A friend told me recently that her Bible Study group on Wednesday mornings at her parish in Connecticut had over a hundred women in it. I was pretty amazed and when she told me about the program they followed, I naturally wanted to find out more about it. We should all be glad when Catholic's enthusiasm for the faith is raised. Bringing women together who have not previously been involved in their parishes is a really good thing. My hesitation to get on board with this program, however, stems from its embrace of the concept of "getting to know Jesus personally." Of "having a personal relationship with Jesus." This is part of the message or plan in the materials written by Lisa Brennickmeyer in her program called Walking With Purpose.
This "Scripture-based" program, I have discovered, is growing in popularity among Catholic women around the country. I have not read the Brennickmeyer material and I could be very wrong but I would encourage all to tread with caution on any path not based on solid, historical, Catholic concepts of our relationship and knowledge of God.
Well, what could be wrong with a "personal relationship with Jesus?," you ask. Oddly enough, about the same time I was told of this program, I also stumbled on some very enlightening information on this subject from some indisputable Catholic sources. To be fair, I also wanted to find out what was said on this subject potentially from the people most familiar with this terminology---Protestants. There's no sense making a mountain out of a mole hill and besides, what difference does it make if people use purely harmless terms to express their love of God, right? But if there is something Catholics should know about this concept, then it is important that we are informed.
An article titled, "Personal Relationship with Jesus" by Joel Miller, written in 2014 can be found on the website, Patheos, a site described by Wikipedia as a non-denominational, non-partisan, online media company providing information and commentary from various religious and nonreligious perspectives.
This post on Patheos by Miller echoes several others I found, adding the idea that this term "personal relationship" is a fairly new one, having entered the world of evangelicals only a few decades ago. Miller wrote:
But when we speak of personal faith, or resort to labeling our faith as such in the face of a disagreement over what is or is not true, we run the risk of reducing our creed to caprice, opinion, and fancy. Well, that’s what it means to me. This is particularly a problem today in our consumeristic, me-centered, self-indulgent culture.
And that’s where this idea actually comes from. ............to test my assumption I immediately ran a Google Ngram on the phrases “personal savior” and “personal relationship with Jesus.”
As you can see, the phrases barely exist before the 1970s, at which point they take off like a pair of rockets, trailing rank fumes of sentimental egotism. This is, importantly, the same period of time labeled by Tom Wolfe as “The Me Decade”
At the end of Miller's post there is this comment left by a reader:
"I bet the term arose from the Jesus People movement, but I will let the historians debate that. .......... Sure, the gospel has been enculturated here and now with concepts that skew it toward the "my friend" Jesus and away from the "my master" Jesus (and a number of other things on both sides), but if eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3), and knowing God is a truly relational thing (and not, say, intellectualist), and there is something personal and not solely corporate about our Christianity (all three of which I argue are true), then I don't have a problem with the phrase.
What jumps out here to me is the person's use of the word, "intellectualist" which she clearly rejects in favor of the personal. According to this person, Christianity must be "personal" to pass the modern smell test." I am currently reading a Tan publication of the Baltimore Catechism published in 2010. In it I came to the following question:
"Q. What must we do to save our souls?
A. To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.
"Worship," that is, give Him divine honor. We honor persons for their worth and excellence, and since God is the most excellent we give Him the highest honors, differing from others not merely in degrees but in kind---divine honors that belong to Him alone. And justly so, for the vilest animal upon the earth is a thousand times more nearly our equal than the most perfect creature, man or angel, is the equal of God. We show God our special honor by never doubting anything He reveals to us, therefore by "faith"; by expecting with certainty whatever He promises, therefore by "hope"; and finally by loving Him more than anyone else in the world, therefore by "charity."
The love we have for God is intellectual (emphasis added) rather than sentimental; (emphasis added) and since it is not measured by the intensity of our feelings, how are we to know that we love Him best? By our determination never to offend Him for any person or thing in the world, however dear to us, and by our readiness to obey and serve Him before all others."
To meet God, we need silence, says
I'm also currently reading, The Power of Silence, by Robert Cardinal Sarah. He describes our relationship with God this way:
"60. The Gospel explains how important it is to mistrust sterile enthusiasms, intense passions, and ideological or political slogans. When Jesus went down from Bethany to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was given a grand, solemn reception. The people spread their coats and branches beneath his feet and acclaimed him as the Son of David. They all cried 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.' (Jn 12:13) .........the crowd welcomed Jesus with great pomp. .......When the festivities were over and it was late, oddly enough, seeing no one to offer him hospitality or to give him something to eat, Jesus left the city and went back to spend the night in Bethany with his disciples.
The Son of God was welcomed triumphantly but found no one to open his door to him. Similarly, in our age, how often our welcome, our love, and our praises are superficial, without substance, merely a coat of religious varnish.
