One of the questions I’m asked the most by other Catholics is about experiencing a personal relationship with Jesus. “I don’t think that’s a Catholic practice. Only Protestants are concerned with that. A relationship with Jesus is to be sacramental, not personal.”
I’ll agree to part of that. Yes, as Catholics, we experience a sacramental relationship with Jesus. Since becoming in full communion with the Church, that’s something I’ve finally been able to experience. Still, the relationship we share with Jesus has to be personal to us. Because each of us has been created individually, there needs to be a significant bond with God no one else quite understands.
Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have repeatedly emphasized that Catholicism is essentially all about an encounter with Jesus.
Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional — rather than as an encounter with Christ — which explains why they don’t see it as a of joy.Pope Benedict XVI
The evangelization of the person and of human communities depends totally on this encounter with Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI
We must always have the courage and the joy of proposing, with respect, an encounter with Christ, and being heralds of his Gospel. Jesus came amongst us to show us the way of salvation and he entrusted to us the mission to make it known to all to the ends of the earth. Pope Francis
One of the ways my relationship with Jesus is different from what others experience is this right here. I write. Not simply books and articles for websites. Writing is part of who I am. It feeds my soul. A huge part of my prayer life is writing a letter to Jesus every day. It’s how I connect with Him. I don’t communicate as well when I speak. This is clear by listening to one of my podcast episodes.
The same could be said for someone who enjoys fishing. Gazing across the water stirs something inside of them as nothing else can. When it’s just them on the bank with a line in the water, their heart is opened to the Holy Spirit in a way nothing else creates. While this might not be what they do professionally, it’s their favorite way to spend time with God. That’s what writing is for me. I was created with this specific characteristic that allows me to relate to Jesus in a way nothing else can.
Sure, I go to mass almost every day. I regularly spend time at the adoration chapel and pray the Rosary. I partake in the Eucharist, go to confession, and enjoy everything that comes with being a practicing Catholic. That being said, my soul knows Jesus on a personal level. Writing is an instrument of that relationship for me.
Simply reading that will make several people want to experience what I’m talking about. Because what you crave is personal to you, I can’t go about telling you the right or wrong way to experience this. What I can do is share a few things that have led to my personal relationship with Jesus being the defining characteristic of who I am.
This doesn’t mean I’m perfect and don’t make mistakes. As a matter of fact, the more intimate your relationship with God grows, the more blatantly clear your sin will become. By saying it’s the defining characteristic of who I am, I mean my life revolves around this relationship. When I don’t give God the time and attention He deserves, life easily becomes more difficult and frustrating.
Before digging into a few of these ideas for developing a personal relationship with God, I want to share a couple of verses to back up what I’m saying.
On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matthew 7:22-23).
Jesus tells us that many people will make sure they are the first ones at mass every week. They will put the biggest check on the plate as it’s passed. They will do many mighty things, even cast out demons. Still, if they don’t know Him, it won’t matter. There’s a huge difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them. The following are a few of the things that have made my personal relationship with God as intimate as it is today.
Creating a Connection with Jesus
I still very vividly remember the day I stumbled across John 1:38. At the time, I was living at a faith-based recovery home for men suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. Every morning, I’d walk to the beach, read a chapter of the Bible, and then pick a specific verse to write about. On that day, it was different. Jesus was asking a specific question that I needed to answer. I encourage you to read the verse.
Again, this verse has done more for my relationship with Jesus than any other in the Bible. That doesn’t mean it will have the same effect for you. Back in October of 2012, I was having a hard time with this whole relationship with God’s idea. I was unable to find a personal connection with Him.
In John 1:38, John the Baptist has identified Jesus as “The Lamb of God.” He’s the promised Messiah, the Serpent Crusher. The one they had been waiting for. Two of John’s disciples hear the comment and begin following Jesus. When He turns and sees them following Him, Jesus asks them, “What are you seeking?”
Of course, the answer everyone wants to hear is they were searching for salvation that could only be accomplished through what Jesus did on the cross. Still, when I read this on that day, I saw it as an open invitation to connect with Jesus. What was I looking for? What could He do that would point to His presence in my daily life? While the list has changed many times since then, I make a new one every year, I still have the original in my Bible today. What are you seeking? What connection can Jesus make available to you?
Developing an Authentic Faith
This is an area that’s still a part of my daily life. I specifically use the word developing here for a reason. The moment anything stops growing, it slowly begins to wither away. When it comes to our relationship with Jesus, there has to be constant development. Sure, some days are much more productive and fruitful than others. The key is for this to be addressed on a regular basis. What are you doing today to grow closer to Jesus than you were yesterday?
For me, there are many different factors in the equation. I make sure that at least a few minutes are spent every morning with my nose in the Bible. I might have time to read an entire chapter in one day. Others, I’m limited to a small passage. If I want to be completely honest, the days where I focus on less as far as quantity, the best quality of results are provided.
There’s a huge difference between reading the Bible and studying God’s Word. Who wrote what you are reading? Where were they writing from and who did they write it to? When was it written? By answering these questions, you will more easily be able to keep Scripture in its proper context. This allows you to apply it to your life. Over time, you’ll slowly build a practice for studying instead of the habit of reading. I’ll save that for another article.
Along with reading the Bible, I make sure time is spent in prayer. Be careful with this. I’m not saying to mumble a few words on your way to the restroom first thing in the morning or before falling asleep. I’m saying take time to have a conversation with God. Make and drink some coffee. Let the dogs out. Start with reading something other than the Bible, just to get your brain up and working. Then, once everything is firing on all cylinders, have a meaningful conversation with God.
What are you thankful for? Is there anything in your schedule that day needing special attention? What goals are you trying to accomplish in the future? Most importantly, what are your biggest struggles? Where do you need God to show up and show off in your life? He’s not wanting a quick Our Father or Hail Mary. Jesus wants to have an intimate conversation with you!
By far the most fruitful thing I’ve ever done with developing an authentic faith is being obedient to what God’s already said. Think about this for a minute. I have a five-year-old daughter. If she struggles with being obedient to one thing I tell her, why in the world would I add to the list and make things even more complicated?
If you are not obeying what God has already told you through the Bible and teachings of the Church, you’d be crazy to expect to hear anything different. Once you have demonstrated that obeying Jesus is important to you, then you will begin hearing from Him on a personal level. Only then will an authentic faith develop. If your faith doesn’t change who you are, there’s no way it’s going to save you.
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