Many advertisements not only entice us to purchase a product, but they also invite us to prioritize our lives around an idea. Some of the best examples of this are diet plans, which are no longer just about losing a few pounds but adopting a new lifestyle. When I stroll into the kitchen at Loyola Press during lunchtime, I see various coworkers meticulously preparing their dishes according to the philosophy and strategy of whatever plan they have committed to. They are not skipping meals; they are eating differently. And, to their credit, the results are often quite obvious as they appear slimmer and healthier-looking over time.
The invitation that we catechists offer to those we teach should follow the same approach. We are not just inviting people to stop doing sinful things. We must be about the work of helping them live differently. We are not just inviting them to “sprinkle a little Jesus” on top of their existing lives to add flavor. We are not inviting people to admire Jesus or to become fans of Jesus. We are not inviting them to be interested in Jesus. We are inviting them to make a commitment to Jesus and to deepen their relationship with him. To enter into a relationship with Jesus requires that we re-prioritize our lives, adopting a new philosophy and strategy for living to create a new lifestyle—to embark upon a better way of being human.
Relationships change us. The further we pursue a relationship, the more it changes us. This is why we can often tell if someone has fallen in love or entered into an unhealthy relationship. We notice a change in the way the person acts, the way he or she looks, how and where the person spends his or her time, and who she or he spends time with. Whether positive or negative, relationships change us and cause us to shift our priorities. Our goal is to invite those we teach into a relationship with Jesus—a relationship that will bring about changes in their lives and cause them to prioritize Jesus and his mission at the center of their lives.
Relationships require work. They require discipline. This is why, during Lent, we practice the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—the three main ingredients in the discipleship diet. And, an individual’s chances of “success” will improve if she or he has support instead of trying to go it alone. Dieticians usually recommend that a person follows a plan and does not go it alone. In their advertisements, the Jenny Craig weight-loss program emphasizes the “power of personal support” as a constitutive part of its program. (Customers are assigned a personal consultant to connect with at least once a week.) The logic is that remaining faithful to a commitment stands a better chance of success when there is structure and support.
In our faith formation, we tend to have structure of content, but we need to get much better at providing support that helps people to embrace and internalize the concepts we are proposing. This is not a new concept for the Catholic Church. Since the earliest times of the Church, Christians have provided sponsors for Christian initiation. In recent times, however, the role of the sponsor has unfortunately devolved into a role that is primarily ceremonial. We need to retrieve the role of sponsor as a true mentor in faith formation so that newer disciples have the support of more seasoned disciples as they seek to implement the lifestyle changes that go with following Jesus. Mentors help to prepare hearts and minds. Without such support, the seeds of faith too often fall on rocky soil and do not take root.
This Lent, as you help those you teach to live differently, consider ways of creating a support system (perhaps creating mentoring relationships or teams/small groups) so that no one has to go it alone in practicing the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.