Book on discipleship that was sent to priests can challenge, help everyone
Reviewed by Father Luke Spannagel
Sometimes in the midst of a conversation with someone after Mass or in passing, a person might ask me for a book recommendation.
“Father, what would be a good book to learn more about Scripture?”
“Father, is there a good book on the saints that you like?”
If you want to learn more about discipleship or are ready for those next practical steps of growth in your life, I recommend “Into His Likeness” as a great next book for you.
One book that the priests of our Peoria Diocese have in common in recent months is “Into His Likeness,” by Dr. Edward Sri. Bishop Louis Tylka sent this book out to the priests, indicating he had gotten good fruit from reading it and wanted to share with the priests of our diocese.
As hopefully we are all familiar with, Bishop Lou has laid out Five Foundations for our diocese as we look to the future which will guide our growth and living: Evangelization, Discipleship, Deepening Faith in the Eucharist, Promoting Vocations, and Continuing the Legacy of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. In “Into His Likeness,” Sri gives us a great overview of discipleship and provides some practical challenges for helping us grow as disciples of Jesus.
“Into His Likeness” is laid out in three main parts, moving from an overview of discipleship to the transforming encounter with Jesus to thoughts and challenges for daily living as disciples. Throughout the book, Sri provides examples to show what being a disciple looks like in the midst of each day.
Each chapter ends with reflection questions which could be great for prayer, journaling, or discussion among trusted family and friends. For example, “Do you want a closer friendship with Christ? If so, what would it take to have him more at the center?”
Another example: “Think of a weakness you’ve had for many years. Why do you think God has allowed you to continue in this struggle? God can bring good even out of evil. Has this weakness helped you grow in patience, trust or humility? Has it made you more understanding and compassionate with other’s faults? Has it drawn you closer to God in prayer as you pour your heart out to him for help? Or do you perhaps persist in this sin because, deep down, you don’t want to give it up?” (p. 93).
If those questions get you thinking or praying, I’m happy to say there are many more throughout this book.
Sri begins and ends this book by looking at St. Peter, who in many ways is a great model for us. I often find St. Peter so relatable, because he has these amazing moments of faith . . . but of course also moments where his sins and weaknesses are so obvious. In the midst of this up and down, St. Peter is called by Jesus; chooses to follow Him; is transformed through life with Jesus; and ultimately fulfills his calling and serves as a great witness for us.
As Sri says, “The story of Peter’s transformation is the story God wants to write in the hearts of all disciples.” As he continues, “Jesus wants to meet us where we are, as we are, with all our fears, wounds, and sins, and transform our [hearts that love with human love into hearts that love with a total, unconditional love].”
So what is a disciple? As Sri teaches, in the time of Jesus, discipleship was about “imitation.” A disciple would follow someone, live life with him, and imitate different aspects of his life. For us as Christians, of course, we are following Jesus. Much more than just learning the life events and teachings, discipleship is a following that touches all parts of our lives. We are challenged to go beyond the surface . . . “we must aim for a lot more than believing a set of doctrines and following the rules of our faith. We must go deeper and consider what’s happening interiorly in our spiritual lives: Are we moving closer to Christ, encountering him anew each day and becoming more like him? Do we intentionally strive to live like him, think like him, and love like him? Being a disciple of Jesus is not about merely going through the motions with our faith — attending Mass, saying some prayers, and avoiding bad things. Following Jesus as a disciple is a whole way of life — his way of life transforming us.”
Of course, this transformation presupposes that we have the humility to recognize where we need to grow/change, and a willingness to let Jesus be at work in our hearts. As followers of Jesus, we are learners, but also we are also growing in a relationship with Jesus such that our hearts are changing because of that closeness — and because of the work Jesus is doing in us through the life of prayer, sacraments, and our life with one another.
Sri warns against the problem of following Jesus with our own terms and conditions, which limit our openness to the work of Jesus. He reminds us that the work of transformation in our hearts takes time. “And all along the way, we learn a most important lesson: the whole process of being changed into Christ’s likeness is ultimately God’s work.” What helps us? Seeing how God loves us, receiving His forgiveness, wanting to be healed/changed, and letting Jesus do that work in us — these are a great start!
How about a few practical takeaways to get us started? As Sri notes, “The Bible underscores four key practices that mark the earliest followers of Jesus. We could think of these as the four key habits of a disciple. If we want our faith to be sustained, we need these four habits in our daily lives. Acts 2:42 tells us that the disciples devoted themselves to: 1. The teaching of the Apostles; 2. Fellowship; 3. The breaking of bread; 4. Prayers.”
Sri ends “Into His Likeness” with a prayer for us: St. Peter’s “transformation as a disciple reminds us of the hope summed up in the saying ‘Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.’ May you now shape your future by allowing God to transform you into his likeness as a disciple.”
If you want to learn more about discipleship or are ready for those next practical steps of growth in your life — or are just wanting the joy of knowing you have read the same book as our bishop and priests — I recommend “Into His Likeness” as a great next book for you!
FATHER LUKE SPANNAGEL is a member of The Catholic Post’s book review team. He is parochial vicar of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sacred Heart, and St. Bernard parishes in Peoria and one of 58 priests serving as National Eucharistic Preachers during the National Eucharistic Revival.