It’s a phrase I was accustomed to as a Southern Baptist and one I often used to define my faith. Protestants rely upon and preach about a “personal relationship” with Christ and assume that because we have the Mass, the Sacraments, the papacy, and magisterium that all those things combine to create roadblocks preventing us from a personal relationship with Christ. Protestants, and even many Catholics, do not believe we have a deep and personal relationship with Christ.
The opposite is true. Although the Catholic Church does not regularly use the terminology “personal relationship with Christ”, it is no less true that it exists. In fact, I would argue it is a deeper personal relationship with Christ found within the Catholic Church than with the Protestant denominations. When I left the Southern Baptist Church to become Catholic, I wrote a two-page letter to First Baptist Church telling them I was leaving and why. I explained my three primary reasons for believing the Catholic Church was the true Church (Sacred Tradition, Eucharist, and history) and I ended the letter by writing “I will always be grateful and thankful for the Baptist Church because you taught me how to love Jesus. The Catholic Church gives me all of Jesus.”
I still hold fast to that belief. I know, having been Protestant, there are Protestants who deeply love Jesus and have a “personal relationship” with Him. We must understand, however, that just because the terminology may differ from what we normally hear, it is no less true. We, as Catholics, have a deeply personal relationship with Christ.
The relationship we have with the Lord comes from the love of Christ. God’s revelation of himself to us cannot be more deeply personal than when He reveals Himself to us through the person of Jesus Christ. The Church does not exclude one from having a personal relationship with Christ. It, in fact, fosters a relationship with the Lord. A relationship with the Lord and belonging to the Church correlate with each other, as opposed to forcing a person to choose either/or. When you choose the Church, you choose a relationship with Christ. When you choose a relationship with Christ, you choose the Church because it is from and within the Church that a relationship with Christ can properly be formed and strengthened.
The Sacraments draw us into a deeper relationship with the Lord. There is nothing more intimate and personal than the Holy Eucharist. Jesus gives Himself fully and completely to us under the appearance of bread and wine. We receive Him (body, blood, soul, and divinity) within the Blessed Sacrament. How much more personal can you get?
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
There is a power behind the Sacraments. The power makes us children of God. It is a power that forges that relationship just as a parent to a child. It is the power of the Holy Spirit which draws us into a relationship with the Lord and pours out grace and mercy to us. It is the graces we receive through the Sacraments that bring us into a deeper, intimate, more personal relationship with Christ. Prayer is only a part of the relationship. Communication is only a portion of building a relationship with another individual. Strong, intimate, personal relationships are built upon many other things such as forgiveness, giving oneself to the other, sacrifice of oneself, caring for the other in times of sickness, and so many countless ways. If you look closely at the Sacraments, you will see that a personal relationship with Christ is completed through the participation in them.
The next time you are asked if you have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”, your answer should be a confident “absolutely” and then you should invite them to have that same deep relationship with Christ that you experience as a Catholic.