Getting to know Jesus: A personal relationship?

| Jeff Cavins | February 11, 2016 | 1 Comment

Is there a such thing as a personal relationship with Christ? The answer is yes! When it comes to encountering Christ and continuing to mature in Christ, there are two aspects that are important: both a personal relationship as well as a corporate relationship. Both aspects of knowing Christ are necessary and should be embraced, fostered and celebrated.

A strictly “personal” relationship with Jesus, that is a relationship independent of the broader life of the Church as experienced in the sacraments, prayer and life within the liturgical calendar, is limited and lacks a number of key elements. These key elements such as the “real presence” of Christ, accountability as regards to sin, and the sharing of the common deposit of faith contribute to a growing up in Christ that cannot be experienced alone.

A strictly “corporate” relationship with Christ, that is a relationship that is exteriorly orthodox and compliant with Church teaching, but lacks personal encounter and communion, lacks an interior intimacy and place of inner communion and conversion.

In looking at the process of coming to know Christ, it is fair to say that there are many ways that God makes his entrance into a person’s life. Some are struck by the beauty of the liturgy and their heart is drawn closer to Christ. There is something there that draws them beyond the things they see, smell and hear. There is a mystery beyond the signs encountered, a mystery that draws the heart.

Still others are drawn by the testimony of a friend who encountered Christ in daily prayer and Bible reading. The personal relationship their friends enjoy acts as an invitation to a life of intimacy and provides an example of a deeply personal relationship. The truth is, both a personal relationship and a corporate relationship are dependent upon one another and are not mutually exclusive.

God’s invitation

There are many ways that God gets our attention: creation, the human desire for him and reason. The beginning of this attraction started with God. All responses of the human heart began in the heart of the Trinity. St. Augustine said, “God thirsts that we would thirst for him.” Our thirst is pure response to a thirst that is greater than ours and comes before we even reach out.

We must start by understanding that we are responding to God’s invitation to all humanity. An invitation to covenant intimacy, an invitation to share in the life of the Trinity. This invitation is not just to the world, but to the individual. This invitation is nothing short of an invite to divinization, that is, to become like God and share in his inner life and mission. This transformation and reorientation of life is the result of both our participation in the body of Christ — the Church — and our private, intimate time with our savior. He speaks to “us” and he speaks to “me.” He nurtures “us” and he nurtures “me.” He died for the “world” and he died for “me.”

In order to experience interior transformation a place of personal encounter is necessary. This place of personal encounter remains in the context of the larger Church. The personal encounter is informed, nurtured and supported by the body of Christ, the Church.

This means that a relationship with Christ also involves a relationship with his Church. What Christ requires in terms of ethics, morality, holiness and mission is common to us all. While we are unique in our creation, we walk in solidarity with our brothers and sisters within the body. If one wants to truly know Christ and his will, we must come into contact with his family, the Church, and submit to the process of initiation, catechesis and public witness.

Personal and familial

In short, for a disciple of Christ to experience the fullness of a personal relationship with Christ, living in the heart of the Church, submitting to the Church’s teaching, celebrating the liturgy and embracing the sacred tradition is paramount. Continue to pray, study, celebrate and work in the within God’s family, the Church, and at the same time, continue to pray, study, celebrate and work in your personal life. These two aspects were never meant to be separated, but are two aspects of a whole.

Jesus said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).  Relationships within a home are always personal, yet within a home dwells a family.

Cavins is director of evangelization and catechesis for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Category: Catholic Watchmen

  • Paula Ruddy

    Thank you, Professor Cavins, for this message about the relationship between personal holiness and membership in the community of faith that is the Church. I accept that interrelated dynamic wholeheartedly.
    But I wonder if your statement quoted below is not a source of division among us in this archdiocese:
    “If one wants to truly know Christ and his will, we must come into contact with his family, the Church, and submit to the process of initiation, catechesis and public witness.”
    By the word “Church” do you mean the Roman Catholic Church? Do you mean everyone who goes through the process of initiation, catechesis, and participates in public witness thinks alike and practices alike? For example, does everyone think alike with Michael Van Sloun’s post in this issue of the Catholic Spirit on the devil and the embattled life? In the Roman Catholic Church I grew up in there was respect for many different ways to think about aspects of Christianity and to practice faith. Each person’s faith encounter with Christ was respected within the family. There was a downside to the emphasis on privacy, but that is another conversation. Do you believe that others can judge a person’s relationship with Christ by how orthodox his or her observance is? Does the lesson of Jesus’ eating with tax collectors and sinners apply here? Greater than uniformity in catechesis is charity among us. Wouldn’t you agree?