The Problem with “A Personal Relationship with Jesus”

… a baptized, confirmed Catholic who faithfully partakes of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion in the manner prescribed by the Church certainly has a “personal relationship” with Jesus, whether or not he or she uses that phrase to describe it.

“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”

It’s a question that Catholics are hearing much more frequently in the Church these past few years—a question many associate primarily with evangelical Protestant groups. Since mid-2012, however, a “New Evangelization” book and program have been making the rounds amongst Catholic parishes, making liberal use of that phrase. The book is Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell; it has a charismatic bent and is liberally sprinkled with the phrase, “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Though this essay is not meant to be a book review, I shall rely on many examples from Ms. Weddell’s work, as it illustrates very well the thinking behind what appears to be a current trend in the “New Evangelization.”

The basic assumption of the people who ask others whether they have a personal relationship with Jesus—and the premise of Ms. Weddell’s book—seems to be that most Catholics don’t have such a relationship; and this is what they need in order to be “intentional disciples” who spread the Good News (and, presumably, bring converts into the Church).

The problem with this approach is that it has a distinctly “Protestant” ring to it; that is, the emphasis is on “me ‘n’ Jesus,” with less emphasis on understanding the teachings of the Church that Jesus instituted. No matter how beneficial it might be to have a “personal relationship with Jesus,” if a clearly recognizable Catholic identity is not promoted, then this type of “evangelization” is counterproductive. The “New Evangelization” should not be out to make Protestants of our Catholics; indeed, we should be out to make Catholics of our Protestant friends and relatives.

Influence of Personalism and Immanentism

Let’s consider the implications of asking whether one has “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Frankly, the question is not one that has a Catholic meaning. The object of the question is more likely to be “me” or “I” than it is Jesus, and in American Protestant circles, the phrase is spoken in reverent tones, as if those words alone are sufficient for salvation. What exactly does it mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus? The concept itself is purely subjective; there is really no way to define it, and there is no way to observe it.

On the other hand, for Catholics there is an observable measure of one’s relationship with our Lord. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Catholics, and a baptized, confirmed Catholic who faithfully partakes of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion in the manner prescribed by the Church certainly has a “personal relationship” with Jesus, whether or not he or she uses that phrase to describe it. Of course, this presupposes a belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It presupposes a belief in hell and in the necessity of sacramental confession. In other words, it presupposes a basic knowledge of the faith.

I suspect that the concept of a “personal relationship with Jesus” emerged from 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 exposed to Protestant thinking. And hand-in-hand with personalism comes the concept of immanentism, which is explained by one author in this way:

The immanence of God refers to the fact that He is present in a very special way in everyone who is in the state of sanctifying grace…

Immanence, then, is very much a good thing. Immanentism, on the other hand, is not at all a good thing, and that is because, by denying the transcendence of God, it, of course, utterly falsifies the divine nature. To deny the transcendence of God is to refuse to acknowledge the fact that he is absolutely distinct from and superior to his creatures, and the result of doing that is to end up with a knowledge which, whatever else may be said of it, is not knowledge of the one true God at all.

Fr. John Hardon, S.J., in writing on the subject of immanentist apologetics, refers to it as “A method of establishing the credibility of the Christian faith by appealing to the subjective satisfaction that the faith gives to the believer.” Coupled with this emphasis on the subjective, there is a downplaying of the objective criteria of our faith, even to the point of rejecting miracles and prophecies. Purely personal motives for faith, motives that have mainly to do with feelings, are given primary place. “Religion, therefore, would consist,” Father Bouyer remarks, “entirely in the religious feeling itself.” 1

This definition paints a perfect picture, I think, of what lies beneath the surface of the question, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” In the same mode, but using different words, author Sherry Weddell suggests that the leaders of a parish “discipleship program” should ask parishioners to “describe your lived relationship with God.” I believe that these are “loaded” questions which a well-informed, and well-formed Catholic could easily lay to rest by stating, “I attend Mass and receive Holy Communion on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation; I receive the sacrament of reconciliation frequently; and I perform corporal and spiritual acts of mercy as the opportunities present themselves in my daily life.” Not to mention that there are countless devotions a person can practice that enhance his relationship with the Almighty, such as Eucharistic Adoration, praying the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy chaplet, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours (or some portion thereof). All of those devotions lead us into a deeper relationship with our Lord, though they may or may not be accompanied by the “warm fuzzies” that some seem to identify as indicating a “personal relationship.”

Conversion or Consolation?

