In 2018, FAITH continues to offer the column, Discipleship 101, based on Sherry Weddell’s books, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (2012) and Fruitful Discipleship: Living the Mission of Jesus in the Church and the World (2017). Sherry is a leading voice in the Catholic world in the field of forming missionary disciples – engaged Catholics who strive to grow as disciples of Jesus and go evangelize, sharing the Gospel with others.
A previous Discipleship 101 column listed the five thresholds of conversion: initial trust; spiritual curiosity; spiritual openness; spiritual seeking; and intentional discipleship. In looking at the first threshold, we ask the question: What do we mean by trust in this context?
The threshold of trust is not the same as active personal faith. Trust, in this case, refers just to a basic, felt trust of something or someone associated with Christ or the Church. What this means can vary widely.
A dear friend of mine, raised in a completely nonreligious household, somehow came to the conclusion as a child that Christmas wasn’t Christmas if he hadn’t heard Linus recite the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas. He trusted in the goodness of that story, though he didn’t learn anything else about Christianity for many years. A cartoon was his initial bridge of trust.
Another close friend lives in the Persian Gulf, speaks Arabic fluently, and often goes places few Western women ever visit. She has lived for 25 years in a Muslim context in order to be a living witness to Jesus and his kingdom. She has become friends with a Sudanese Muslim who had a wonderful experience as a student at a Catholic girls’ school. Her experience in that Catholic school was her bridge of trust. It disposed her to trust a Western Christian like my friend.
The first task of evangelization is to find out if a bridge of trust already exists. Does our friend or colleague or roommate or family member trust or have some kind of positive association with Jesus Christ, the Church, a believer, or something identifiably Christian? If this trust does not already exist, then our first job as an evangelizer is to help build that bridge.
This is especially vital now that a fundamental distrust of Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular is the new normal in many places. After a decade of scandal, Catholics must work hard to earn trust – in some parts of the country and in some situations more than others. Where trust has been severely violated, it can be difficult to build or restore. Although effective Catholic media can help, we earn such trust primarily through relationships: through the integrity, compassion, warmth, and joy of our own life and faith. Even excellent Catholic media often do not have the impact of a radiant personal witness.
Most active Catholics are at least at the threshold of trust. Many non-practicing Catholics and “former” Catholics do not have a bridge of trust in place, which would enable them to retrace their steps. As we work to rebuild trust or to build it for the first time, we must pray and work to avoid the natural reactions to the distrust directed at us. We need to avoid such things as defensiveness, seeing ourselves as a “victim,” and avoiding or judging those who don’t trust us
Many don’t trust God or the Church, but they do trust a Christian in their life. Maybe they trust you. You may be the bridge that one day will lead them to a life-changing encounter with Christ.
Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, Sherry A. Weddell, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012, pp. 132-133, 134