Discipleship: Intentional and Ecclesial

Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (2012) talks a lot about the importance of a personal relationship with God. This is definitely rooted in the language of recent popes, and is in no way foreign to Catholic tradition. But is it too much “me and Jesus” spirituality?

I think a clue to how we might productively understand intentional discipleship, the liturgical life of the Church, social justice, and more lies on p. 54 of Forming Intentional Disciples. Without a doubt, I think this is the most underrated passage from this best-selling book 🙂 It’s a lynchpin for properly understanding intentional discipleship in the context of the Church.

The idea is that for every Catholic Christian there are three spiritual journeys, all equally essential. Ideally, they’d occur concurrently or with some overlap. But, our lives as human beings and our responses to God’s grace can get a little messy (to say the least!) and so our job isn’t to “enforce” a certain order, but simply to recognize that all three do need to occur. None of these journeys are optional…




Now, these three spiritual journeys are going to look different for just about every person. And it’s not just coming to a “yes/no” on a spiritual journey–there are stages, phases, different levels of enthusiasm, etc. The point is, there’s an incompleteness without all three in place.

Forming Intentional Disciples as a book is about digging into the details and function of Spiritual Journey #1, since this is the journey Weddell believes we’re most silent about in our current setting. Spiritual Journey #1 is critically important in our society of seekers, “nones,” and the like. Phrases from Forming Intentional Disciples such as “Spiral of Silence” and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are other ways of saying that Spiritual Journey #1 is the elephant in the room in many parishes and ministries. Overlooked. Not talked about. Not resourced. Not even consciously considered by many.

The sacramental theology presented in Chapter 4 of Forming Intentional Disciples is in one sense, an apologetic towards those who might think that emphasizing Spiritual Journey #1 has nothing to do with Spiritual Journey #2 or #3. The Five Thresholds (the how-to and focus of the second half of the book) are a practical framework for entering into Spiritual Journey #1.



2 thoughts on “Discipleship: Intentional and Ecclesial

  1. Thank you for the post. I love the diagram.
    As you say, these three journey’s are essential. I think the point of your piece was about there not being a need to impose or enforce a certain order to these three journeys. That’s a really important insight. Jesus met me in the messiness of my life as the third journey was waning and about to collapse. Being patient and constant in preaching the Gospel is a must.

    As I was reflecting on these three journeys I was thinking about their essential nature. They are so intertwined in the way Jesus led the first disciples and in my own life of following Jesus! However, while they’re all essential, I think there’s a priority. I think you’re in agreement with me on this, but I thought I would share a foundational way of expressing the priority and see what you thought:

    When you spoke of all three being essential I was struck by a presentation I recently heard from a Paulist priest who seemed to be asserting that the 2nd and the 3rd journey were sufficient and that the first was somehow a bonus. I was reminded of Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” analogy. People would often use that analogy to say that a Catholic’s stance on the death penalty or euthanasia should be equally footed with his stance on abortion. However, the analogy lags because innocent life stands as a deeper stratum than a later decision about the death penalty or euthanasia. A better analogy is that used by Archbishop Chaput where he speaks of the Church’s pro-life ethic in terms of the “foundations of the house of freedom.” In this analogy the protection of innocent life, especially the unborn, stands at the bottom of the house and helps to hold everything else up. So, as essential as defending the elderly against euthanasia is, defending the unborn is a first step in that defense.

    That said, though these three journeys are all essential, I don’t think they are equally so. As Fr. Cantalamesa so eloquently put it, a person’s following of Jesus as Lord stands as the bow of the ship that cuts its way through the waters of life. Every other part of the ship flows from the keel, ribs, and hull that makes its way through the waters. Like the “foundations of the house of freedom” analogy, the ship will founder if the Lordship of Jesus Christ doesn’t undergird everything. At a certain point there can be no “we and Jesus” if there is no “me and Jesus.” Priority must be given to discipleship as our foundation or the whole thing eventually collapses. I think that’s the deepest reason my diocese is seeing such great losses at our parishes.

    Thanks, Colleen. You’re a clear and succinct writer. Blessings,


    • I think you (and Fr. Cantalamesa) are spot on–that that first journey is a foundation for the others to be full, sustaining, and truly fruits of the Spirit (rather than, say, cultural custom). I think Catholic teaching also reinforces the sequential order of 1, 2, and 3 (using Weddell’s numbers). I use this diagram to try and capture the dynamics of Church teaching on Evangelization: http://wp.me/p30bnx-6J [as present in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio (1990), Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue’s Dialogue and Proclamation (1991), the Second Vatican Council’s Ad Gentes (1965), and Pope John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae (1979).] The normative order places conversion before the sacraments of initiation and what follows in practice. Taking the USCCB’s Nat’l Directory of Catechesis’ “5 Phases” (see http://marccardaronella.com/2013/01/17/the-5-stages-of-evangelization-and-why-you-need-to-ignore-them/) we also get the personal decision to follow as a foundation, not as something after the practice of the faith/sacraments.

      In short, I think 1, 2, and 3 would be the normative order in Church teaching. But, reality is often different. Additionally, liturgically, we have a side-by-side paradigm of adult and infant baptism…and infant baptism starts Spiritual Journey #2 before #1 could occur. So 😉 a Church of diversity, even in our theology.


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