When I was dating my wife, I wanted to spend as much time as I possibly could with her. Why? Because I wanted to know her personally. I wanted to know what she liked and what she didn’t. I wanted to get to know her pet peeves and what her passions were. I wanted to know everything I could about her. But, above all, I had to learn how to make choices that showed I loved her.
This is what happens when you love someone – you want as close, intimate, and personal of a relationship as you can; appropriate to the kind of relationship it is, of course.
The same goes with Jesus. If you are a Christian, you are called to have a close, intimate, and personal relationship with him. But, many are unsure about what this is all about. If you are one who is not sure how to do this, it is simple:
- As with any relationship, you choose how close you want to be with someone. It is a choice only you can make. Your parents (once you get old enough to do it yourself) can’t choose faith for you. Nor can the Church as a whole. Many who are Catholic (and other Christians also) have merely an intellectual or emotional connection to God, but not a personal one they have chosen in faith. To intellectually know Jesus (to know about Jesus) or have a movement of the emotions (to feel good about Jesus) isn’t enough. Remember that even the demons know about Jesus and that we will all have times we don’t feel good about Jesus (“take up your cross”).
This is why we must choose Jesus in faith, with is done through an act of our will. Of course, faith is really a response to grace, and thus us being able to say “yes” to Jesus is only possible because God has chosen us first.
- Once you choose Jesus in faith, you have to do it again and again. It isn’t a one-and-done deal. This relationship is lived out primarily in prayer, participating in the Sacraments, growing in virtue (primarily love of God and others), service to God and others, and to help others come to know, love, serve, and follow God. Jesus is Lord of all and as a servant to our King, we must serve Him and others. This is what He commands of us.
This concept of having a personal relationship with Jesus sometimes sounds too “Protestant” to some Catholics. That simply isn’t true, it is as Catholic as all concepts. We have been using the language long before our Protestant brothers and sisters were ever around and the universal Church has never lost touch with this language, even if some individuals or communities have. For example, here are some quotes from some of our most recent Popes and one from the Catechism and one from Vatican II:
“Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.” -Pope Francis
“Being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.” -Pope Francis
“It is necessary to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ, mankind’s only Savior.” Pope Saint John Paul II
“Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” -Pope Benedict XVI
“Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians.” -Pope Benedict XVI
“This mystery (of faith), then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.” -CCC 2558
“This conversion must be taken as an initial one, yet sufficient to make a man realize that he has been snatched away from sin and led into the mystery of God’s love, who called him to enter into a personal relationship with Him in Christ. For, by the workings of divine grace, the new convert sets out on a spiritual journey, by means of which, already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, he passes from the old man to the new one, perfected in Christ.” -Decree on Missionary Activity, §13. Vatican II
But, this language isn’t a recent phenomenon. Here is a sampling from various sources through the many years of the Church:
“Hope in him, all you assembly of the people. Pour your hearts out before him (Ps 61: 9). Dont give in to those who are asking you, Where is your God? My tears, the Psalmist says elsewhere, have become my bread day and night while they say to me everyday: where is your God?And what does the Psalmist say there? These things I considered, and I poured out my soul above me (Ps 41: 4-5). I remembered what I hear, Where is your God? Seeking my God, I poured out my soul above me so that I might reach him; I didnt remain in myself. Hope in him, all you assembly of the people. Pour your hearts out before him, praying, confessing, hoping. Dont restrain your hearts inside your hearts: Pour out your hearts before him. What you pour out is not lost. For he is my protector. Cast your care upon the Lord (Ps 54:23), and hope in him. Pour out your hearts before him, God our helper.” -St. Augustine
“Should you, my child, ever be attacked by this evil spirit of sadness, make use of the following remedies. ‘Is any among you afflicted?’ says Saint James, ‘let him pray.’ Prayer is a sovereign remedy, it lifts the mind to God, Who is our only Joy and Consolation. But when you pray let your words and affections, whether interior or exterior, all tend to love and trust in God. ‘O God of Mercy, most Loving Lord, Sweet Savior, Lord of my heart, my Joy, my Hope, my Beloved, my Bridegroom.” – Francis de Sales
“Whosoever is a LITTLE ONE, let him come to me.’ (Proverbs 9:4) And so I succeeded. I felt I had found what I was looking for. But, wanting to know, O my God, what You would do to the very little one who answered Your call, I continued my search and this is what I discovered: ‘As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you.’ (Isaiah 66: 13,12) Ah! Never did words more tender and more melodious come to give joy to my soul. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.” St Therese of Lisieux
“Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears— of everything that concerns you. Converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.” —St. Alphonsus de Liguori
“If you have learned everything except Jesus, you know nothing. If you’ve learned nothing but Jesus, you have learned everything.” – St. Bonaventure
So, not only should we not be scared of talking about a personal relationship, we need to continue to work on our own. Think of it this way – every time you do the following things you are working on your personal relationship with Jesus (as long as you choose Him intentionally):
- set time apart daily to pray.
- go to Mass
- go to Confession
- read the Bible
- choose to act virtuously
- perform an act of mercy or kindness
- share your faith with others
When I promised I would love my wife in our wedding vows, it wasn’t merely an emotional act (it was and there is nothing wrong with that) or that I know a lot about her (there is and that is good). Rather, I chose to love my wife that day and every time I choose to love her again, I affirm that initial commitment I made in my vows.
The same is true for my relationship with Jesus. This is how you have a personal relationship with Jesus. As Thomas a Kempis says:
“You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake. Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all friends, is good and faithful. For Him and in Him you must love friends and foes alike, and pray to Him that all may know and love Him.”
A close, intimate, and personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t happen by accident.
You must choose it and that choice must be intentional.
“Choose this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” -Joshua 24:15
“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in any one’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” -2 Cor 6:2-3