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Can a Catholic Have a Personal Relationship with Jesus?

November 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Dan Burke, Resources

I posted this over at the National Catholic Register and thought that you might find it helpful…

We have our deacons and our religious directors, our priests and bishops and our cardinals … and our pope. We have confession, the Eucharist, penance, indulgences, litanies and prayers repetitively prayed to Christ’s mother. Yet, what of Christ? As our protestant brothers and sisters contend, has the Catholic Church inserted a bloated bureaucracy of man-made religious practices between Christ and his people?

In contradistinction, our Protestant brothers and sisters – especially evangelicals – speak of a personal relationship with Christ as the primary mark of the faith. There is no mountain of rituals populated by ecclesial bureaucrats. They speak of a certain sweet simplicity. It is just them and Jesus – together, without any need for ancient mediations or the authority of men. They just go to Jesus, and Jesus answers.

We all know their mantra: “It’s a relationship, not a religion.”

In her book Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI, Amy Welborn presents the proposition that it is exactly an intimate friendship with Christ that has energized Pope Benedict XVI throughout his life. Welborn provides a compelling and convincing compilation of texts from the Holy Father’s speeches and books in which he describes the importance and nature of a living and personal relationship with Christ.

Welborn’s work is interwoven with insightful quotations and superb commentary. However, simply stating that an intimate friendship with Christ is important or even necessary in Catholicism does not exonerate it from the charges brought against it. On one hand, we tout a friendship with Christ, and on the other we demand an adherence to ancient rituals. In her own words, Welborn comments on the Pope’s thoughts about this:

[Pope Benedict XVI] speaks often about listening to Jesus through his body, the Church, through the word of God, and through the liturgical life of the Church. Our first instinct might be to see this in a negative way, as if he is trying to tell us that the ways in which we can meet Jesus are limited and must be controlled. But this is truly the opposite of the pope’s intention. He wants us to see all of this, not as places with walls and rules, but as gifts through which Jesus really and truly comes to meet us.

To those who question the compatibility of a personal relationship with a hierarchal and ritualisitc Church, we quote one of Cardinal Ratzinger’s most antidotal descriptions of the papacy: the pope is the “advocate of Christian memory.” The Catholic Church is not a pile of bureaucratic intermediation, but a wondrous set of gifts that guide us to Christ. The papacy and the doctrines of the Church are guideposts, they are there to remind us of the Christian path revealed to the apostles and handed down by our forefathers. By reminding us who Christ truly is, they save us from falling off into cheap cultural or relative imitations of Christ. The gifts of the Church present to us the reality of Jesus Christ.

The doctrines of the Church are no more limitations than truth itself is a limitation. Though dogma is a pejorative to many, to Catholics it is a word that should ring with freedom. It is the freedom to embrace the true identity of Jesus Christ, and not spend our lives wondering if our understanding of Christ is simply a personal projection or cultural trend.

Welborn further shares our Holy Father’s words on the encounter with Christ:

The encounter with Jesus Christ requires listening, requires a response in prayer and in putting into practice what he tells us. By get¬ting to know Christ, we come to know God, and it is only by starting from God that we understand man and the world, a world that would otherwise remain a nonsensical question.

Drawing from Pope Benedict XVI’s wisdom, Welborn touches upon two main considerations: first, that there is a knowledge and intimacy that only comes from living like Christ, and secondly, that the Church affords us the confidence to embrace the true Christ, we in turn are able to embrace the world according to the wisdom given to us by Christ. Christ is the Truth, and the clarity that Truth has in the Catholic Church allows for an authentic relationship and clear illumination of how to engage in and with the world.

The beauty of the Catholic Church can stand on its own, but at times it is good to have clarification by contrast. While our Protestant friends do promote a personal relationship with Christ, it is a radically antiseptic and often shallow contractual “gospel” (see Galatians 1 for more on this) that suffers from the rejection of the ecclesial and sacramental gifts passed down to us from Christ himself.

The true Church of Christ should be able to understand, live, and clearly articulate what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus and Pope Benedict is a sure and wise guide to this reality.

Welborn’s work Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI carries on this discussion of embracing the true Jesus Christ in a deep and relevant manner.

Amy Welborn will be appearing on EWTN’s literary show Bookmark this Sunday at 9:30am ET and then again at 11:30pm ET. If you miss these you can catch them again on Monday at 5:30am ET and then Wednesday at 5:30pm ET.

