I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35)
The teaching that is found in the Scripture concerning the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead concerns itself, of course, with the fact of the Resurrection itself, and its effect on the followers of Christ. They were told throughout the public ministry of Jesus that He would be put to death at the hands of evil ones, but that He would rise again. In so many of those “teachable moments” the Apostles and their company wondered what “to rise from the dead” meant. After the Resurrection, the first thing, actually, is that the Apostles were gathered in the Upper Room (the same place where they ate the Last Supper) and on that first day of the week, Jesus appeared to them. His gift of Shalom was given and His wounds were revealed. In this action, the disciples rejoiced! Two actions that are synonymously attached to the Paschal event—love and rejoicing. They are also specifically attached to the birth of the mission of Jesus—the foundation of the Church.
Throughout the accumulation of the Gospels, disciples are found to be more than followers, they are witnesses.
“O truly blessed Night,” the chant of the Exultet at the Easter Vigil recalls, “which alone deserved to know the time and the hour when Christ rose from the realm of the dead!” But no one was an eyewitness to Christ’s Resurrection and no evangelist describes it. No one can say how it came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, His passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses. Although the Resurrection was a historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and the reality of the Apostles’ encounter with the risen Christ, still it remains at the heart of the mystery of Faith as something that transcends and surpasses history. This is why the risen Christ does not reveal Himself to the world, but to His disciples, “to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people.” (Acts 13:31, Jn14:22) (CCC 647)
Christ’s Resurrection is an object of Faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God Himself in creation and history. In it, the three divine persons act as one and manifest their own proper characteristics (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). (CCC 648-655)
The role of disciple is clarified specifically during the 40 days after the Resurrection—until the Ascension. Jesus then instructs the Apostles to go to the top of the mountain in the vicinity of Bethany:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20)
Ten days later, we celebrate the birthday of the Church—Pentecost Sunday, the universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and the establishment of Jesus’ authority on earth (until He comes again) through the ministry of His mission: The Church.
These days, of course, we find ourselves going deeper into the mystery of the presence of Jesus in our world and how to manifest that presence in the world in which we live. Sadly, our secularistic world has moved away from the reality of accepting Jesus and believing in His activity in our daily lives. In some ways, Jesus has become more and more a mythological person, less real. We can see ourselves more in line with that part of the Apostle Thomas, who needs more tangible signs of the reality of Christ.
The Church calls us to find truth in the message of the Gospel, the words of Jesus, Himself. The necessity of drawing closer to Christ is becoming evident in loneliness and emptiness in genuine human engagement. The call to discipleship is still open to us all. The challenge, of course, to witness to Jesus Christ still draws us closer and closer to Him in this world filled with difficult interpersonal relationships. Jesus is “for real” and encountering Him in the Gospels teaches us how much we really need to enter into the fellowship of disciples with Him. To create a culture of witness, we must live explicit lives of discipleship. Being a disciple, as we learn from the Gospel, is a challenge. Fortunately, one does not become a disciple of Christ on his or her own initiative. The work of the Holy Spirit within the Christian community—the Church—forms the person as a disciple of Christ. One taking the message of Jesus, finds truth in holiness—the acceptance of humility. One seeking to learn how to be a disciple of Christ does so through accompaniment—becoming friends with Jesus. This action, we believe, links an experienced Christian believer, or mentor, with one who seeks a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church. Discipleship is an essential element in witnessing to the Gospel message—learning from Christ Himself, and partnering with Him and His friends. Furthermore, this relationship is a “guided encounter with the entire Christian life, a journey toward conversion to Christ. It is a school for discipleship that promotes an authentic following of Christ based on the acceptance of one’s baptismal responsibilities, the internalization of the word of God, and the transformation of the whole person to authentic ‘life in Christ.’” (National Directory for Catechesis: no. 29.H.)
Learn to pray. It’s communication with God that develops the interior life of Faith. Faith grows and becomes the necessary part of trust that God’s Spirit is with us. The more we come to trust Jesus—the reality of His presence with us will make us more deeply lovers of God and His ways will become more our ways.Baptism and Eucharist are the sacraments that empower us on this journey of life with Christ. The more we move in the grace of these sacraments, in particular, the more eager we become disciples of the Risen Christ as our personal friend. I suggest reading the Gospels and taking time to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church—these become lifelines enabling you to know and love Jesus Christ; that makes all the difference in the world in promoting your ability to act as an authentic disciple, believing and rejoicing in the reality of Christ in your daily life!
Most Reverend William Patrick
Callahan is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Published in the July/August 2021 Catholic Life Issue