It is always startling for me to listen to serious Catholics respond to the idea of "personal relationship with God" as has happened over at Mark's place today during a discussion of the Pew Forum study:
“I’d also note that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is such a staple of evangelical rhetoric that many Catholics may be saying “no” as a way of saying that they don’t experience God in the same way that evangelicals say that they experience God. That is, Catholics meet the Lord in the Sacraments, in the liturgy of the community, etc., not just in private unstructured prayers.”
“Some Catholics might hear a reference to “personal God” and think it refers to an Evangelical understanding of Christian faith. But overall it leaves me scratching my head. What the heck is meant by “personal,” anyway?”
“If I pray to God, isn’t that a sign of something personal? I am not praying to someone or something abstract. But I agree with sd that catholics are not taught culturally to think of that as a “personal relationship.” At least I know that I did not look on it that way. Much of the poll results could be attributed to linguistic tone deafness of a sort.”
To which I responded:
Re: “Personal” and “relationship”. As in relationships we have with others in our lives - family, friends, co-workers, etc.
What I found mystifying is how seemingly normal adult Catholics, all of whom have some experience of personal relationship or they would never have lived to grow up, suddenly freeze when the idea of relationship with God is proposed.
We all have some experience of relationship and we routinely talk about our relationships - with our parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends, etc.
Relationship is a extremely common topic here at CAEI. And I have yet to hear anyone here say:
“Just what do you mean by “personal relationship” with your spouse or your child or your friend? Relationship is something that Protestants talk about. That’s not something Catholics do.”
As though a Protestant is another species or order of being and their relationships are so totally different from our own.
We are all human beings here with the same basic frailties and capacities for grace and response to God and there is only one God. It is absurd to talk as though Protestants and Catholics are from different planets in this matter or seeking to relate to a different God.
I’ve never read a saint who reacted that way when asked about their relationship with God. Most of them couldn’t shut up on the subject.
Marriage -one of the most intimate human relationships possible - is used as the great metaphor for every Christian’s relationship with God in the Scriptures and therefore, is part of the Catholic Tradition. And the foundation of the whole Theology of the Body.
Relationship is the crux of our whole understanding of heaven which is eternal life in the presence of and participating in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Even the Trinity as understood by historic Christianity is profoundly personal and relational. Relationship and self-giving are intrinsic to the very heart and nature of God.
God is profoundly personal and relational. And so are human beings. When we were baptized, we were baptized into Jesus’ relationship with his Father. We became adopted sons and daughters of God and therefore, Jesus is now our brother as well as our Lord - an extremely intimate relationship.
Relationship - whether mediated and nourished by the liturgy and sacraments or not - is the heart of this whole drama we are all engaged in.
And I add here:
Pope Benedict began Deus Caritas Est with these words:
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”. We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life.
“A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism...Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe in the “goodness and loving kindness of God” (Tit 3:4). Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible.”
As the Pope said to the young people of America:
“What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer. God by his very nature speaks, hears, and replies. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us: we can and should “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). Far from turning in on ourselves or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, by praying we turn towards God and through him to each other, including the marginalized and those following ways other than God’s path (cf. Spe Salvi, 33)….”
Catholicism is not a “relationship-free” faith.
If the idea of a “personal relationship with God” gives us pause or strikes us as foreign, we need to re-evaluate our own understanding of the faith, and more to the point, our own lived relationship with God.