skip to main content

Cardinal Dulles: Young Catholics, Faith, and Discipleship


Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham.
Photo by Chris Taggart

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Fordham’s Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society, told an audience of Upper East Side parishioners that young Catholics today have an “openness” to their faith, but that they struggle to make a commitment to it because the modern world pulls them in so many directions.

Cardinal Dulles, who lectured on “Becoming A Community of Disciples,” to more than 300 parishioners at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on March 5, called Catholicism an “option — but one of so many options” that young people have today, and said that outside stimuli undermine their faith. He said that, through retreats, volunteerism and other programs, local parishes could intensify the solidarity of the faith for today’s young parishioners.

“We [as Catholics]have to work very hard to develop in them a sense of discipleship,” he said. “We have to testify to the Catholic faith in our schools and parishes, so that they don’t continue to drift away.”

The cardinal was invited to speak at the parish by Gerald R. Blaszczak, S.J., pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola and former vice president for mission and ministry at Fordham. Father Blaszczak welcomed Cardinal Dulles by recalling an essay the cardinal wrote on his patron theologian, St. Robert Bellarmine. Father Blaszczak said the cardinal’s essay gave a “glimpse into the self” of its author, and suggested that the cardinal and the saint were both men who possessed the “greatest virtue” of loyalty to the Holy See, the church, the religious order and to God.

In his lecture, Cardinal Dulles referred to the church model of “discipleship” as having a particular relevance to parish life, and as bringing the church together by inspiring strong personal commitment among both clergy and laity. (Cardinal Dulles, in his book Models of the Church, (Random House, 1974, revised 1988) cites several roles of the church, which include institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, servant, and community of disciples.) To be a disciple, the cardinal said, one must first be a believer in Jesus as teacher and prophet. Discipleship, he said, requires receptivity, such as a willingness to assimilate the ideas and attitudes of the master, and also requires activity to create a chain of discipleship. He outlined the history of discipleship, starting with Jesus’ followers and culminating, today, in church communities of “believers . . . as fellow-disciples on the same journey.” The mission of the lay faithful, he said, is to make the church “present and operative in the family, the neighborhood, the marketplace and the public square.”

Cardinal Dulles said that the term “ministry,” like discipleship, as an inclusive term.

“The contemporary usage helps us to understand that all Christians, ordained or unordained, are under one master, Jesus Christ, and are engaged in a common enterprise; to spread the gospel, build up the church and thereby save and sanctify the world,” he said. “The laity have an important part of their own in the [church]life.”

Cardinal Dulles said that the “discipleship” model of the church is limited in its scope to the “terrestrial” phase of church life (i.e., the here and now) as opposed to the heavenly, or eternal, church. But the community of disciples “deserves an honored place” among church models because of its particular relevance to parish life.

“In spite of its limitations, it can stimulate and inspire personal commitment among clergy and laity alike,” he said. “The more intensely you are ignited by the flame of the Gospel, the more vibrantly you will go out and spread the word.”

– Janet Sassi


Comments are closed.