I remember a long time ago, part of my seminary preparation sent me to a summer chaplain school in a county hospital in Dallas, Texas. There were 13 in our chaplain class. 12 Southern Baptists/Assembly of God and one Catholic (me).
We would meet daily for intensive meetings about the patients we were working with and then we’d break for lunch. It was during our lunches that we’d learn more about each other and what our personal faith traditions taught. You can imagine the attention the Catholic guy got!
Comments like: “You Catholics like statues!” Or “You worship Mary.” Or “the Pope is as important as Jesus.” Or “Just go to mass and you go straight to heaven right?” But the one question that we spent most of our time on was “Do Catholics accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior?” “Did you accept him Tim?”
It really made me step out of my Catholic world to see what these Baptist classmates knew in their bones as little children . . . “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” A real, living, present person . . . my friend Jesus. “Yes”, I said, but they made me dig deep inside to realize this
Many Catholics are a little slow to answer “have I accepted Jesus into my life”? “Do you mean, do I love God? Of course I do. I go to mass. I say my prayers. I try to live right. Does that mean I have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
I would say “yes”. You’ve got the basics covered there. . .loving and serving a God we cannot see. However, I think the question goes a bit further than that, asking in a sense, is this relationship with Christ PERSONAL? Does it bear the signs of a relationship? Is there a familiarity with Jesus that one would have in a dear friendship?
Is there at times an emotional level to your speaking with God? (For example: “Lord you know I can’t stand the thought of losing my friend, (neighbor, associate, job etc.)” Or “Please help me today, I just don’t know what to do to help my child.” That’s a personal relationship.)
What if I don’t recognize these feelings in my relationship with Christ? Have I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember, you HAVE a relationship with Christ GIVEN to you in baptism. You are a child of God and you are invited to call God your Father. It’s a gift. Accept it.
The other personal feeling stuff comes naturally to anyone who loves God and tries to do what is good. If my chaplain friends had asked me “do you always FEEL Christ’s friendship?” I would have to answer “no”. Feelings come and go. There are times when we are filled with affections toward those we love. At other times things feel dry and everyday. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just how life is.
But there is one infallible way to determine whether we have a personal relationship with Jesus – – – – how do we treat our neighbor in need? Why is this the measure (and not some spiritual feeling)? Because Jesus said so.
“As often as you (fed, clothed, visited, comforted) these little ones, you did it for me.” MT. 25:31ff. And, “Whoever has not loved a brother/sister whom he has seen cannot love God who he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20. In other words Christ takes it PERSONALLY when we care for our neighbor. Kindness to them is kindness TO ME says the Lord.
Loving our neighbor is essential to having a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. God has a grace for you to know his friendship. Ask for it.
God bless you in these Christmas days.