Friday, October 18, 2013

Personal Relationship with Jesus: Vortex

I have just spent a couple of days reading and thinking about a book called Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell. This book has a charismatic bent, tries real hard to sound Catholic in spite of that, and is liberally sprinkled with the phrase “a personal relationship with Jesus”. I was, therefore, mildly amused by the fact that Michael Voris produced a Vortex using exactly that phrase – “personal relationship with Jesus” – as its title, just in time to mesh with my own thoughts on that topic.

I read the above-mentioned book reluctantly; it’s not the kind of thing I would ordinarily read, because I have a pretty good idea what I will find in such writing, and it irritates me. But I had heard that concepts from the book were being used as the foundation for the evangelization program being instituted here in the Diocese of Baker, so I decided to take a look at the basic premise of the program. Guess what? The premise is primarily that most Catholics don’t have a “personal relationship” with Jesus, and this is what they need in order to be “intentional disciples” who spread the Good News.

The author’s premise also includes a strong emphasis on “identifying the charisms” of each parishioner so that those gifts can be put to service in the parish and the community. Since I come from a Pentecostal background, this jargon and these concepts are all too familiar with me. They are an immature and cheap imitation of the real thing – which is Catholicism as we “experience” it in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist, of course, since that is the source and summit of our Christian life). After all, what is really meant by saying that one has “a personal relationship with Jesus”?

During my years in the Pentecostal community, I saw my journey as one in which I sought to be ever closer to Jesus. When I discovered the truth of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, I knew I had to become Catholic. I was suspicious of many things about Catholicism, but I had read large portions on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and had found that I could not disagree with what I read there. And on “discovering” the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I thought to myself, “How much closer can you get to Jesus than receiving Him, Body and Soul, Blood and Divinity, in Holy Communion?” That’s pretty personal, wouldn’t you agree?!

And like MV in the Vortex episode embedded below, I thought of St. John of the Cross and his experience and explanation of the “Dark Night of the Soul”.  What would St. John think of telling people that all they need is “a personal relationship with Jesus”?

I suspect that the concept came out of the philosophical distinction between a personal God and an impersonal God – but that distinction, too, is fraught with problems of definition and interpretation. I also suspect that the emergence of the philosophy of personalism as a driving force in the change in perspective on many Catholic issues also allowed this “personal relationship” idea to enter the minds of Catholics who have been contaminated by Protestant thinking. 

And this all leads to relativism, in the end. After all, if it is your “personal relationship” with the Lord, then that implies that you can define it any way you want. It’s personal, ya know. But as MV notes:

Any legitimate relationship with Our Blessed Lord comes to us through AND in the Church. PERIOD.

The problem with a personal relationship with Jesus is that apart from the Church, or not in unity with the Church, the TERMS of the relationship are often set by man, not Jesus.

If you are a Catholic in good standing who has been baptized and confirmed, and who partakes frequently of the sacraments, then yes, you have a “personal relationship with Jesus”.

Don’t let any Protestant or protestantized Catholic tell you otherwise!

Here's the Vortex:

Here’s the script:

A phrase that has gained a great deal of currency in the Church these past few years is: “having a personal relationship with your lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

Sometimes the short hand version is just .. “a personal relationship with Jesus.”
When we examine a phrase like that, we have to be very thoughtful because the object of that phrase is more the “me” or the “I” than it is Jesus. Accordingly, it shouldn’t be surprising that the phrase has gained MUCH traction in American Protestantism – in many quarters of Protestantism in fact, it is spoken in near sacred and hushed terms, as if the phrase alone is sufficient for salvation.

There is no relationship with Jesus possible without the Church. Pope Francis, in line with his successors, said this just a few weeks ago. There is no Jesus without the Church. Any legitimate relationship with Our Blessed Lord comes to us through AND in the
Church. PERIOD.

The problem with this phrase, like so much in the Church these days is that it is very ambiguous and murky and unclear – just the way those uncertain in their faith like it: ambiguous and murky and unclear.

Such ambiguity allows people to fill in the blanks THEY want to… even apart from the teachings and tradition of the Church if they feel like it. So Jesus becomes to them, the font of all emotionalism and FEELINGS of joy, but not THE ACTUAL source of joy – that is coming from their own emotions.

The problem with a personal relationship with Jesus is that apart from the Church, or not in unity with the Church, the TERMS of the relationship are often set by man, not Jesus.

Here’s a newsflash: not every aspect of truly living the faith fills one with a giant tidal wave of joy expressed in giddiness – and we might, spiritual immaturity. Living the faith is sometimes extremely difficult and requires supernatural strength – otherwise known as grace – and it doesn’t always have the immediate effect of making you skip down the garden path.

Ask St. John of the Cross, for one – who brings with his spirituality the now famous phrase – The Dark Night of the Soul.

The grace of consolation is not always given NOR does it remain, especially in the greatest names on the role of saints. Even Mother Theresa it was revealed after her death suffered greatly from the lack of the feeling of Divine consolation.

Yet, there is this continual childish – not child-like, mind you – but childish view that if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that you walk around like a giddy immature follower of the Lord always on some kind of high.

This is exactly the image of a personal relationship with Jesus that some in the Church – including many leaders – are anxious to present. They don’t want to talk about the struggle of the Christian life, anxious themselves that it will turn people off.

People want to be happy and join a Church that is fun and “joyful”, they say. Well, such an effort most likely will appeal to the emotions of some people, to their individual psychologies. But it won’t have any staying power – as many mega-Church pastors are finding out these days, having to re-invent themselves and their congregations as numbers begin to dip as the “Jesus Party” comes to an end.

Living the devout and faithful life is hard business. The joy comes from the consolation of the knowledge that you are doing the will of God in loving Him. And what is loving God? How is it measured?

