You often hear me talking about a personal relationship with God. By personal, I don’t mean “private.” I’m not encouraging everyone to have their own “personal” Jesus. I am referring rather to a relationship between persons. You are a person, and the One God is three Persons, and so your relationship with God is a relationship between persons.
Now Pope Francis is a person, and I’m a person too. I know a lot about Pope Francis. I’ve read some of his writings. I see him in the news. I get his tweets every morning as if the Pope were texting me. I saw him in person in St. Peter’s Square on June 26, 2013. But I don’t have a personal relationship with him. We’re not friends, we don’t talk regularly, and even if we met in person we wouldn’t share deep personal things.
I think a lot of us expect to have this same kind of relationship with God. We believe in his existence. We know about him. He seems like a nice guy. He dresses in white and lives a long way off. He can’t possibly be interested in little old me. And so we are content with an impersonal relationship. But God is not content to remain at a distance from you. In a famous letter to her sisters, Mother Theresa wrote:
Jesus wants me to tell you again, specially in this Holy Week, how much love He has for each one of you – beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus – one to one – you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel – but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus – not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying, “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person – not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say, “I love you” – impossible. Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead – meditation only thinking. Jesus wants you each to hear Him – speaking in the silence of your heart. (“Varanasi Letter” of 25 March 1993)
Some people are surprised to hear a Catholic saint talk like this. “We never heard this growing up; that’s something those Bible churches talk about.” But all the great saints had this one thing in common: at some point they became friends with God. They experienced his love in a personal way and said “Yes” to his love for them. His love fueled their passion to dare great things: feed the hungry, serve the poor, teach children, convert pagan nations, and turn wastelands into flourishing monasteries.
The burning love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the engine that powers the Catholic faith. His love warms our churches and burns away our sins. It inspires young women to give their life to him as sisters, and young men to be celibate priests and monks. It inspires Catholic families to be open to life and to raise Godly children for heaven. Love for him is incarnate in our beautiful old churches built by poor immigrants, our many Catholic schools and universities and hospitals and long history of heroic saints.
Why is the Catholic Church running out of steam? Has Jesus stopped loving us? Absolutely not! The sun itself is less powerful than the love of Jesus, and will burn itself out long before we run out of God’s love. But we are freezing to death, insulated from God’s love by comfortable consumer lives. More and more we don’t even know how to let other human beings love us, let alone God himself. And in this state of coldness we think that celibate priesthood is too much to ask of a young man. Yes, celibacy, saving sex for marriage, openness to life, faithfulness in marriage — it’s all too much to ask if we are relying on our own power.
Anyone who is sincerely trying to live his Catholic faith to the best of his ability will sooner or later discover that the Catholic faith is beyond his ability to live. And we will be faced with two choices: put up a good show, or find a way to change the teachings we find impossible to live. But there is a third way, and that is allowing yourself to be “plugged in” to the ultimate power in the universe. Jesus could not have been more clear: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We don’t have to look far to see all the nothing we can accomplish by our own hard work. But with God, all things are possible.
Are you friends with God?