An ancient path to holiness
From the very beginning, the process of becoming a disciple of Jesus has been the same. Even though 2,000 years have passed, the simple three-step process has endured. In technical, theological terms it goes like this: koinonia (encounter), ketanoia (transformation), diaconia (service).
Let’s take me as an example: When I was a teen, I had some pretty powerful spiritual experiences. Through retreats, youth ministry, and my parish involvement I had profound encounters with Jesus, and all of a sudden, the faith that had been handed down by my family became my own.
As a result of these koinonia moments, I was a changed person. No longer was I dreaming of a career in law enforcement; I wanted to be a youth minister. No longer was I being “forced” to go to Mass; I enjoyed participating in the liturgy. I desired to be at Church as often as possible. I made deep friendships with youth at my parish and other Christians at school. In short, my whole worldview was changing.
As a result of this metanoia in my focus and desires, I was quickly involved in leadership opportunities at the parish and diocesan level. My initial diaconia was helping in youth ministry, service to those in need, and even poorly singing in the choir.
I, at the time, had no idea I was living the age-old process of discipleship, I was just doing what came naturally. Encountering Jesus had changed me, and I wanted to put that faith into action.
The trick was to keep that going for the rest of my life. Luckily, I had some amazing people to look up to and be encouraged by. There were various leaders and mentors at my parish and in the world of youth ministry that I leaned on and learned from. But just as important as the more local people in my life were two modern saints. St. Pope John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta were huge inspirations.
For me John Paul II was the face of the Church looking at me and loving me, a young adult Catholic. He was seemingly saying, “I love you so much, I am going to meet you every few years at a different city so we can experience the love of Jesus together.” I was blessed to attend World Youth Day in Denver, and it is an experience I will never forget.
At the same time, Mother Teresa was exploding in popularity, and I began to read her books and watch any interview I could find of her. Everything I read and heard inspired me and my ideas on what it meant to be a youth minister and disciple of Jesus. After her death I read Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta and in it she speaks about not always feeling the presence of Jesus, but that never stopped her from being one of his greatest disciples.
I read that book at a time in my life when my faith did not feel as vibrant as it did as a young adult at World Youth Day, and it gave me strength and inspiration to make a daily decision to live for Jesus, no matter how I felt.
Of course, having saints as role models can be a bit daunting if we make direct comparisons, but for me, these two people have helped me to stay focused on Jesus; to trust that initial encounter; to strive for continued transformation; and to keep serving those the Lord puts in front of me.
The three-step process of discipleship is simple, but not easy. Yet, with people around me striving to do the same thing, and the saints in heaven as proof it is possible, the daily choice to follow Jesus is as fresh as it is ancient.