Simple Catholic Snapshots
- Many Protestants pose a question that is meant to simplify and reflect the core of their Christian faith: “Do you have a personal relationship with Christ?”
- To many, having a ‘born again’ moment and thus having a personal relationship with Christ is the end all.
- Although there is certainly truth in this position, it is oversimplified to the point of being not only insufficient but is actually misleading.
- Catholics should be prepared to respond to the question with an equally thought-provoking response: “No I don’t have a personal relationship with Christ, I have an intimate relationship with Christ.”
- To Catholics, this intimate relationship with Christ should be our life’s goal and is manifest at each Mass. Each time we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior in the Sacramental Eucharist, we intimately become one flesh with the Incarnate Christ.
Simple Catholic Truths
It happened just recently – an old friend recognized me in a store and stopped to chat. It was not long into the usual pleasantries that he dropped a bombshell question.
Perhaps you have heard this question in one form or another:
“Are you born again? Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus our Lord and Savior?”, he projected with all confidence.
“Well, that’s not a simple yes or no question, and neither is the best answer”, I said.
“If you have a few minutes, let me give you a good answer,” I countered. We began to talk.
A Good Start, But Well Short
On the surface it would seem that the correct answer for any Christian would be an emphatic ‘YES!’. Who wouldn’t want a personal relationship with Christ? Who wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with the second person of the Holy Trinity? Who wouldn’t want Christ as a brother, a soul mate, a confidant or a best friend? In this limited sense the Protestant point of view is spot on. We all should cherish any relationship with our Savior.
But, as good as the ‘yes’ may sound and as much as such a relationship is desired that is just the beginning.
To discover the fullness of our Christian faith we must ask an even more penetrating and more relevant question and that is: “What type of relationship is Christ calling us into?” In other words, what type of relationship does Christ want with us? Is it limited to a ‘personal’ relationship or is it more than personal …more profound …more intimate?
To answer this question, we’ll start by taking a look at ourselves, our makeup, our being. Theologians tell us that we were created with two fundamental parts – a spiritual part which we call the soul and a physical part which of course is our body. Furthermore, they tell us that the soul is made up of an intellect and a free will. We share the spiritual side of our essence with the angels – even the fallen angels. We share the physical side of creation with the animals.
Moreover, humans represent the pinnacle of God’s creation in a unique way. Only humans, created in the image and likeness of God, contain both the spiritual soul (capable of reason and love due to the intellect and free will of the soul) and a physical body. This fact is what makes the second person of the Trinity so special. Only in the Incarnate Jesus Christ are we humas able to relate to God with both elements of our created being as God intended.
This theology is important for one simple reason. In the course of our lives, we encounter and relate to many people. We use our minds and voices to communicate with others, we think and evaluate their actions and with some, a certain comfort and fondness develops. With this latter group we spend more and more time together and share more and more of our lives. You might even say that in these good friends a trust develops as we even share our inner feelings and weaknesses.
These people become a joyful and essential part of our experience on earth. But to this point, these are just personal relationships. Now don’t get me wrong, some of these relationships can certainly be deeply and intensely personal but here is where I return the question posed above. It this kind of relationship, even a deeply intense and personal one, the kind of relationship Christ desires with us? The Bible clearly says no.
As good as a personal relationship may be, Christ wants much much more with and from us.
Biblical Evidence: Christ desires an Intimate Relationship
Even a cursory examination of the Bible will reveal that the relationship between man and woman (aka marriage) is highlighted and revered as central to God’s plan of our existence and salvation. In the beginning God created just two humans in His image, one man and one woman (Gn 1:27) and they were created to become one body (Gn 2:24). It is in this relationship Scripture proclaims God’s intent of eternity for all mankind.
Not only in Genesis, but throughout the Bible the ideas of man, woman, marriage, Jesus and his Church, the sacrifice of the Cross and eternity are linked. The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24), The Parable of the Lost Son (Lk 15:11-32) and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19 and 21) are just a few New Testament examples. Each of these passages provide great insight into the connection between Creation, Christ on the Cross, and Eternity but for the sake of brevity I’ll focus only on Revelation.
You might ask, why focus attention on this often-bizarre tale of tribulation, scrolls, beasts and trumpets? It’s true that this inspired book is filled with a look at futuristic end times, but most important is the fact that the entire Revelation story points to and climaxes with the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and is a great summary of God’s eternal plan for us all:
“…Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19: 6-9)
But also notice that this eternal reign is likened to a marriage, and the eternal marriage is between Jesus (the Lamb) and his Bride (mankind: His Church) now ready for the wedding. In verse 7 Jesus Christ now reigns in heaven; we all know that He forever reigns at the right hand of the Father.
With the wedding imagery in mind, let’s take a look at the New Creation, the finale of Revelation:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4)
We have here the final disclosure of God’s plan for our eternity. The unveiling of creation in Genesis is completed with the new creation. As faithful Christians, we are the Bride of Christ, properly adorned and waiting for the Groom to return.
But to be properly adorned, we must give ourselves completely – both spiritually and physically – to our Groom during this lifetime.
It is through this imagery, of a marriage between God and mankind, that God tells us how we are to give ourselves to Christ.
As mentioned, in Genesis, our physical bodies, created male and female, provide a blueprint of that relationship of love that God desires.
But how is it possible for a man and woman to become one flesh? How is it possible for mankind to become one flesh with God? And why does the Bible insist on using this imagery over and over? The answer is clear when we realize that this is God telling us what kind of relationship He desires.
In the physical intimate act of spousal love, each human should give himself and herself so completely to the other that the individual ceases to exist. Only in such a moment of total sacrifice, in that moment of dying of self, do we find the relationship God desires with all his children.
In an earthly marriage, this total self-giving love results in the potential biological life of a new baby. However, the total self-giving love between Christ the Groom and mankind His bride results in the eternal life of salvation.
This is why marriage between one man and one woman is so holy in the Bible and is also a Sacrament. Failure to give oneself totally and only to God in this way is somewhat like spiritual adultery. A Christian marriage is an image of our proper eternal relationship with God.
During the Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is that ultimate sacrifice that we must partake by offering ourselves completely while receiving the body and blood of the Paschal Lamb. Not a mere symbol, or memorial, the Eucharist is the way in which God and mankind become one flesh and how mankind receives the gift of eternal life.
53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;” (Jn 6:53)
As Christ did on Calvary, during each Mass we must sacrifice our lives for the glory of the Father. We must bring our daily trials and successes to our relationship with Christ. We rejoice in thanksgiving our joys of life, and we offer the sorrows as our cross to follow Him. In doing so, we become the Bride at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb – and become one flesh with Him.
So to my friend, thank you for stopping me with that fateful question. I’m truly filled with joy that you have a personal relationship with Christ and that you wish the same for me. You are my brother in Christ.
However, I know that I’m called to something much more. I seek a relationship with Christ not simply of personal friendship or even sibling unity. I am called to an intimate relationship with Christ – that of a lover. At each Mass, I strive to give myself completely to Christ, to be crucified with Christ, so that I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20), and in the Holy Eucharist He gives Himself completely to me… and we become one flesh.
But, thanks for asking…