Today we content ourselves with performing rituals that have no effect on our everyday lives because they are lived without recollection, without interiority, and without truth. The inhabitants of Jerusalem did not understand the profound significance of the visit from the Son of God; the people, indulging in their passions and their political ambitions, were demonstrative, superficial, and noisy.
.......The inhabitants of Jerusalem wanted a messianic leader, without seeking to comprehend the silent grandeur of Jesus' message. The people did not welcome Christ in their souls; they indulged in a mere demonstration of colorful and excessive force. The most difficult thing is to love Jesus in spirit and in truth, so as to welcome him into one's heart and into the depths of one's being.
True welcome is silent. It is not diplomatic, theatrical, or sentimental."
(The definition of sentimental is: 1. tending to indulge the emotions excessively 2. making a direct appeal to the emotions, esp to romantic feelings 3. relating to or characterized by sentiment)
So, if you are like me and you have wondered why so many others seem to "get it" and freely express their undeniable "personal relationship with Jesus" and you just don't have that feeling. Maybe true love isn't about "the feeling" you think you ought to have. Maybe that sentimental "feely" oneness you think is missing in your relationship with God is not what you should be seeking. The relationship we should be seeking, according to Cardinal Sarah and the Church, is intellectual and can be found not in mushy terminology, but in humble selfless silence and enduring obedience.
Pope Pius X, in Catechism on Modernism, written in 1907, uses a slightly different term for this feeling, but it is clear he is talking of this same idea. He categorizes modernists in certain roles, that of philosopher, a believer, a theologian, an historian, a critic, an apologist, or a reformer. With each of these he declares what they espouse and then tells us what is wrong with it. In addressing those he refers to as "believers" he says,
"If you ask on what foundation this assertion of the Believer rests, they answer: In the experience of the individual. On this head the Modernists differ from the Rationalists only to fall into the opinion of the Protestants and pseudo-mystics. This is their manner of putting the question: In the religious sentiment one must recognize a kind of intuition of the heart which puts man in immediate contact with the very reality of God, and infuses such a persuasion of God's existence and His action both within and without man as to excel greatly any scientific conviction. They assert, therefore, the existence of a real experience, and one of a kind that surpasses all rational experience. If this experience is denied by some, like the rationalists, it arises from the fact that such persons are unwilling to put themselves in the moral state which is necessary to produce it. It is this experience which, when a person acquires it, makes him properly and truly a believer."
In other words, as I understand this, if you don't get a sentimental feeling of God, then you have not put yourself in the right frame of mind and moral conduct to receive it and cannot thus be a true Christian according to the Believer. This is a serious ERROR. Pope Pius X continues:
"We shall see later how, with such theories, added to the other errors already mentioned, the way is opened wide for atheism. Here it is well to note at once that given this doctrine of experience united with the other doctrine of symbolism, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true. What is to prevent such experiences from being met within every religion? In fact that they are to be found is asserted by not a few. And with what right will Modernists deny the truth of an experience affirmed by a follower of Islam? With what right can they claim true experiences for Catholics alone? Indeed Modernists do not deny but actually admit, some confusedly, others in the most open manner, that all religions are true. That they cannot feel otherwise is clear. For on what ground, according to their theories, could falsity be predicated of any religion whatsoever?
Once you base belief on sentiment, on a feeling you get inside, then how do you know your feeling is right or any better than another's feeling toward their own chosen path? There is nothing wrong with having a heart filled with joy or a burning desire for truth, so I don't reject all emotion when it comes to religion, but sentiments can come and go depending on the circumstances in our lives.It will always be there for you, unchanged and unaffected by the world around us. I sometimes encounter people who think we need to "borrow" certain things from our Protestant friends whose churches are alive and hopping on Sunday mornings. I always tell them, "Been there done that! Want no part of it!" The only thing lacking in the lives of Catholics is better knowledge of the Church and the beauty of the truth which abounds in her teachings.
I'll end this with another quote from Pope Pius X:
"......all these fantasias on the religious sentiment will never be able to destroy common sense and common sense tells us that emotion and everything that leads the heart captive proves a hindrance instead of a help to the discovery of truth. We speak, of course, of truth in itself - as for that other purely subjective truth, the fruit of sentiment and action, if it serves its purpose for the jugglery of words, it is of no use to the man who wants to know above all things whether outside himself there is a God into whose hands he is one day to fall. True, Modernists do call in experience to eke out their system, but what does this experience add to sentiment? Absolutely nothing beyond a certain intensity and a proportionate deepening of the conviction of the reality of the object. But these two will never make sentiment into anything but sentiment, nor deprive it of its characteristic which is to cause deception when the intelligence is not there to guide it; on the contrary, they but confirm and aggravate this characteristic, for the more intense sentiment is the more it is sentimental. In matters of religious sentiment and religious experience, you know, Venerable Brethren, how necessary is prudence and how necessary, too, the science which directs prudence."