I keep coming back to the theme of intentional discipleship. It’s come up in the last two columns I’ve written — and that’s because it comes up repeatedly in my thoughts.
Please don’t get me wrong. It’s not because I’m Mr. Zealous, eager every morning at 6 a.m. to conquer every last minute of my day for Jesus Christ.
I am, in fact, inclined more in the opposite direction. I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I’m easily distracted from the tasks that need to get done. By temperament I’m quick to find reasons for discouragement — reasons to give up. I have an innate sympathy for Grumpy Cat.
And so I recognize that, for me (and maybe for you, too), “intention” can’t simply be a matter of impulse toward conversion or an act performed long ago.
I’m an adult convert to the Catholic faith. So I remember vividly the thrill that came with each discovery along the way. I remember discovering Jesus. I can recall the major moments along the way there, and the major realizations that followed.
I made the momentous decision to answer Jesus’ call to the priesthood. And I managed to get through years of seminary and arrive on time for my ordination.
Those mountain peaks are easy for me to remember. But in between there were many gradual slopes, long plateaus and tedious stretches of trail. There were even times when I couldn’t seem to find the path, and times when the peaks seemed somewhat inaccessible.
Energy runs out. Attention wanders. This happens not only in the course of years and months. It can even happen in the course of a day.
Intention is not something that’s once-and-done, stated and crated. It’s not just the matter of a moment. Anything that’s worthwhile — conversion, vocation, lasting love, holiness — requires regular renewal. And such renewal doesn’t always come naturally. It’s a grace. It comes supernaturally.
We need to renew our intention to be disciples, not just when we feel like it, but — more importantly — when we DON’T feel like it.
And that won’t happen unless we have a disciplined life of prayer. We need to cultivate the habit of renewing our intention — and our Catholic tradition teaches us many ways to do that. Here are a few.
Start each day with a morning offering — “intention” is the theme of this form of prayer; it dedicates, in advance, everything that will happen in the day ahead. There are many standard forms of this prayer. (Here’s the most common one.) But you can use your own words, too, if you can’t remember in your grogginess or can’t find the piece of paper until you’ve found your glasses. The important thing is to make the gift, make the dedication, make the offering. God has given the day to you. This is our moment to give it back — intentionally — every day.Try to make it to Mass on at least one weekday. Lots of people go to daily Mass, but not everyone can. Yet it’s good to find at least one day every week when we can do it. Scan the Mass times of the parishes near your home or work; you’ll likely find an evening or early-morning or noontime Mass you can attend. Once you’ve found it, fix your day — make it the most important appointment of your week. The Mass is the source and summit of our spiritual life. It is, by far, the best way to renew our intention, re-charge the battery and refocus the mind.Say the rosary every day. If you don’t think you can get through the whole thing, make a commitment to pray at least one decade. The rosary will train you in meditation, in the struggle to keep focus on the life of Jesus Christ, in all its particulars. It will teach you how to engage your senses, with the sound of the prayers and the feel of the beads. And it will keep you close to Jesus’ mother (and yours); she wants us to succeed.
There’s much more we can do. Catholic tradition is a rich treasury of spiritual means of renewal. But we need to open it up for ourselves — and own it. We need to be intentional about it, in a regular, disciplined, daily way. God gives us the grace, but won’t force our hand or coerce us. Jesus waits for us to state our intention freely — to be his disciples.