Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Having A personal Relationship With Christ In The Catholic Church
Being a Catholic isn’t simply about being part of a religion; nor is it about having a relationship with an institution, or even the good thing of a profound admiration of the Church’s rituals and eternal truths. Rather, it is about having a real, living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ Our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ. It is about being close to Him; about knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him in this life so we can be happy with Him forever in the next. Though some Protestant Christians think the Catholic Church has wandered away from Christ, this is not the case: we meet Christ more personally in the Catholic Church than we can anywhere else, though we do share with Protestants some common ways of meeting Christ.
For example, the first way Catholics and Protestants can both meet Jesus is in the reading of the Gospels. When we read the Gospels we see Jesus healing the sick, hear Him consoling the sorrowful and forgiving sinners, all of which show us how loving God is toward us. We also hear Him describe God to us in His own words by ‘pictures’ or imagery, like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son and the imagery of living water or a wind that blows where it will for the Holy Ghost. So reading the Gospels (and speaking to Jesus about what we are feeling and seeing as we read them) is a core way of meeting Our Blessed Lord Jesus.
The second way Catholics and Protestants meet Jesus is prayer. We don’t pray because we believe in God; we pray so that we can believe in God. We cannot know someone we never speak to, so in order to get to know God we must pray, and listen to His response in our spirit. Prayer is best when it is simply talking to God as we would to our most trusted companion. We don’t need set words; only an open heart that speaks to God about whatever is going on inside of us; all our hopes, fears, joys and successes. Set prayers (as on prayer cards and in books) can be helpful when we can’t find the right words and we can put our heart and soul into what the prayers express, but simply contemplating the presence of God around us and within us like a light or a wind, is a very powerful prayer of adoration and petition which does not rely upon words at all.
A third way Catholics and Protestants meet Jesus is in other Christian people. Those Christians we meet who show love and compassion to everyone and yet do not compromise the truths of the faith, are ways in which we see Jesus living among us today. In them, God seems to truly live and move and have His being. Also, those we meet who are sick or in need are Jesus in need, and in caring for and showing love to them we caring for (showing love to) Jesus; we learn to enter into the love and compassion of God.
In marriage, Catholics and Protestants meet Christ in their spouse, for whenever we are forgiven (or challenged); whenever we are loved for who we are (and not because of what we do for our spouse or how we make them feel about themselves), we meet God and His unconditional love.
There are though, specific ways in which Catholics meet Jesus which Protestants do not have; our sacred art, and especially the Sacraments: the Priesthood; Confession, Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick. Certainly the rituals of these sacraments play a role, the ritual being a way of showing the mystery and wonder of God, but it is the inner reality of the sacraments celebrated in those rituals that brings us to a personal meeting with Christ.
While ritual is a kind of sacred art demonstrating the God’s beauty, wonder and complexity there are other forms of sacred art too: the external grandeur of the building, the imagery and internal decoration of the Church and her own (Gregorian) chant are all aspects of sacred art. Sacred art raises the mind and heart to God in that its beauty speaks to the heart of man. We see in it something wholly different to the decoration, imagery and music we generally have in our homes, offices, pubs etc. Such music and imagery remind us that we are in heaven when we are in Church; we remind ourselves that we are surrounded by the angels and saints in contemplating their images, we see a central throne for the Lord, candles to bring the beauty of light and mystery, and windows which tell the story of the Gospels or the lives of the saints. All this is unique to Catholic Churches, Protestant places of worship are devoid of such sacred art in fear of becoming idolaters.
When it comes to the sacraments we have to begin with priesthood, because the priest is set apart by Christ to make Him present in the world as our Good Shepherd. Jesus told His apostles, “As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you” (Jn.20v21). Thus St Peter describes the elders of the Church as shepherds, with Christ as the chief shepherd (1.Pet.5v1-5). Every priest has been called and set apart by Christ for the baptising of the convert (Math.28v19); the consecration of the Holy Eucharist (LK.22v19-20); the forgiving of sins (Jn.20v23) and the Anointing of the sick (Mk.6v13 & Jas.5v14). Jesus lives and acts in the priests in such a unique way (Lk.10v16 & Jn.20v21) that they act in His very person: “in persona Christi”, for it is His power that comes to us in them as our shepherds in His stead. It is because the priests live and act in the person of Christ the Good Shepherd that sins committed by priests are particularly appalling, for priests have the responsibility of living exemplary lives that model for us what every Christian life should be.
The first way we meet Christ in the sacraments is in Baptism. The result of Adam’s original sin being the loss of grace, (‘grace’ meaning ’union with God’), Baptism wipes away the result of Adam’s original sin by filling us with grace (union with Christ, Acts 2v38).
Another way we meet Christ in the sacraments is in Confession. We should remember that when we go into Confession we are not really telling our sins to the priest but to our Blessed Lord, thus, when the conversation is over, the priest must not reveal any sins told in Confession: he is to be like a telephone wire: an empty vessel; the telephone wire between Christ and the person. Confession is a wonderful way to meet with Jesus Christ because there, He forgives all our sins and fill us with the grace we lost by sinning.
Another way we meet Christ in the sacraments –indeed the very best way- is in Holy Communion; the Holy Eucharist. Although it may look as though the priest is simply blessing bread and making it holy, in fact by the words of the priest oir Blessed Lord is changing the bread and wine into His very self: His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. We know this from His own words: “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. anyone who eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I shall give for the life of the world, is My Flesh. He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood lives in Me, and I live in Him. As I draw life from the living Father, so whoever eats Me will draw life from me” (John 6). Our Lord’s Presence in the Blessed Sacrament for the life of the world is committed to His priests, to whom he said, “Take, eat, This is My Body...This is My Blood. Do this in memory of me”.
Finally, who would not want Jesus Christ to sit with them holding their hand as they die? This is what He does by the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Not only can this sacrament on occasion restore health in quite miraculous ways, but it always brings the forgiveness of sins to repentant souls so that we are ready for entry into heaven. in this sacrament, Christ continues to touch us with his healing and forgiving hands. We should try to not see a priest sitting by our bedside but Christ, for it is Christ who anoints and heals both the body and the soul as He waits to guide the willing soul to heaven.
It is important that when we receive the sacraments we make ourselves conscious of the fact that this is a meeting with Jesus, or we will fall into the trap of engaging in ritual and fail to develop that one-to-one relationship Jesus wants with us. Of course that relationship will be there from His side, but we fauil to develop our awareness of it and of Him if we receive the sacraments in mere habit and not actively, attentively conscious that they are a personal meeting with Christ our Blessed Lord and God.