A Relationship with Jesus
Peter Kreeft, a notable Catholic apologist, made the joke that some Christians would prefer to go to a lecture on Heaven than actually go to Heaven. His point was that a sort of academic understanding of the faith can slip in as a kind of pseudo-faith- a fake faith. We can begin to know so much about God that we begin to think we actually know Him personally.
But knowing things about God is about as different from what it means to actually know God as knowing things about my wife is from actually knowing my wife. One of my favorite scenes from Goodwill Hunting is this one that encapsulates this whole difference (forgive the swear words):
Pope Francis made this statement about how we ought to explain the Catholic faith to people (and, by implication, illuminated what the core of the Catholic faith really is):
“…the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.’ This first proclamation is called ‘first’ not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principle proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways… All Christian formation consists in entering more deeply into [that principle proclamation] …”***
And why must we hear it again and again? Because it addresses every part of our lives. So I lose my job and don’t know what is going to happen to me. The proclamation comes again, “Jesus Christ loves you; and now he is living at your side, so don’t be afraid.” So I experience the joy of having a child for the first time. Again, “Jesus Christ loves you, giving you the joy of having a family.” So I struggle through the ups and downs of parenting. “Jesus Christ loves you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten and strengthen you to be the parent you need to be.” So I’m tempted to watch a movie or something on TV that I know will pull my thoughts into the gutter. “Jesus Christ loves you and gave his life for you, so don’t repay him by giving into things that grieve him.”
At every point in life, this principle proclamation that Pope Francis calls the “kerygma”, draws me to my knees in prayer as I come over and over again to Jesus Christ who loves me. And as I pray, I get to know God, not in that academic way, nor even in a sort of ritualistic rule-keeping sort of way where I check off the “prayer box” and feel good about myself for being so spiritual, but as my loving father, as my dearest friend, as the love of my life. I begin to know him and his ways like I know the town I grew up in. I begin to experience life with him the way I’ve been experiencing life with my wife these last few years.
It’s hard for me to put into words what a “relationship with Jesus” is, but it begins and ends, as Pope Francis said, with at least this: your belief that God really loves you and wants to be there for you. And, in a way, that’s the hardest challenge of the entire Christian life – to trust that God loves us. And it’s something you don’t just “know”. It’s something you have to experience. Are you opening yourself up to that experience? Do you pray? Are you on your knees on a regular basis talking to God about anything and everything? When there is a problem in your life, do you come to him and ask him for help or do you try and trudge through it or solve it on your own? Talking to God doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple, “Hello God, here I am” is a great start. And there are so many prayers in the Catholic tradition – the Rosary, the prayers of St. Patrick and others (let alone the Psalms in the Bible which is the prayer book par excellence) that can help give you the words to speak when you don’t know what to say. All of us, to one extent or another, are still learning how to pray. Are you reading the Bible to give him an opportunity to speak to you?
Fill in the blank: “I am pursuing a relationship with Christ on a regular basis by _______.”