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments, and My Father and I will come to you and We will make Our home in you.”

How easy is it to keep His commandments? Our Blessed Lord tells us – “pick up your cross and follow Me”. But there is this cultural thing in America – and the rest of the
West, thanks to America – that if something is a struggle, it isn’t fun, and therefore can’t be joyful.

Our Blessed Lord Himself swats down this stupid notion by saying, “Come to Me all you who burdened and heavy-laden and you will find rest for your souls.”

Does Our Lord grant the grace of consolation? Of course He does. Is it usual, and often? It doesn’t appear so. Even on the cross, at the height of His own suffering, He withdrew the feeling of consolation of His divinity from His humanity, so that He cried out from His own depths, “My God, My God why have you abandoned Me?”

Our Sweet Lord, desiring to be united to every pain of humanity he could, even willingly endured the feelings of the Dark Night.

So forgive some of us, if all this childish talk of a personal relationship with Jesus isn’t immediately, instantaneously talked about in relationship to the Church – the sacraments and nothing else.

You cannot have Jesus without the Church and being in a personal relationship with Jesus does not mean you skip and hop all over creation like a love sick albatross.

Having a personal relationship with Jesus means one thing – Love of God, not dependent on emotions. Might you have an emotional response? Sure. But having an emotional response doesn’t mean its origin is in Jesus, and having a personal relationship with Jesus doesn’t guarantee an emotional response. In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t mean that at all.

I need only look to my own Mother who as many of you know, asked for a cross to bring about the reversion of both my brother and me. Shortly after that prayer, she was diagnosed with cancer.

My mother suffered terribly from bi-polar depression her whole life AND what one doctor called a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – which created not a few dramatic episodes in our home.

Yet through it all – without ever really experiencing what could be remotely referred to as “human joy”, this woman stayed faithful and carried not one, but various MAJOR crosses under which most people would be crushed.

In the midst of her sufferings, and they were great, both physical and emotional, she made sure that I and my brother received the faith. You will never hear or see or read anything about her being “joyful” the way the term is tossed around today by many in the Church.

In fact, the way that term is used is almost insulting to the many, many souls who have borne up under their crosses with almost no feelings of the graces of consolation. You won’t find them on any archdiocesan promotion posters under a banner of New Evangelization. You won’t find them smiling in brochures about how “joyful” it is to be Catholic.

But you will find them living the fullness of the Catholic life at the foot of the cross, tearing away the old man in all its painful reality and putting on the new in anticipation of the heavenly banquet.

The “joy” that we should be receiving in a personal relationship with Jesus comes from the knowledge that if we persevere, Heaven is ours AND Our Blessed Lord and His Church, His Bride is there to keep us strong.

That joy is evident in our faithfulness, not a childish view of this valley of tears. SO be joyful in your personal relationship with Jesus, absolutely. But make sure the joy is rooted in the authentic.


  1. Amen!, it's very frustrating to hear those words and this idea that all things must be on a giddy joyous high.

  2. By rejecting the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, Protestants reject the very personal relationship with Christ their constantly talking about. Period. If they gave up that stubborn pride of theirs, that outright rejection of the truth and came to the One, True Church THEN they would finally find that personal relationship they long for. It's as simple as that.

    Catholics receive the very Body and Blood of God. And most among our ranks don't even believe it themselves...

    God bless.


  3. Off topic, I'm afraid, but I thought you might want to know that Baker is right in the center of the path for the total eclipse of the sun that will happen on Aug 21, 2017.

    You could start planning now to host an "End of the world" party. Everyone could come dressed in sackcloth and ashes. No food or drinks provided. lol

    -John G.

  4. ROFL, John! Thanks for the tip! Of course by 2017, we may all be in FEMA camps singing that song from Les Miserables about "Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men..."

  5. A powerful witness to the truth! Thanks, Dr. Jay, for posting the transcript. I'll post it at my blog, too.

  6. I was wondering if I should get this book, so many have been saying it's wonderful. I don't think I will. Thank you!

  7. Lynne, the only benefit of reading it is that you can then tell others what's wrong with it. I have copious notes for a more thorough review of it, which I hope to finish next week.

    1. Dr. Jay, I read your review on the book. The reason I was poking around the website looking for an opposing view of Weddell's book was because I attended Part I of the "Called & Gifted" program. The female presenter, (it wasn't Weddell), kept calling out "Amen" as if the magnitude of our response, (Amen), seemed to be a measure of our "relationship" with Christ.

      Two spoke: a man and the woman. They threw out teasers stating they would help us find our particular "charisms" and live the "Office of the Laity". There were several low keyed pot-shots at Catholics and Priests, (you know -- because of the "problem"). She gave some uninspiring stories re: people who did "things" (trusted God, I guess) once they found their "charism". It seems those stories were teasers to get people to come back the next day.

      After the meeting broke for the evening, I asked her if she'd ever heard of Padre Pio. She responded that she'd never heard of him. Short story: a priest who had hounded Padre Pio throughout his life chided the good father about having the gift of healing as a child. St. Pio responded, "What gifts? I have no gifts." The woman didn't get that Padre Pio was stating he was a conduit and God was doing the work. I asked her why it was important to "name" these spiritual gifts? What was the benefit when all we have to do is sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and claim totus tuus.

      She seemed irritated; I excused myself. I did not return the next day but know of many who did. I kept the book. The forward states it had been a Protestant version used in Catholic groups. She had changed it, (SW), to suit Catholics.

      Also noted were some change in traditionally Catholic words. For instance, the term "Office of the Laity" was used instead of vocation or state in life. It's like they were trying to change terminology to veer away from Catholicism the way liberals have manipulated language.

      It was very disconcerting, and I'm afraid a sham. I mean, if one wants to pay 40$ an hour to have one's charism truly explained, they're willing to do that.


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