessary work and spend more time reflecting upon the greatness of God.
- “You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence." Most Catholics remember that we are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays of Lent. They also remember to observe the two primary fast days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. What a lot of Catholics fail to realize is that we are called to keep all Fridays as days of penance. Catholics should abstain from eating meat every Friday of the year except in those places where permission for a substitution has been granted. In the Untied States we are permitted to substitute another form of penance on Fridays. The norm is still to abstain from eating meat. We are not suppose to completely forget about penance on Fridays. For those who do eat meat on Fridays, an alternative might be to spend a little time in the church on Friday praying before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. One might also so some other additional prayers on a Friday, recognizing that it is truly meant to be a penance that is being completed, offering it up for our sins and those of the world.
- While it is not listed as a specific precept there is one other item listed in the Catechism:
The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities. This includes supporting the local parish and the parish school if there is one, the local diocese and the mission of the universal Church. We each know what our own abilities are. I would hope that we take this expectation seriously. The Church should not have to beg to complete its mission, the faithful should see to it that the resources are provided to get it done, and get it done well.
Let us all take to heart what it means to be an intentional disciple. These precepts are just the beginning. Now we have to go learn more about our faith so we can continue to grow.