Just a few days ago, an acquaintance asked me and some other friends, “How do you develop and foster your personal relationship with Jesus?”
That phrase — “personal relationship with Jesus” — might remind us of evangelical Protestants more than Catholics. But Pope Benedict XVI, addressing the world’s youth in 2011, confirmed that our faith “is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. […] When we enter into a personal relationship with him, Christ reveals our true identity and, in friendship with him, our life grows towards complete fulfillment.”
To answer Krystin’s question, I reflected: What makes any relationship “personal”?
- We get to know one another.
- We have heartfelt, authentic conversations.
- We listen to each other.
- We forgive one another.
- We visit each other.
1. Get Acquainted.
How much do you know about Jesus? As with any relationship, the foundation of our relationship with Jesus is built on ‘getting to know’ him.
Each morning before breakfast, I spend 10 – 20 minutes reading the Bible. You can find the Daily Readings on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. The Old Testament teaches us about our Heavenly Father and how he prepared us for his Son. The New Testament reveals Jesus’ earthly life, his hometown, his family, and his friends.
I also learned so much about Jesus by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Our small group ate some of the foods Jesus ate, walked the terrain, visited important sites related to his life, and so on. What a difference it makes to visit a loved one’s neighborhood and homeland — especially that of Jesus.
There are many other ways to learn about Jesus, like reading the pope’s daily teachings, signing up for a Bible study, or other class at your parish.
2. Heart-to-Heart Conversation
What distinguishes “personal” relationships from relationships we have with coworkers or neighbors? I say it’s the ability to speak honestly and openly, sharing our deepest concerns. Throughout my day, I speak this way with Jesus – either aloud or in my heart – about anything / everything, including my concerns and my joys.
But how did this habit begin if I can’t physically see Jesus’ face and speak with him, like I do with others? How can I remember to speak with Jesus throughout a busy day?
As I was growing up, my parents surrounded my sister and I with ‘holy reminders': pictures and statues of Jesus in every room of the house. We had many conversations about Jesus, and our parents taught us to speak with Jesus. Since Jesus has always been a member of our family, always on my mind and heart, it was easy for me to continue this habit of welcoming Jesus into my daily, adult life.
If this wasn’t your story, set up your own ‘holy reminders’! Place images of Jesus throughout your home. Have one at your desk, on your smartphone background, in your car. Let these remind you to converse with him. He is always ready to listen.
Of course, any close relationship requires that we listen to one another. Listening to Jesus – who is not only our friend, but our God – is essential.
During weekdays, I make a few minutes of ‘quiet time’ in the morning, mid-day, and evening. I sit in a designated place, remain still, and open myself to listen. Journaling with Scripture helps me focus on this in the mornings. It can be very difficult, with all my responsibilities and daily distractions, to stay committed to these ‘listening times’. I’ve learned, however, that when I don’t schedule time to listen, my life becomes even more chaotic and stressful.
As Pope Benedict XVI said, Jesus helps us understand our true selves. He is our Lord and God, who loves us and has a purpose for our life. When I don’t listen to Jesus, I easily get caught up in the circumstances of my life, lose sight of his love, and forget life’s ultimate, deeper meaning. When we don’t listen to Jesus, we can’t order our lives according to his mission for us. Our life will become disordered.
When someone hurts us and seeks our forgiveness, we repair our relationship by forgiving them. Hearing a loved one forgive us is an enormous relief. Why wouldn’t Jesus want the same for our relationship with him?
He does. This is why he gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation (cf. John 20:21-23), so that we can not only seek his forgiveness, but also hear and even see Jesus forgiving us through the ministry of the priest. Not only that, but participating in this Sacrament shows Jesus that we ‘forgive’ him for the times we felt hurt by him — I recall the time I was so angry at God for allowing my chronic pain condition.
Coming to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is such a profound gift to our relationship with him.
Perhaps the most life-giving and important way that I deepen my relationship with Jesus is spending time with him. Weekdays, I sit and visit Jesus in a Eucharistic Chapel for a few minutes. On Sundays, I go to church early so that I can spend a few quiet minutes visiting with him.
Jesus also comes to visit me, especially when I welcome him “under my roof” during Holy Communion.
If I solely talked with Jesus in prayer, but never visited him physically, it would be like having a relationship with someone over the phone or online. We would be capable of becoming very close to each other, but missing the element of touch and physical presence. The Eucharist allows our relationship with Jesus to become far more intimate.