I Love The Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Who Lives Within Me, Now and Forever. Amen

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Let's Get Personal With Jesus

The Issue of Religion VS. Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ

By Juan Rodriguez

One day, spending time with my friends at the Handball Court of Twelve Park, while I was warming up for a game, a man came up behind me. I was a bit caught off guard, but I saw he bore a gentle smile and he gave me a piece of paper in a gesture of charity. I rose from the ground and greeted him, and to my surprise he began to speak to me of Jesus. I was filled so with excitement, almost to the point that I wanted to pour out my heart about God, and the small faith I had, that we clung together like brothers, embracing each other in a shared divine love. He said to me: "God bless you, my friend. Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior"? I could not answer him because I was not living in the life of Christ. Many teens and young adults have probably been asked the same question, and have been bothered by it, because it calls on us to reflect on our state of being in relation to God.

In this article, I will try to explain why some Christian denominations profess a relationship with Jesus, rather than a religion.

Some Christian denominations say that religion steals from the realness of our faith in Jesus, and causes too many disruptions in reaching our final destination; Him. They also, mistakenly, feel that Jesus did not create a religion, but only called us to be one, with Him, in His love. I will attempt to break down the meaning of religion and relationship, and show how the Roman Catholic Christian truly seeks a personal relationship with Jesus, through religion.

When the word relationship comes to mind, we think of friendships, of brothers and sisters, of fathers and mothers, loving their children, and yes, especially marriage, as in the Song of Songs.

What does it mean to have a personal relationship with someone? When I hear the expression I take it to mean something that affects me emotionally, spiritually, physically or mentally. For the Christian, whether Catholic or Protestant, knows full well that loving Jesus, and living by His Commandments, calls for a personal love of Him; this is where the term personal relationship comes into perspective.

Tertullian, a third century Church Father, in a letter to his wife, wrote: "Where can I find the words to describe adequately the happiness of that marriage which the Church cements, which oblation confirms and the blessing seals? The angels proclaim it and the heavenly Father ratifies it.

What kind of yoke is that of two Christians, united in one hope, one desire, one discipline and one service? Both are children of the same Father, servants of the same Master; nothing separates them, either in the spirit or in the flesh. Where the flesh is one, so is the spirit. Together they pray, together they prostrate themselves, together they observe the fasts; they teach each other, exhort each other and encourage each other. They are both equal in the Church of God, equal at the banquet of God, equal in trials, persecutions and consolations."

In this letter, Tertullian is comparing the unity which marriage requires between a man and a woman, with the unity necessary for proper observance of the laws of God and of His Church; the two must be as one! Just as in a couple's personal relationship with each other the grace of their marriage is magnified in a powerful way, so also, our personal relationship with God and His Church is also magnified by love, obedience and trust in each other.

When I see my friends on the street, I tend to give them this handshake where I draw the person into an embrace. This happens amongst the people who live in the Ghetto. Those who are not from the Ghetto, I have noticed, picked it up like a style or 'lingo', but looking at it carefully, it shows that in this handshake and embrace, the persons receive assurance, trust and brotherhood.

When you read the parable of the Prodigal Son, (Lk 15:20-22), notice that the father is so happy to have his son, who was lost to him, return, he threw his arms around him in a close embrace and ordered the "fatted calf" to be prepared and for robes to be brought to him. The Gospel is showing a clear picture of both human and divine healing, which miraculously leads to his beloved child. Signs are thrown out for the reader to grasp each meaning or action of the character, and it moves us to realize that we must live like this according to Christ. An example of this is the arms with which the father embraces the son. In the arms of the father you find strength and comfort. It is also a sign of restoring what has been lost or destroyed. In embracing his child by the neck the father shows a sign of rebuilding the bond between father and son, like refurbishing a house. The imagery of the neck shows the connection of the head and the body, making it one. It also expresses the symbolism of Christ as Head of the Church, and the body, being the Church itself, being brought together by Divine means (the Trinity) and human means (human nature of Christ, which he took from His beloved Mother in conception), as a means of forgiveness for sin.

How does religion fit into this? The word religion has two possible etymological sources; religare, to tie, fasten or bind, or religere, to gather up, or treat with care.

Many of our Christian sister churches are opposed to having a name for their congregations, or an identity with a human founder. Many feel that it takes away the whole meaning of Christ's message. If religion means to unite, then why the whole complaint over Catholics believing in religion, as though we are blinded from seeing a personal relationship with Christ.

Can these ideas be separated? Not in the least my friend, if your eyes are set on living for Christ and loving your neighbor (Mk 12:28-34). Truly, one could be separated from God's loving embrace by sinning, but mercy is granted to the sincere hearts who confess their sins before a priest. Even in Confession, the priest always appears to be like the father of the Prodigal Son. The priest brings the penitent back to the love of God, like the strong arms of the father who comforts his beloved son, and brings him back to the love of his family.

Just remember, when you are in the confessional booth, after listening to the
priest speak with you on rebuilding your life with Christ, and giving you your penance, he absolves you with the words: "God the Father of mercy, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sin; through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", and the penitent says: "Amen!" The priest is blessing us with these words and also making the sign of the Cross toward us, the sinner, showing us that Christ healed us of our sins through His passion and calls us to carry the cross with humility, as Christ carried His own cross. The sinner is brought to a deeper awareness of his or her own life as united in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. Is this not a participation in holiness? I would say it is.

You can easily see that the priest is pointing us and consecrating us to the 'Cross', in which the Christian is totally united to Christ. This symbolism can be shown in the act of blessing ourselves with the Sign of the Cross; reminding ourselves of our holy union with Christ through Baptism. When the person is dunked into the holy water, he or she is showing the death of their life to the world, and rising to new life in Christ Jesus. This shows a personal relationship with God.

Another example can be taken from the Book of Exodus. God speaks to us in the scriptures, as He tells Moses to take off his sandals, to enter bare foot into His holiness (Ex 3:5-6). It is in the ground that Moses touches with his feet that brings him into contact with the Divine. Moses shows his unfailing faith to embrace God in an intimate way; to feel the Divine beneath his feet. Holiness touches flesh like the embrace of a friend, or a kiss from a loved one. It does not mean God is the ground, but the fact that God said to Moses: "take off your sandals because the place where you are standing is holy ground" shows that what God touches, He makes holy (Acts 10:9-15).

We, as Catholic Christians, believe that religion and personal relationship with Christ are one and the same. Religion, by its true meaning, goes hand in hand with personal relationship with Christ, but reaches a deeper meaning, and that is holiness; a unity with God in a personal way, like Tertullian stated to his wife, like the father in the parable, and like Moses entering into God's holiness by merely touching the ground that God blessed with His presence.

Religion is not a dirty word! It has more meaning if people delve into the root of the word, and live out their Christian calling to be faithful servants of God, and be loving people to their neighbors. When someone says that Catholics do not have a personal relationship with Christ, remember; YOU DO!

No Christian can ever say I am far from Christ, because I believe Christ created His Church to be in holy union with Himself. I could never say I don't have a personal relationship with Jesus, because everything I do during prayer, during Mass, and with my family, is in total surrender to Jesus, who is my personal savior!


Blogger Ginel said...

well said! amen!
i've had countless arguments with non-denominational christians about my Catholic faith. Ugh! And i'm tired of being ridiculed and mocked cuz i am catholic. enough is enough. its time to show ppl what catholics are made of. and how Jesus is truly our personal Lord and Saviour, despite anything they say.

9:21 PM  

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