“Thus an urgent priority is to ensure that those who are to invite others to Christ have a deep personal relationship with Christ themselves.” (UTG Marker 4.1)
Have you ever been asked, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” Sometimes it comes from a non-Catholic Christian. And recently, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have spoken about this concept. Therefore, it is natural to ask, “What does a personal relationship with Jesus look like?” To help us discern what exactly we are being called to, we need to think about these three aspects of a personal relationship: consistency, vulnerability and truth-rootedness.
A personal relationship with Jesus requires consistency. Like any important aspect of my life, this relationship requires a commitment of my time. If I want to learn to play the violin, spin a basketball on my finger, speak French or read the top 100 American novels, I need to commit time to the endeavor. It is humbling because we have to start from the beginning, but everyone has to start at some point. There is no shame — no matter what you “should have done” in your past — in committing to it now.
Our relationship with Jesus requires a steady diet of time in prayer with him. It requires a commitment of time daily saying “no” to other things and carving out time in quiet to hear his voice. More important than the exact amount of time you spend is the consistency of your commitment.
St. Francis de Sales often cautioned against neglecting the duties of one’s family to pray. But he would follow this advice with an admonition to find a set time to pray each day and remain faithful to it. For most people, this should be a 30-minute block at some point during the day. If that is intimidating, start with 15 minutes. But commit to it, stick to it and don’t let one bad day drive you away. Find someone who can hold you accountable to it (a friend, a spouse or someone from church).
Vulnerability in prayer is also essential to your relationship with Jesus. There are myriad ways to pray, but I must spend time sharing the depths of my heart with Jesus. Having a personal relationship with him means he gets unrestricted access to my soul. Whatever is making me angry right now, I bring that to him. Whatever is making me self-conscious, I bring that to him. Whatever I am worried about, I bring that to him. Whatever I am excited about — no matter how trivial any of these may seem — I bring them to him.
Vulnerable prayer is a way of holding nothing back from Jesus. As the divine physician, he wants to heal my soul. If I don’t tell him what is going on — where it hurts, what are symptoms are — I restrict his ability to work in power in my life. Not because he does not know me already. Rather, it is because Jesus respects my freedom and will not impose himself on me.
I am reminded of the Gospel’s word when Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth: “And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.” (Mt. 13:58) Bringing my concerns to Jesus includes an expectant faith that he wants to do something. He will not dissolve all of the challenges of my life, but he will give me what I need to be faithful and persevere as his disciple in any situation. I share them with him, looking to him to speak his wisdom, his love and the truth into my situation. Vulnerable prayer and obedience to his words leads to deeper discipleship.
I do not think truth-rootedness is actually a word, but it expresses a key aspect for this kind of personal relationship with the Lord. When I come to Jesus, I should remember that he is not there to rubber-stamp my ideas, plans or desires. He is in control and I come seeking his guidance. Of course, he does not restrict my freedom or intimidate me — he is “meek and humble of heart.” (Mt. 11:28-30) But I cannot pick and choose “the Jesus” from whom I seek counsel. He is the mighty Lord and calls me to holiness, to become a saint. I cannot simply hear his gentle words without also hearing his radical demands: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worth of me.” (Mt. 10:38)
Jesus is not a genie in a lamp I can summon and dismiss. If I seek a personal relationship with him, this only happens one way: complete trust in him and a willingness to live under his lordship. This means that Jesus sets the direction for my life. Jesus defines for me what is important and what is passing, what is good for my soul and what is toxic. He is not the co-pilot of my life; he is in the driver’s seat.
My relationship with him must be rooted in the means he has given us to be in communion with him, including time with sacred Scripture. I must look to the teaching of the Catholic Church — especially in my moral life — to know how to live, since the Catholic Church is the font from which all grace comes into the world. I need to be receiving him regularly (and worthily) in Holy Communion and regularly confessing my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a great temptation to refashion Jesus in my image rather than allowing him to fashion me in his image.
Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus? If I am consistent in taking time to pray, willing to hold nothing back Jesus, and ready to led him be Lord of my life, then yes, I do.
The Latin motto for St. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s coat of arms was “cor ad cor loquitur.” In English, this translates to “heart speaks to heart.” Newman took these words from St. Francis de Sales and incorporated them into his own life of teaching. In his preaching and his teaching, Newman was not merely imparting some facts or information. Rather, he was sharing the deepest aspects of what he knew and believed with the listener. His heart was speaking to another’s heart. Here I hope to do something similar, sharing words that come from my heart and hopeful speak to yours: cor ad cor.