“Excuse me brother but do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”
You may have heard this question asked if you have spent any time around our Evangelical kinsmen. By personal relationship they actually mean private relationship. As Catholics we know that personal relationship really is supposed to be a public relationship. The love of Jesus is not supposed to be confined to our hearts and our homes. We are to take him wherever we go and not be ashamed to show our relationship with him in all that we do.
As Catholics we are lucky. We have much more than just a personal relationship with Jesus. We have an intimate relationship with him. He gives us his complete self and we take him fully into our being each and every time we receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion. You cannot get any more intimate than that. If we allow Jesus to work within us we become lanterns carrying the light of his love to every person we encounter. You can’t get any more public than that. That should be exactly what he wants us to do but…
Adult Catholics in first world nations are falling away from the faith at an increasing pace. Many church-shop protestant religions or end up at one of the modern mega churches. Over time they even fall away from these as they no longer see the relevance of church in their lives. We aren’t doing much better with the youth, many of whom we won’t see again after they leave the church on their confirmation day until they are ready for the big celebration wedding. Finding a young adult with an active faith life through and after college is about as hard as finding a couple happily married to each other for over thirty years.
So if what we have is so great why do so many walk away from it?
I think a large part of the problem comes down to just one word – “about”. It is the difference between “knowing” and “knowing about” Jesus. “Knowing about” someone indicates that you have a trivial knowledge of them. “Knowing” someone indicates an intimate knowledge. I know about Adolf Hitler, Steve Jobs, and Mother Theresa. I can tell you when they were born, where they lived, and how they died. I can tell you why each of these people are significant in human history. I do not know any of them. I have no real personal connection to them. They are just people in the history book.
I think this is where the Catholic Church has greatly failed in our instruction of the faithful, especially our children. We have done a fabulous job of telling the faithful about Jesus. We sit our children in religious education classes and CCD and tell them about who Jesus was and what he did in his ministry. They learn how great he is and what he means to our Church. I think far too many of our teachers instruct instead of introduce. You can’t possibly expect anyone to develop a personal and intimate relationship with someone they only know about.
Jesus is my friend, my brother, my savior, my Lord, and my God. I want to introduce you to him so that you may come to know him and be his friend too. What does it take to be a friend to anyone? A friendship is very difficult to maintain with someone you never see and you never speak to.
If you want to be a friend to someone you have to spend time with them. If you want to have Jesus as a friend you have to spend time with him as well. The absolutely best place to spend time with Jesus is Sunday Mass where you get to hold him in your hands and take him completely into your being. There is no way to get any closer to Christ than this. How would you feel if you threw a party that was very important to you and your friends never showed up? Sunday Mass is that party for the Lord and he does miss you when you are not there.
The closer you are to someone the more time you want to spend with that person. Young love is proof to this. Young lovers can sit for hours doing nothing more than just gaze into each other’s eyes. As Jesus becomes a closer friend you will find yourself wanting to spend more time with him as well. For those with the option daily Mass is a great way to spend time with our Lord. Eucharistic adoration is another. Sitting in the actual presence, body, blood, soul, and divinity is a very powerful thing if you allow it to be.
The other requirement for a close friendship is communications. One of the most common reasons a marriage fails today is because husbands and wives stop communicating with each other. When the conversation stops people start to grow apart. Sooner or later you don’t know each other. If you want to have Jesus as a close friend you have to converse with him. This comes in the form of prayer.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
The more you pray the closer you will become to Jesus. But communications is a two way street. You also have to be willing to listen when Jesus talks back. He speaks to us through a small, still voice during the times our hearts are at rest. The devil knows this and fills our lives with as much noise and distraction as possible. When you can’t hear Jesus talking to you, you stop talking to Jesus and you begin to drift apart. Eventually he becomes somebody you used to know and now only know about.
Our religious education classes, CCD, RCIA, and other formation programs shouldn’t start and end in a classroom. They should start in the sanctuary with an introduction to Jesus the person. We need to bring people to know Jesus first and then teach about him. When you know you often want to know about. If you start with knowing about often times you no longer want to spend the time to get to know. When you don’t know it is hard to find the relevance in your life. This is where more and more people fall away from the faith.
“Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” – John 14, 9
Be a blessing to everyone you meet and let them be a blessing to you.