In the early 1940s, the Nazis dominated many countries in central Europe. And they were not neutral toward religion. They sought to destroy the Catholic Church, sending thousands of priests and religious to concentration camps, silencing any opposition from religious leaders, prohibiting most public expressions of faith and outlawing education in the Christian life. The goal was to prevent the Faith from being passed on to the younger generation and to indoctrinate young people in the Nazi ideology at school, in the media and in government-sponsored activities.
In this time of crisis, some laypeople heroically stepped up to lead underground groups and pass on the Faith to the youth. One man named Jan Tyranowski led one of the most successful of these clandestine ministries with college-aged men, calling them Living Rosary groups.
Jan was a tailor in Nazi-ruled Poland. He was not a priest and had no formal training in theology. But at the risk of his own life, he opened his apartment to several young men to instruct them in the spiritual life and train them to form Living Rosary groups of their own with their peers. He was intentional in his ministry, reinforcing the basics of the Faith and helping the men take the next steps in their relationship with Christ. He taught them how to root out sin, go deeper in prayer and discern God’s will. He opened up for them the beauty of the Rosary and the wisdom of the saints. He also trained them for mission, sending them to reach their peers with the Gospel.
His underground ministry had such a profound effect that ten of the men involved went on to become priests. One of those priests was someone named Karol Wojtyła, the man who eventually became Pope St. John Paul II — the pope who had such a tremendous influence on the Church and the world.
That’s the impact one ordinary Christian can have when they pour their life into accompanying others in Christian discipleship and mission. Venerable Jan Tyranowski may be one of the most influential people of the 20th century. It’s not because he rose to wealth, fame or power. It’s not for any great accomplishment that will ever be featured on CNN or secure a Nobel Prize. Rather, Jan simply invested himself personally in a few good men, leading them to encounter Christ at a deeper level and training them to go out and do the same for others. And those men went on to do great things, playing a crucial role in helping to preserve Catholic culture in Poland in a time of crisis. The world may have never known Pope St. John Paul II if it wasn’t for the missionary discipleship of Jan Tyranowski.
We might not be living under a totalitarian regime, but we do live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. Almost everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with a secular outlook on life: in the shows we watch, in the music we listen to, in our schools, in our workplaces and with our peers. Who am I? Why am I here? What is love? What is marriage? What brings true happiness? Is there moral truth? Is there a God?
Many young people go to college without ever hearing the Gospel message or having the opportunity to be formed as a Christian disciple. Married couples don’t get much support from the culture to live a Christian marriage. Parents struggle to raise kids in today’s world, and parish leaders recognize that traditional methods of passing on the Faith aren’t working in the new cultural situation. Like Poland in the 1940s, the Church once again needs missionary disciples like Jan Tyranowski who will work against this cultural opposition, form others to live as disciples of Jesus and train them to reach their peers with the Gospel.
That’s why your mission to walk with others in discipleship is so important, and it comes with tremendous responsibility. The way you go about discipleship matters: how much prayer and planning you put into it; how well you form others in the Faith; how well you train them for mission. If done well, with the right vision and with great care, you, like Jan Tyranowski, can change the world. If that’s going to happen, our discipleship with others must be intentional, like Jan’s.
What made Jan Tyranowski’s work in discipleship so powerful? He didn’t just hang out with his men and get to know them. He certainly lived authentic friendship with them, but he did so with a purpose: to invite them to become missionary disciples themselves. He didn’t just show up for meetings and shoot from the hip. He didn’t just start another program. And he did a lot more than pray with his men, help them with their problems and hold them accountable. He likely did some of that, but he also gave those he was leading an intentional formation in the Faith and equipped them to go out to reach others.
Discover more stories of dynamic, transformative discipleship like Venerable Jan Tyranowski’s in “Foundations for Discipleship,” by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) leaders Curtis Martin and Dr. Edward Sri. This is an excerpt from the newly published book that is a tool to form and accompany others on their journey as Christian disciples.
For use with small groups or individuals, the captivating articles in this recently released book from FOCUS, published by OSV, provide the roadmap for training in the basic skills of Christian living and evangelization, including:
- How to live “The Little Way of Evangelization”
- How to accompany others on the journey of “Win,” “Build,” and “Send”
- How to help others grow in prayer, Eucharistic devotion, Christian friendship, and care for the poor
- How to share the Gospel and your testimony
- How to deepen one’s own interior life, from which all evangelization flows
- How to invite others into mission
“Foundations for Discipleship” is a toolbox for leaders who want to walk with others in discipleship. If someone reads it alone, it might change one life; if used to lead others, that one person might change the world.
Making Missionary Disciples with Curtis Martin
By autora fotografii nie udało się ustalić – Archiwum parafii św. Stanisława Kostki w Krakowie, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55639063