As Catholics, we have a desire to know the Lord, to deepen our relationship with God. To somehow invite Jesus Christ, who pursues us each personally, into every part of our lives.
So much goes into intentional discipleship. Sherry Weddell calls it “the decision to ‘drop one’s nets,’ to make a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one’s life accordingly.”1 We have our interior, contemplative life; our sacramental life of worship; our encounter of Christ, the living Word, through Scripture; our expressive actions of charity; our steady rhythm of virtuous conduct; our joy of sharing the Good News; and our life-giving fellowship of community. Each of these gifts has a place of priority in our Christian lives when our lives are centered on God. Each of them affirms the human dignity of every person. And each of these gifts is composed of many different expressions of the faith.
DeSales Media recently worked with Vinea Research to conduct a study on Catholic intentional disciples in the United States. The goal was to better understand the spiritual lives of this small but significant segment of Catholics, and to learn what their unmet needs are.
The response was considerable. We heard from 3,137 devout Catholics2 about topics ranging from their faith lives and faith sharing, to spiritual direction, community, and use of technology.
5 Things Catholics Can Do To Go Deeper In Discipleship
Now that we have the hard data, we can report with statistical significance that even the most devout Catholics have room to grow in many areas:
1. Mass Attendance
Let’s start with worship. We all know of our obligation and privilege to go to Holy Mass on Sundays. And we all know that we could go to Mass every day of the week. But do we? Do we express our healthy interior life through frequent communal praise and worship and through the celebration of the Eucharist?
75% of devout Catholics attend Mass more than the month’s weekly obligations. But a full 54% are attending Mass just five times per month—that’s at most one extra Mass in an entire month. And, one in four respondents only attends Mass weekly, on average. Could an extra session of glorifying the Lord with fellow Catholics be an upcoming Advent or Lenten resolution for you?
2. Prayer Life
Prayer is the key to the interior life—our personal link to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, wrote that “active works must begin and end in the interior life, and, in it, find their means.” 3He even goes so far as to state that “the interior life is the condition on which the fruitfulness of active works depends.”4
If our prayer life is this important, are we treating it that way? 69% of devout Catholics pray every day, with the rosary being the most popular type of prayer. The average is a mean of 6.12 days of prayer per week, and a mean of 1 hour 19 minutes of prayer per day. That’s an ample amount of time in prayer, although the stat is padded by those praying more than three hours per day. The reality is that 61% are praying an hour or less per day, and 31% are not praying every day.
Consider adding a rosary or even silent, personal prayer when structuring your busy days. Not quite sure where to start when the moment comes and it’s just you and God? Pick up a book on prayer as a guide to get you started. I recommend Praying the Truth by William A. Barry.
And plan it. Building prayer into your calendar at the beginning or end of your day—or even as a break at lunchtime—greatly increases your chance of actually honoring your commitment to that time with God.
Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.– Saint Teresa of Calcutta5
Humility sounds so simple. And yet 71% of respondents stated that they have little or no strength in this area. What is it about selflessness that eludes us? For one, the materialistic “American dream” culture that surrounds us, signaling that whatever we want should be ours in an instant. That grandeur is to be our every aspiration; force, our mode of getting it; and pride, our reward. When it comes to humility, only five percent of devout Catholics have a high level of strength. Are you among the 21% who admit to a high need for growth? Do you have the courage to be patient, meek, and lowly? What does that look like in your life?
4. Making A Retreat
All Catholic religious, priests, and seminarians are required by canon law to make an annual retreat. No such requirement is made of laypeople, but we are equally invited to the universal call to holiness. So why go on retreat? In short, because Jesus did. Devout Catholics regularly seek deeper unity with Christ, and they know that silence and solitude are more necessary than ever to unplug from our noisy lives. And yet, 80% of survey respondents have little or no strength in going on retreat, and a full 30% recognize a high need for growth in this area.
Have you made a retreat yet this year? There are all kinds. You can go with a group, or your spouse, or alone. It can be structured or unstructured. It can be for a day, a weekend, or a whole week. Take a moment to do a web search for retreat houses in your area. See what they offer. Call one up, and get it on the calendar. It might just be your favorite vacation all year.
For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.– Galatians 5:13
As humans, sin—which we might helpfully call transgressions, shortcomings, or insecurities—is inevitable. As Christians, we do our best to avoid sin and the near occasion of sin. And as Catholics, we know “There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive,”6 and that this forgiveness is granted through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Which, last time I checked, is readily available at almost every parish—provided you have some free time on Saturday afternoon.
But devout Catholics aren’t prioritizing it. 57% report little or no level of strength in regularly going to confession, and only 18% recognize a high need for growth in this area. “Regularly” will depend on your need (with a minimum of once per year for the holiest of disciples). If you haven’t been in a while, the vulnerability to expose your insecurities can be palpable. Ask God to lift your burden and change your heart and mind. Look up the confession times of your local parish (or another nearby), and take part in the only other sacrament besides the Eucharist that we get to receive regularly.
But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification, and its end is eternal life.– Romans 6:22
Further areas of growth for Catholics
From the study on intentional disciples, we know where devout Catholics’ strengths and weaknesses lie, and we know where they recognize a need for growth, such as:
- Performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy
- Finding a spiritual director
- Comfortability and proactivity in sharing the faith
- Community involvement, especially in faith groups
- The physical and digital aids used in living out the faith
To read through these and many more aspects of the faith through the eyes of devout Catholics, download the entire insights report for free here.
1. Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), 130.
2. It’s difficult to make assumptions about people’s interior lives based on external signals. Yet to ask “are you an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ?” outright can be off putting. Not to mention, people have their own idea of what this might mean, and whether they “qualify.” DeSales Media designed the study with these criteria in mind:
- First, all survey respondents needed to be Christian, specifically Catholic, in the US, and attending Mass at least four times per month
- We then removed a further 186 respondents because:
- They said that faith is “not a significant part” or “limited to a familial or cultural part of who I am”
- They never pray outside of Mass
- Faith has zero impact on their Family, Social, or Interior Life
…leaving a final sample size of 3,137 devout Catholics.
3. Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, The Soul of the Apostolate (Trappist: Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1946; Charlotte: TAN Books, 2012), 56.
4. Ibid, 111.
5. Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers (The Mother Teresa Reader, A Life for God, Servant Publications, 1995; Novato: New World Library, 1997).
6. Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995), §981
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