The Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship welcomes a new Associate Director of Discipleship Formation, one of the five mission areas of our Families of Parishes. He will work under Dr. Marlon De La Torre, the Executive Director of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, and with Laura Piccone-Hanchon (Coordinator of Youth Ministry), Katy Frederick (Coordinator of Small Groups and Youth Ministry Support), and Freeda Marable (Administrative Assistant) who are part of this team serving our parishes.
Get to know our new coworker in mission, Anthony Feola, and what he brings to help unleash the Gospel in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
To get to know you a bit more, can you tell us where you’re from and a little about your personal journey?
I am a revert to the Catholic faith. As an infant, I was baptized in the Catholic Church in my hometown of Muncie, Indiana, followed by first reconciliation and Communion as a second -grader. When my family experienced the tragedy of divorce, we stopped attending Mass. By that time, I was a less-than-nominal Catholic. I did not have a relationship with Jesus. I knew a little about him, but I did not know him. I knew the world. I loved the world. As a result, I became like the world. I had left Christ and his Church behind me.
I lived a life controlled by sin and Satan. This all changed when a young man boldly preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to me. When I placed my faith in Christ and made the wholehearted decision to turn away from my life of sin and surrender everything to him, the seeds of my baptism sprang to life. The power of the Holy Spirit transformed me.
For the next twenty years, I did everything I could to live a life of discipleship and mission for our Lord in a non-Catholic Christian context. I came to know Jesus intimately through his Word, deep prayer and radical mission in some of the most unreached areas of the world. I witnessed many come to Christ, some who had never heard of him before. I never had a thought of returning to the Catholic Church . . . until about eight years ago.
Many things factored into my decision to follow Christ back into his Church, but one thing influenced me above them all: Jesus himself—especially his real presence in the Eucharist. If you would like to hear the rest of the story, give me a call or read my I AM HERE story here!
As the new Associate Director of Discipleship Formation, can you share a bit about what your own path of discipleship has looked like?
Jesus said the following about the cost of discipleship:
“If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-28, 33)
When I surrendered my life to Christ as a 16-year-old kid, there was a deep awareness in me that I was to love Jesus more than anyone or anything in my life. I was to obey and do whatever he asked of me, both in his written word in Sacred Scripture and through his revealed word to me through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In that place of holy hunger, I cried out for Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit, knowing I couldn’t live this life of discipleship without his grace and power.
When the Holy Spirit answered that heart’s -cry, I was filled with a spirit of prayer, mission and holiness which culminated in a deep longing to grow in union with God and led to a life immersed in Sacred Scripture, prayer and evangelization that began in high school, spread to the nations and eventually brought me back home to the Church Jesus founded.
What experiences have you had that have deepened your appreciation for the work you get to do as the Associate Director of Discipleship Formation?
In addition to what I have mentioned, the experience that has deepened my appreciation for the work of forming disciples, possibly more than any other, is that of marriage and family. This has been my primary vocation for the past 22 years. The grace released through the sacrament of matrimony has transformed me into a better man. Loving my wife and children through both the triumphs and trials of family life has made me more fruitful as a disciple of Jesus.
“Becoming a disciple of Jesus means accepting the invitation to belong to God’s family, to live in conformity with His way of life: ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother’” (CCC 2233, Matthew 12:49-50).
My chief task as a husband and father is to obey and be conformed myself to life in Christ, lead my family to Jesus, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, convince them of their primary vocation of following Jesus themselves.
This is ultimately how true discipleship happens in both the domestic church and in the Church at large.
What books, articles, letters, or other resources have profoundly affected the way you approach this role?
There are many, but the two that have impacted my life most are the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These have helped me come to know Jesus better every day. Commenting on Hebrews 1:1-3 the Church teaches, “Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely” (CCC 102).
Sacred Scripture truly contains the Word of God. I have personally experienced transformation in every area of my life when I frequently read, believe, and act upon God’s living word. After many years of immersing myself in the Bible, I finally read the Catechism where I discovered the unity between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which together “make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches” (CCC 97). This was absolutely instrumental in my ‘homecoming’ and why I continue to prayerfully read the Bible and the Catechism every morning as a part of my devotional prayer life.
What are your goals for the Office of Discipleship Formation in your first year?
The following quote from St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, most adequately expresses my heart as I come alongside each of you in your missionary roles:
“For their part, missionaries should reflect on the duty of holiness required of them by the gift of their vocation, renew themselves in spirit day by day, and strive to update their doctrinal and pastoral formation. The missionary must be a ‘contemplative in action.’ He finds answers to problems in the light of God's word and in personal and community prayer. My contact with representatives of the non-Christian spiritual traditions, particularly those of Asia, has confirmed me in the view that the future of mission depends to a great extent on contemplation. Unless the missionary is a contemplative, he cannot proclaim Christ in a credible way. He is a witness to the experience of God, and must be able to say with the apostles: ‘that which we have looked upon...concerning the word of life...we proclaim also to you’ (1 Jn 1:1-3).
My first goal is to daily apply these truths in my own life. My second goal is to invite you to do the same. We cannot expect to proclaim Christ in a credible way in the days to come unless we are continually conformed more to him . . . and there is always more of Jesus to which we can conform! May we decrease so that he can increase!
What is a word of encouragement you have for those who currently serve in Discipleship Formation roles at their parishes?
Unashamedly listen to and apply everything Jesus has said. He has told us how to be fruitful disciples:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:4-8).
There is no fruit without abiding fully in Christ. Anything we seek to do or manage to accomplish without abiding deeply in him will essentially amount to nothing.
How can parish leaders get in touch with you?
Please reach out to me at [email protected]. I look forward to connecting with each of you so I can get to know you, hear your stories and above all spend some time in prayer together for the glory of God and the salvation of souls!