Everything in the Catholic Church is christocentric. Everything points and guides us to Christ. Let us as Catholics find joy and freedom in the doctrines and rituals of the Church. They free us to live and love the real Jesus Christ – especially the gift of the holy Eucharist.

As Catholics, it is our Christ-centered religion that enlivens and purifies our relationship.

What about you – are you a Catholic with a personal relationship with Jesus?

For More on This Topic

What does it mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus?

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Guest

    I have always been amused by the question which is thrown to Catholics by the Evangelicals and Pentecostals : “Are you saved?”. Yet St. Paul whom they love to quote clearly teaches Salvation is an ongoing process which will end when we stand before the Seat of Judgment upon our death. As I have quoted you hereunder, our relationship with Jesus Christ is so personal, intimate and authentic especially as we encounter Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and are united with Him, in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divining in the Holy Communion. We converse with Him on a one-to-one during Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

    “Everything in the Catholic Church is christocentric. Everything
    points and guides us to Christ. Let us as Catholics find joy and freedom
    in the doctrines and rituals of the Church. They free us to live and
    love the real Jesus Christ – especially the gift of the holy Eucharist.

    As Catholics, it is our Christ-centered religion that enlivens and purifies our relationship.” Protestant Christians can never comprehend just what they miss. The totality of God’s Revelation to mankind and the Salvation Mystery subsists in the Catholic Church.

    • Kev Casey

      Hi Mary could you quote me scripture that sees salvation as an ongoing process. I thought that a clear reading of Romans would show salvation as occuring at a point in time but growth in Christ or sanctification being a lifelong ongoing process.Yours in Christ Kevin

      • Dear Friend: Though this is not an apologetics site, I will offer a brief answer to your question. For more dialogue like this you would probably find forums to be more helpful. The New Testament deals with the “are you saved” question in three ways:

        Past Event: I have been saved
        Romans 8:24: for in hope we were saved
        Ephesians 2:5,8: by grace you have been saved through faith
        2 Timothy 1:9: he saved us, called us, according to his grace

        Present Process: I am being saved
        Philippians 2:12: work out your salvation with fear and trembling
        1 Peter 1:9: as you attain the goal of your faith, salvation

        Future Event: I will be saved
        Matthew 10:22: he who endures to the end will be saved
        Matthew 24:13: he who perseveres to the end will be saved
        Mark 8:35: whoever loses his life for my sake will save it
        Acts 15:11: we shall be saved through the grace of Jesus
        Romans 5:9-10: since we are justified, we shall be saved
        Romans 13:11: salvation is nearer now than first believed
        1 Corinthians 3:15: he will be saved, but only through fire

        All that said, with all due respect, I think this is the wrong question. The real question is, how can a person be in a relationship with God? How do they love God and receive his love and rest in that love? This is the ultimate question that the New Testament addresses. Yes, Paul uses juridical language to make the point that we cannot be saved by our works apart from the work of God – however, this is a sub-point made to turn us properly to the larger engagement of the God of love and how that love engages his people in redemption and relationship.

  • Sandy

    I am a cradle Catholic and it was my protestant evangelical friend who introduced me to having a personal relationship with Christ.  My biggest stumbling block in forming this relationship with our Lord and Savior was learning how to listen.  Through daily meditation on the Gospel along with daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, along with frequent Reconciliation, my relationship has grown and continues to grow, and this love relationship overflows into everything that I do.  When you love a person, you want to know everything about that person.  So, with God’s grace and love, I continue to seek Him while going deeper and deeper into His Sacred Heart.  I am so grateful for my Catholic faith and for all who have helped me along the way. 

  • Maggie Geene

    How much more personal and intimate a relationship with Christ can we have than to receive Him Body Blood Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist at every Mass? Unless I suppose that doing this doesn’t change us completely. Each time I receive Communion I am practically brought to tears and literally brought to my knees with the force of this realization; that as Augustine said we receive Christ so that we can become like Christ ( or something similar).

  • Pglendinning2

    As a former Protestant, I must tell you I have never had a MORE personal relationship with Christ as a Catholic than I ever did as a Protestant.

