So there I was, reporting for a hometown newspaper, sitting in the modest home of a grandmother who’d become a mentor to young moms in her neighborhood. The widow of a Baptist preacher, she wasted no time in getting down to business:
“The best advice I could give mothers is that you have to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Boom. There it was. Knowing full well that she wasn’t being interviewed by a religious publication, this woman had zero qualms about putting her faith out there.
What made the interview even more interesting was the fact that she was open about the mistakes she’d made along the way and how her marriage passed through troubled times. This was no holier-than-thou church lady. She was a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ and her eyes shone when she spoke of Him. Clearly she’d spent time listening to Him, getting to know Him and was eager to share what He’d done for her.
And I wonder, why is it that so many of us Catholics are unable to express ourselves this way?
I remember listening to Sherry Weddell, author of “Forming Intentional Disciples,” when she visited Phoenix during 2015. Weddell travels the country telling the story of how she left an Evangelical church and became Catholic. One of Weddell’s conclusions is that for the Church to thrive and grow, Catholics in the pew must first be evangelized themselves.
As I worked my way through the crowd of Catholics looking for quotes, it became apparent that a good number of people simply had no framework for discussing what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or how to be His disciple. These were active parishioners, loyal to the Church, people who attended Mass every Sunday. For many of us, speaking the name of Jesus in conversation with others is just plain awkward, even in Church circles. For some reason, it doesn’t strike us as “Catholic.”
In her book, Weddell points to the disquieting Pew Research statistic that only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic are still practicing the faith. Even more alarming, the same study found that only 60 percent of Catholics believe in a personal God. Sixty percent!
So how do you begin to have a personal relationship with Christ? If you’re married, remember what it was like when you fell madly in love with your spouse. It was not a polite, stand-offish thing, was it? No. You longed with all your heart to be in the presence of your beloved. Your eyes shone when you talked about your love and you were amazed that in turn, you were loved so deeply, so intensely. That’s what a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is like when it first happens. To top it off, you realize that He loves you in the midst of your brokenness and sins. In fact, He submitted to crucifixion and death to save you from them.
If you want to jump-start the relationship, find a Catholic retreat such as a Life in the Spirit Seminar, ACTS or Cursillo. Pick one Gospel and read it straight through over the course of a few days. Make daily prayer, monthly confession and frequent Communion top priorities.
Those are just the basics. But if you want to add rocket power to those steps, begin with this: humble yourself completely before God. Do away with pride and embrace your cross with love. Walk the Via Dolorosa with Jesus and watch as the crowd spits on Him and jeers. Feel the sweat that falls from His brow. Walk the road to Emmaus and encounter Him in the Breaking of the Bread. Feel Him beside you as you drive to work or weed the garden or wash the dishes. He’s right there! Ask Him to be Lord of everything in your life and surrender yourself to Him completely.
If you do that, there’ll be no stopping you from sharing His message of salvation with all the world.