As we celebrate the great and solemn Feast of Pentecost (the birthday of the Church), it’s good to consider the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to us in Confirmation, much the same way the Apostles were confirmed in faith on that first Pentecost Sunday. They were strengthened to go out to a belligerent crowd and convert them. It was necessary for them to receive the Holy Spirit in order to be able to heed Jesus’ command: “Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News!” (Mk 16:15)
This is the mission entrusted to all Christians by Jesus Christ. These words from the Gospel of Saint Mark summarize what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This word – disciple – is the subject of much interest today, with books and articles being written about how to form disciples through the Church’s evangelizing and catechetical work. But just what is a disciple?
I think I can suggest an answer to that question by recalling a pop song, written and recorded by the Bee Gees in 1977: “How Deep Is Your Love?” It was used as part of the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever, among music’s top five best selling soundtrack albums. So, what does this song from the disco era of the 1970’s have to do with discipleship? The lyrics suggest some answers if we consider the song as part of a conversation, with God asking us the question, “How deep is your love?” Our answer is in the lines, “I believe in you … You know the door to my very soul … You’re the light in my deepest darkest hour … You’re my savior when I fall … And you may not think … That I care for you … When you know down inside … That I really do.” Discipleship is our answer to the question that God asks us, “How deep is your love for Me?”
The song also suggests another answer that comes from the word disco. The word “disciple,” that has its roots in the word disco (not a genre of music from the 70’s, but Latin for “I learn.”) The disciple is one who learns from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This learning is not from dusty tomes or ancient manuscripts, but from the very person of Jesus Christ, risen and alive today, through an immediate and personal relationship with him and his Church. This relationship does not – indeed, cannot – leave a person as he or she was before. The true disciple, then, is the one who becomes such a student of the Master that his very life conforms to Christ’s life.You may have seen the YouTube video, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.” That message has a certain popular appeal, but it is not what Jesus taught. Jesus founded the Catholic Church. He loves the Church. If you hate the Church, then you hate what Jesus loves and you reject the gift that He gave us. You cannot love Jesus without loving the Church along with the sacraments that He gave us as the path to His Father’s heavenly Kingdom.
You have also heard the statistic that the second-largest religious group in the United States is non-practicing Catholics. So the choice here is stark: will you choose to be a disciple, to love Jesus and His Church, or will you join those who, (like Judas) once confirmed, walk out the door never to come back? How deep is your love? If your love is deep enough to make a commitment to be a disciple, a committed follower Jesus Christ, He will send the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, too, in that commitment. By sending forth His Spirit to us, Jesus is asking us to commit ourselves to a personal relationship with God. What does that mean? When we have a personal relationship with someone, there is mutual communication and reciprocal giving of oneself to the other. If I ask you a question, most likely you would respond in some way. If I give you a gift, you would at least say ‘thank you,’ and you might give me a gift in return.
That is what it means to be a Christian. That is what happens when we go to celebrate Mass and receive Jesus each weekend. God speaks to us in the words of the Bible and the preaching of the priest or deacon that we hear during the first part of Mass. But, then it is our turn to respond. Our response is the Creed (or the renewal of baptismal promises) when we say that we believe what God has spoken to us. Then, Jesus gives us the gift of His love and His real Presence in Holy Communion. We are called to say ‘thank you,’ to reciprocate that love, and to put it effect in our lives when we are blessed at the end of Mass and sent forth to manifest God’s love in the world through our words and actions. It is only after we have intentionally dedicated ourselves as disciples – when the process of conversion has begun in our own hearts and we have taken up his cross – that we can, in turn, introduce Christ to others. Ultimately this leads to a complete transformation of a society that has embraced death, neglected the poor, and turned its back on the very source of our existence.
And so, I ask: “How deep is your love?”