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November 14, 2011

In his catechesis at the Oct. 27 Nothing More Beautiful session, Archbishop Richard Smith provided a succinct, thorough overview of Christian discipleship. The text of his talk, which consumed four pages in last week's WCR, might not seem concise. However, rare is the talk that would more concisely provide a thorough-going alternative to the faulty notion that being a Catholic means a life of following rules.

The archbishop hangs his hat on the Second Vatican Council's teaching that the meaning of Christ's revelation is expressed not only by his words, but also through his actions. When we try to live as Christ lived – that is, to be a disciple – we run up against our own hypocrisy. Our actions never measure up to what we say we believe.

How can we overcome that gap between our words and actions? We can't. It can only happen to the extent that we allow Christ to act through us. We cannot save ourselves; we are dependent on grace. We do not choose to be Christ's disciples; he chooses us.

However, we must respond to Christ's offer of salvation. We respond not simply by doing what is right, but by surrendering to the will of God. "Surrender" and "obedience" are difficult words for we who are in pursuit of autonomy. The archbishop makes these ideas more palatable by talking in terms of allowing Jesus to look at us, allowing Jesus to speak to us and allowing Jesus to lead us.

The archbishop's emphasis is not on sin, but rather on God's unconditional love. But as we allow Jesus to look at us, we see not only his love, but also the ways we betray that love.

In allowing Jesus to speak to us, we hear the call to "a communion of love with him." Although the archbishop does not say this, we also find the basis for an examination of conscience more effective than trolling through a list of possible sins.

We hear Jesus' call to purify ourselves so that our communion with him might be full.

Third, we allow Jesus to lead us. We do not lead him. "He knows how the plan of salvation is to be worked out in our own individual lives." Inevitably, that means a readiness to have our lives patterned on the way of the cross.

The cross involves a continual letting-go of illusions and attachments that prevent us from leading authentic Christian lives. It also means turning to God in prayer, sharing in the prayer of Jesus himself. It is through the prayer of surrender, the prayer that can push us to the ground in agony, that we become disciples.

This editorial is an all-too-brief summary of Archbishop Smith's own summary of Christian living. The bishop is the chief teacher of the faith for the local Church. Here is one text that all Catholics would do well to ponder as we strive to live a life more fully in tune with the grace that Jesus offers.