As a Church, we talk a lot about making disciples. What we don’t talk a lot about is the central problem facing the Church today: the struggle to live as a disciple.
Right now, the Church is rocked by scandal. The faithful are suffering because of our leaders’ sins—leaders who once were disciples. At some point, those men heard Christ’s call and answered it. But then, they faltered. Some were hurt themselves. Others forgot who they were following and why. And some stumbled, then struggled to get up. For many, living as a disciple proved far harder than becoming a disciple.
This isn’t a new struggle. And it’s not just a struggle of priests and bishops. We see the same struggle repeatedly, both in the Gospels and our own lives.
In the Bible, people get all excited about Jesus when he feeds them bread or heals their sick, but when he preaches about things that are difficult to understand or hard to accept—the Eucharist, his suffering and death, carrying our crosses—those same people turn and walk away.
We see this struggle in our lives, too. So many of us start the journey of discipleship with enthusiasm, only to grow tired and start living the faith with less zeal. Or we stumble and struggle to get back up. Or we discover that we don’t understand why Jesus asks certain things of us and decide we don’t want to do them (or feel like we can’t do them) anymore.
The truth is, discipleship is hard. It’s a continual challenge. So, if you are struggling to follow Jesus right now, you’re not alone.
There is good news, however. None of this surprises Jesus. He’s not shocked by our struggles. He called 12 men to follow him, knowing one would betray him, another would deny him, and the rest would hide in fear. He also has called each of us to himself knowing that we, too, at some point, will struggle, doubt, get tired or give up.
This is why Jesus doesn’t simply call us to discipleship. He calls us to metanoia, to ongoing conversion, to “repent and believe” not just once, but every day of our lives.
In the Gospels, whenever we see the phrase “repent and believe,” the Greek word being translated is metanoia, which means to change or to turn from one thing toward another. That turning is the heart of discipleship. It’s constantly turning away from sin, bad habits, and the ways of the world, and turning toward Jesus instead.
Jesus wants to enter into every corner of our lives. He wants no part of us left untouched by his grace. But that transformation takes time. It’s a long, slow process that unfolds over decades, not days.
Jesus is patient with us. So, even if we stumble and fall, even if we refuse to get up for a month or a decade or more, it’s not too late to enter into the process again. In this life, Jesus’ call to metanoia doesn’t have an expiration date.
During Lent, however, Jesus’ call is amplified. For 40 days (actually a little more), the Church invites us to examine our lives and figure out what holds us back from a closer relationship with Christ. She calls us to repent of sins, both great and small, and place our faith in Jesus in an even deeper way.
Lent is like one big reminder of what it means to live as a disciple. It helps us see that conversion isn’t a once and done decision. It doesn’t end with baptism or confirmation or receiving the sacrament of holy orders. It’s something we’re meant to experience every day of our lives.
This is what Jesus calls each of us to experience. And this is what will help heal our scandal-plagued, suffering Church: each of us answering Jesus’ call to metanoia, each of us choosing to repent and believe, each of us choosing not just to become a disciple but to live as a disciple.
If you need help understanding that call, I hope you will check out my new streaming video series Metanoia. It dives deep into the topics of repentance, conversion and living as a disciple, and you can find it online at wildgoose.tv.
Either way, Lent is now upon us. This year, give your whole heart to it. Hear the call to metanoia in every prayer and every reading in the liturgy and then answer that call in every moment of your life. Turn toward Jesus again and again and again. He is waiting.
Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville and co-founder of the Ministry of the Wild Goose (MWG), is the creator and host of Metanoia, a production of the Ministry of the Wild Goose and 4PM Media in association with Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regular of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.