Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrection, reconciled the world to God and saved us from sin. Beyond this, is it still necessary to have a personal relationship with him? Several Catholic speakers and writers explain why it is of crucial importance.
‘Never fulfilled without Christ’
Teresa Tomeo is a syndicated Catholic talk-show host, author of numerous books and an international speaker. She is the host of a weekday morning radio program, “Catholic Connection,” and is a columnist for OSV Newsweekly. She is also a host of the EWTN television series “The Catholic View for Women” as well as the author of a new book titled “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).
Building a relationship with Jesus is critically important, Tomeo said, something to which everyone needs to strive. “We were made for relationship,” Tomeo said. “First with God and then with each other. Who better to have a strong relationship with than the one who knows us so intimately because he created us?”
Something — or, more accurately, someone — will be missing in our lives if we don’t have that relationship with God first, she said. “We may have good marriages and numerous friends, but we are never completely fulfilled without Christ.” Tomeo said she once had everything that is supposed to make us happy: success, material possessions, good friends and family. “But I was still empty inside until I made my way back to the Church and into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Tomeo offers four potential first steps for those trying to build a stronger relationship with Jesus.
1. Surrender daily: Tomeo points out that in our me-first world, the concept of surrender has an extremely negative connotation; but we must offer our lives to God’s will, not our own, to be fully open to a relationship with Jesus. “It’s a process,” she said. “But it starts with putting God in the driver’s seat and asking him to take control.”
2. Immerse yourself in Scripture: Tomeo suggests thinking of the word “Bible” as an acronym: Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. As St. Jerome said, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, so reading the Bible daily is a great way to build a relationship with him. When we love someone, we want to get to know them better, and reading the Bible is how we can come to know Jesus.
3. Study the Catholic faith: “When we are serious about getting healthy, earning an advanced degree, saving for and building a new home, raising children, etc., we research, we investigate, we talk to all sorts of folks in order to make educated decisions,” Tomeo said. And yet, the wealth of beauty and knowledge in the Church often stays on the literal or figurative shelf. Opening ourselves up to the truth will open us up to Jesus, as he is the way, the truth and the life.
4. Get to know the saints: The Letter to the Hebrews refers to the great “cloud of witnesses” (12:1), which Catholics understand as the Communion of Saints. The stories of the saints “encourage us to persevere through suffering and to maintain joy no matter the circumstances,” Tomeo said. “The more we get to know them, the more we get to know Jesus.”
‘Go spend time with him’
The Catherine of Siena Institute works to ensure that every Catholic has access to a distinctly lay formation that calls each of the baptized to intentional discipleship rooted in the Tradition and magisterial teaching of the Church. Sherry Weddell is the executive director and co-founder of the Institute. In 2012 she released a book titled “Forming Intentional Disciples” (OSV, $16.95), which has sold more than 100,000 copies and has helped in the formation and discernment of Catholics all over the world.
In “Forming Intentional Disciples,” she speaks of the importance of a personal relationship with God. One chapter opens with a quote from Origen of Alexandria’s homilies on Luke, which summarizes perfectly the importance of a relationship with Jesus: “For what profit is it to you, if Christ came once in the flesh, unless he also comes into your soul?”
Weddell provided a few basic, beginning steps in building a relationship with Jesus — steps from which anyone can benefit, she said, although each individual’s journey is unique.
1. Spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament: This should be done regularly, kept on the calendar as a sort of standing appointment. “The resurrected, glorified Jesus is there in the tabernacle for you,” she said. “Go spend time with him.” Adoration is not just devotion for the super-devout, she said. “The presence of the Eucharistic Jesus is for everyone, even those who aren’t yet ready to commit to following him.” Making the intentional effort to spend this intimate time with Jesus is an important step in building that relationship.
2. Regular attendance at Mass: Worshiping the Lord before the Eucharistic table, and our reception of his body and blood at holy Communion, are of utmost importance in fostering a relationship with Christ.
3. Regular confession — at least once a month: Part of building a relationship is righting the relationship when things go awry. Regular confession is an important step in growing closer to Christ.
4. Daily religious reading: Do not underestimate the power of daily prayerful, meditative reading of Scripture (for example, lectio divina) or Church teaching (the Catechism, Pope Francis’ daily homilies, encyclicals from any of the recent popes).
5. Allow a community to help build you up: Find a way to experience ongoing community (something face to face, not just “virtual”) with others on the same journey of discipleship; join an existing group (or create one if necessary). This can take many forms. We can’t do this alone.
“Any disciple, whether a layman or laywoman, a priest or a bishop [needs to have] an all-absorbing relationship. Perhaps the first question that we must ask a Christian is: ‘Do you meet with Jesus? Do you pray to Jesus?’ The relationship!”
— Pope Francis, in his July 2, 2017 Angelus message
‘Called to be disciples’
Jeff Cavins is a widely renowned speaker and writer. Raised a Catholic, he fell away from the Church during college. After 12 years as a Protestant pastor, he returned to the Church and founded the EWTN television program “Life on the Rock,” which he hosted for six years. He is well-known for his Bible study programs, particularly the “Great Adventure Bible Timeline,” as well as the series “Our Father’s Plan” with Scott Hahn.
“It is important to have a relationship with Jesus because Jesus is the key to understanding God the Father,” Cavins said. “God wanted to reveal himself to us, and he did in the Old Testament in word and deed; and in the fullness of time, he fully revealed himself in his Son.”
That speaks of the relationship between God and us, Cavins said. “We’re family; we’re sons and daughters of God. So the fact that God revealed himself in a Son means that he is interested in us relating to him as a father.”
Jesus is the fullest revelation of who God is, Cavins said. “Jesus is the icon — God in the flesh. So getting to know him is your full entry into understanding the Trinity and understanding your relationship with the Father.”
The Trinity is all about relationship — it is a family, not a solitude, Cavins said. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the love between them is the Holy Spirit.
There are those who might say, “I go to Church on Sunday; isn’t that enough? Why do I need to have a relationship with Jesus?” Cavins responds that going to Church on Sunday is only one point of interface with us and God. But saying, “isn’t that enough?” is “tantamount to a family saying ‘I come to dinner, isn’t that enough?’ The answer is no,” Cavins said. “There is a whole life to be lived, and there is life outside of the Mass. Mass is the centerpiece, but there is everyday living.” Conversation, encouragement, teaching, rebuke, correction — all of this is part of relationships, and those relationships have to be cultivated and nurtured. “There’s so much that happens outside of Sunday,” Cavins said.
According to Cavins, it all boils down to relationship. “It isn’t about theology; it’s not about apologetics; it’s about relationship,” he said. “What we are called to be is disciples. And a disciple, basically, is someone who is constantly imitating God. Jesus came to show us the Father. For us to imitate God is the call of our life.”
The best way to develop this relationship with Jesus, the logos, the Word of God made flesh, is in prayer and in Scripture. “You have to develop every day a relationship with Jesus,” Cavins said. “Prayer, and the Word of God — this is incredibly important.”
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.