| By Dr. Mike Martocchio

Discipleship: Back to the School of the Lord

As summer draws to a close each year, our society enters back-to-school mode. This year, that takes on new significance, as our society is also in back-to-normal mode. All the commercials we see celebrate this time of year by urging us to get ready: buy the right supplies, get new clothes that fit and generally just be prepared for the exercise of learning that the academic year represents.

As Christians, the rhythm of life and the fact that academics structure so much of our lives provide a great opportunity for us to reflect. Learning and growing are characteristic parts of who we are as humans, and we are reminded that we are always in school.

In the New Testament, disciple is the characteristic way of referring to the followers of Jesus. When we embrace our identity as disciples, we are learning and being formed in a way of life at the feet of the master teacher, Christ himself. So, we should always be in the back-to-school mode, constantly preparing ourselves to hear the Gospel message of salvation in ever new and deeper ways.

Too often, we think of learning as something children do, but learning is part of life at all ages, times and seasons. An important part of being a disciple is to realize that one is on a journey of discovery. When we lose the sense of wonder at the Good News, we either fall into a stale lifestyle of superficial worship or fall away completely — but the Gospel is ever-new and ever-relevant to our ever-changing lives.

Our struggles as Christian disciples come from us resigning ourselves to the notion that our growth, learning and journey with the Lord are complete. We forget the fact that we are disciples, mistakenly thinking that we are the masters. To excuse ourselves from digging deeper into our faith, we say things like, “I went to 12 years of Catholic school” or “I never missed a day of religious education.” When we say such things, we treat God as if he were merely an idea, or a finite abstract concept that can be grasped and then surpassed.

While we can certainly talk about the idea of God, we don’t simply believe in or have faith in a concept. Faith is not just an intellectual agreement with an idea or even a whole set of ideas. It is a relationship with a God who is personal. In other words, our growing knowledge is not solely academic knowledge, rather, it is personal and relational knowledge. When we, as adults, try to fit our eighth-grade or even our 12th-grade understanding of the faith — sometimes based on a mere conceptualization of God — into an adult’s life, we often find it lacking.

By contrast, when we constantly approach the Gospel anew, with fresh eyes and open hearts, we find the fruitfulness that it holds for our lives and begin to grow in ways we never thought possible.

Michael Martocchio, Ph.D., is the diocesan secretary for evangelization and director of the Office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation. Email him at mmartocchio@charlestondiocese.org.