Another misconception of those who tout the “personal relationship with Jesus” idea seems to be that there will be “distinct internal turning points” as this relationship develops. In fact, it seems to be Ms. Weddell’s personal prejudice, as expressed in her book, that a person must experience such “turning points” in order to progress in the spiritual life; she deplores the fact that there is “no expectation” of such turning points among the lay faithful. However, such an expectation can lead to false “epiphanies,” and many saints counsel against having a desire or expectation to receive this type of spiritual consolation. Therefore, it is not necessary—or even desirable—to have a “turning point” or an “overt conversion experience” to be a Catholic in good standing, who does, indeed, have a “relationship with Jesus.”

But people are drawn to and “convinced” by conversion experiences. Protestant evangelizers know this very well. In an article entitled “How I Led Catholics Out of the Church,” Steve Wood, a convert to the Church, recounts his own extensive experience at facilitating such conversions when he was an Assembly of God youth minister:

Most Protestant services proclaim a simple gospel: repent from sin and follow Christ in faith. They stress the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus and the reward of eternal life. Most of the Catholics who attend these services are not accustomed to hearing such direct challenges to abandon sin and follow Christ. As a result, many Catholics experience a genuine conversion.

… Protestant pastors, evangelists, youth leaders, and lay ministers are acutely aware that conversion experiences in Protestant settings often lead to a Protestant faith and church membership. Why do so many Catholic leaders fail to see this? Why are they so nonchalant about a process that has pulled hundreds of thousands of Catholics out of the Church? 2

Note that Wood states that most of the Catholics attending these Protestant services “are not accustomed to hearing such direct challenges to abandon sin and follow Christ.” The failure of most pastors to talk candidly about sin, and its consequences, in their homilies has far-reaching effects. Of course, it is not just a failure of the parish priest; it is a failure of the past translation of the Missal which omitted so many references to sin in the prayers of the Mass. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi; we can’t live a life of conversion from sin if we don’t know that such is expected of us! Although the new translation has corrected that to some extent, there still exists a poverty of conversion-evoking phrases in the current prayers when compared to the prayers of the 1962 Missal. For Catholics, in many cases, there is no call to conversion in the Catholic Church, because pastors have such a great fear of hurting someone’s feelings. And yet, that call to conversion is heeded mightily in Protestant settings. Catholics seldom hear the message that they are sinful, and so they see no need for the sacrament of reconciliation (“I haven’t killed anyone” being a common excuse for not going to confession).

Steve Wood also points out (emphasis in original):

In my experience as a Protestant, all the Catholics who had a conversion in a Protestant setting lacked a firm grasp of their Catholic faith.

In twenty years of Protestant ministry, I never met a Catholic who knew that John 3: 3-8 describes the sacrament of Baptism. It wasn’t hard to convince them to disregard the sacraments along with the Church that emphasized the sacraments.

The Book of Proverbs says: “He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prv 18:17). Catholics without a scriptural foundation for their Catholic beliefs never hear “the rest of the story.” My selective use of scripture made the Protestant perspective seem so absolutely sure. Over time, this one-sided approach to scripture caused Catholics to reject their Catholic faith.

Most Catholics today seem to believe, as the Protestants do, that there is no scriptural basis for the sacraments, and for many of the teachings of the Church; they haven’t been told. They also don’t understand the relationship between Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. They don’t understand that the Church teaches from a position of authority that no Protestant denomination can ever enjoy.

Calling the faithful back to the sacraments is, I believe, the Catholic way to encourage the “genuine conversions” Steve Wood mentions; and genuine conversions are what we are after. Sound liturgy and sound doctrine are key catechetical tools; sadly, though, they are currently missing-in-action in many parishes, from what I have read and experienced. For instance, returning to Ms. Weddell’s book, we are given this description of a parish in the Midwest:

I could feel a spiritual energy that I have hardly ever experienced before at Mass, as though the intensity of the prayer of those gathered lifted my own prayer to a new level. I mentioned this to several parishioners, and they told me that what I had experienced was normal.

This is a very subjective and personalistic view of Mass, and of what Mass should be. Mass is about worshiping God, about giving God what is due him, not getting a good “spiritual” feeling out of it, or feeling that one’s own prayers have reached a “new level.” What is that new level? How is it defined? What does it mean? Descriptions like this appear frequently in the book—prayer services are “explosive,” or a discussion group is “absolutely great,” or Adoration was a “powerful experience.” These descriptors sound good and feel good, but they are not necessarily indicators of true spiritual growth or maturity. In fact, how can we deign to make evaluations of anyone’s spiritual state at any particular time? Are those reporting these “amazing” events speaking for everyone present? Are they privy to the innermost thoughts and motivations of the participants? Clearly not.