    I remember being asked, as a Protestant if I was saved, and then being told I wasn’t saved ENOUGH, or not saved by THEIR measuring stick (in other words, if THEY didn’t save me, I wasn’t saved).

    it is completley subjective. Also, if someone who was considered saved, and he went on to do something abhorrent (like the owner of the company I once worked for, who ran his company into the ground supporting his compulsive behaviors, putting hundreds out of work) then he wasn’t REALLY saved.

    I thought Luther was trying to escape scrupulosity by breaking with the Church and creating Sola Fide. As it turns out, you end up being MORE scrupulous.

  • Jack gibes

     Yes a Catholic must have a personal relationship with Jesus and I do since my reconversion two years ago. Before that, my 20 years of descent were a terrible experience, so praise God for His mercy on me a sinner.
    By His grace Jesus established a close relationship with me in my heart and I do not see myself being able to live without Him and His closeness every day. It is a great adventure with the Best of friends, and I would be willing to die for Him at any moment of my life. I only make sure that I am ready, because we do not know the hour. Every day is a blessing and a step towards a deeper relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, and I know that the road to sanctity is difficult and many times I will fall, but in my heart I also know that Jesus measures by the way we get up and not by the way we fall. I deserve nothing and I will never be able to earn anything, it is all GRACE and MERCY of God, especialy the gift of FAITH itself.
    Praise the Lord, jack gibes

  • Michelle

    I never understood why this question was a problem for Catholics. Of course we have a personal relationship w/Christ, in the Eucharist specially (doesn’t get more personal than that!!) and through prayer (prayer can be very personal since you are sharing your deepest thoughts and emotions) , and through reading and understanding his teachings (who does not listen to what a trusted friend has to say, specially when they are telling you truth?). So, my answer, as a Catholic, is always YES. But then again, maybe I am not understanding that Protestants actually mean by this? And when they ask if Jesus is my Lord and Savior? Well, YES! He died for me, brought salvation through his death and resurrection. Or am I being just totally naive?

  • Lyonsjoan

    To those who would ask me if I’m saved, I’d let them know I’m more than saved, I’m loved. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I recognize my personnal encounter with Jesus in the breaking of the bread. I also recognize the presence of Jesus in my life through the beauty of creation, through the words of a friend or a verse from the bible, and through the amazing grace of loving and being loved. 

  • K C Thomas

    One who  seeks God and true religion  sincerely will surely come to the shores of the Catholic Church.  He may learn more about the church ,casting off all preconceptions, judgements and pride and will embrace the Truth that is Catholic Church.There are mistakes, deficiencies etc on the part of few or more priests or authorities. The Church does not claim that all its members are truly christian in their words and deeds. The Church is not a zoo for saints but a hospital for sinners. So the question of some protestant friends ” Are you saved” has no meaning. A catholic is one who has personal relationship with Christ, Mother Mary and the saints But the relationship with Christ is unique, special and most secure.

  • judeen H

     the protestents are right… we need a union with God.. we need to ask God into our hearts… then the gifts of God in our catholic faith come alive.. everything comes alive.. life is is full and new..
        the gifts in our catholic faith are so powerful.. to keep us united and powerful in God dwelling in us… we become walking saints.. and prayer of healing ,deliverance , conversion of hearts and souls.. so on are there for the asking..
       too many are going through the motions.. and not loving God.. we have to give up control.. too many times one goes to church to see dead people repeat prayers instead of sending love adoration and reverance to God..
         the church vibrates with love and the Holy Spirit.. one can not keep the doors closed to people comeing to church to pray… !! one only has to pray from the heart and give God control , that is when the church will grow !!!

  • MaryofSharon

    There is much talk from Pope Francis and beyond about the “personal encounter” with Christ, but I have found it difficult to pin down what this really means. Dan, your post here, and Amy’s book, which we studied as a group in our parish, are very helpful aids to understanding just what this means. This notion of having a relationship with Jesus is not just a cozy one-on-one friendship that an Evangelical may describe, but in our Church we have access to His mind in Her teachings, to His power in Her Sacraments, to His very Body in the Eucharist, and much more. And then we have the incredible examples of the Saints that are so often discussed hear at RC Spiritual Direction like John of the Cross, Teresa, Therese, Elizabeth of the Cross, etc. Talk about intimacy with God! Ah yes, we Catholics know very much about what it means to have a personal relationship with God!

    Amy Welborn’s book is out of print, but you can still read it online at .

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