Encountering the Personal Christ - A Reflection

A few weeks ago I related to the parish a direction involving “Encountering Christ” in three areas: Scripture, Liturgy and Outreach and Service to Others. I mentioned that one of the underlying fundamentals of developing a closer relationship to Christ is actually having a personal relationship with Christ. In some Catholic ears, that might sound rather fundamentalist, Protestant or evangelical. Some Catholics might who say that the Eucharist and Mass is the way that Catholics develop a real personal relationship with Christ. That would not be entirely incorrect.

Two articles that I recently read deal with this dichotomy. Nevertheless, the question can be asked as to whether or not really an “either – or” issue, but rather a “both – and” issue. I must say I found some irony in two articles. The evangelicals are lighting candles and burning incense (practices that, a few year ago would be considered “Popery”). Kurtley Knight, a graduate of George Fox Evangelical Seminary sees a new kind of hybrid: an evangelical church that orders its services around liturgical practices. “I think it speaks to a lack of rootedness in our culture,” Knight said. “It ties you into something that is lasting, trustworthy. And that touches a nerve in our culture.” Meanwhile, the Catholics are talking more and more about the importance of making “a personal decision for Christ” –one phrase which, according to the website Catholic Missionary Disciples, “can really get the Catholic social media arguments going” since it has been seen as the hallmark of fundamentalism and evangelical churches for years.

So it begs the question, why not both? The answer is that both components need to be in place in order to have a deepening relationship and maturing spirituality. God reveals himself to us and “calls us by name.” At some point, a person needs to respond to that “spiritual phone call.” (See Catechism, paragraph 143). Nevertheless, once we have answered that call and appropriated the relationship in our lives, worship is the key way in which this relationship is defined, supported, strengthened and protected. It is they key forum where we not only learn about God, we meet and learn God in a relationship. “Being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.” (Pope Francis). This idea is also reflected in the writing of St. Augustine, St. Francis deSales, ST. Therese of Lisieux, St. Alphonsus de Ligouri and St. Bonaventure (See their respective quotes on the Catholic Missionary Disciples website).

Kurt Klement is the director of evangelization for St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell. As a leader from a highly liturgical tradition, he acknowledges a danger in ritual done wrong. “There is always the temptation with ritual for it to become rote, to lose the deeper meaning,” Klement said. On the other hand, a personal relationship with Christ void of the grounding and richness of liturgy can rob a person of the fullness of basic human/religious experience. “The reality is that we need both,” Klement said. “These are big movements — like tectonic plates — and there seems to be a movement of the Holy Spirit to bring those plates, and the symbols that have been passed down to us through the centuries, back again thus uniting churches.”

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