This kind of thinking—or rather, feeling—leads Ms. Weddell to another conclusion about the spiritual developmental level of the lay faithful, which, I would argue, is unfounded:

We learned that the vast majority of even “active” American Catholics are still at an early, essentially passive stage of spiritual development. We learned that our first need at the parish level isn’t catechetical. Rather, our fundamental problem is that most of our people are not yet disciples. They will never be apostles until they have begun to follow Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church. (p. 11; my emphases)

An important issue here, I think, is the difference between “contemplative” and “active” spiritual orientations. As an example, consider the Gospel story of Mary and Martha. I suggest that most of the people in parish ministries are “Marthas” rather than “Marys”; they are more “active” than “contemplative” in their spiritual outlook on life, and the “spiritual motivation” for parish work is not a priority for them. Further, I suspect that Ms. Weddell and her associates have this “active” bias themselves, and “actives” are generally not very understanding of “contemplatives”—just as the Martha of the Bible demanded, essentially, that Jesus tell Mary to do something. Contemplatives, like Mary, are in fact doing something, and as Jesus indicated, that something is very important—even if it doesn’t have manifest physical results. “Marys” are seen by “Marthas” as having a “passive stage” of spiritual development—a view that is not warranted by the “evidence.”


In the end, the phenomenological and personalistic construct of a “personal relationship with Jesus” leads to relativism. After all, implicit in the notion of a “personal relationship” with the Lord is the conclusion that one can define that relationship as one pleases. It’s personal,after all! This is a false notion of what a relationship with Jesus truly entails; it implies that one must “feel” something. But what of St. John of the Cross and his teaching on the Dark Night of the Soul? What would a person experiencing that aspect of spiritual development say in response to the question, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” I suspect the answer for such a person would be too sublime to be accurately expressed in words.

Furthermore, the danger with encouraging a personalistic view of one’s relationship with the Lord also encourages a personalistic view of the doctrines of the faith; in other words, it may lead toward “cafeteria Catholicism,” wherein individuals maintain that they are entitled to believe or disbelieve certain tenets. In fact, this is the belief system of a good many Catholics these days, as indicated by the many surveys that show that an overwhelming majority of those who self-identify as Catholics:

  • do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist;
  • do not believe Mass attendance is required to be a good Catholic;
  • have used or currently use artificial contraception;
  • do not believe that the Church is necessary for salvation.

Smaller but significant percentages of self-identified Catholics also believe that

  • homosexual “marriage” should be legalized;
  • abortion is allowed under some circumstances;
  • marriage outside the Church is valid.

These are constant teachings of the Church that are routinely snubbed by Catholics, even (and one is tempted to say, “especially”) by those who claim to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus.

A program of evangelization and catechesis that focuses on this nebulous “personal relationship” may win some converts and “reverts,” but this begs the question: to what “Catholic Church” are they converting? Will they perceive the Church as a “loving,” accepting community, in which they can remain in their sin, or will they perceive the call to holiness? Will they be able to say “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God”? Or will they believe that they can “form their own conscience” irrespective of the teachings of the Church?

As a former Protestant, I am well aware of the dangers in this “personal relationship” approach. I have been to many a Protestant prayer service in which those pious souls, who truly believed they had a “personal relationship with Jesus,” prayed for others out of a personal agenda, and proclaimed “a word” that they “felt” was given to them by the Holy Spirit—but which was misleading and even sinful. I have heard women who believe that they have a “personal relationship with Jesus” say that they also believe that the Lord has authorized them to use artificial contraception, or even have an abortion.

Steve Wood noted in his article that it might be dangerous for Catholics to participate in Protestant events and “ecumenical activities” unless they have a firm grasp of their faith, can articulate it to a non-Catholic and have “the maturity to realize that the most profound presence of Christ isn’t necessarily found in the midst of loud noise and high emotion, but in quiet moments like Eucharistic adoration (see 1 Kgs 19: 11-12).” He adds that:

Unfortunately, the majority of Catholic men born after WWII don’t meet the above conditions. For them, attending Protestant functions may be opening a door that will lead them right out of the Catholic Church.

I would suggest that many of the “New Evangelization” training programs proposed for Catholic parishes are actually more Protestant than Catholic in their underlying orientation, and that these programs might also be “opening a door” that leads the faithful astray. Even if parishioners don’t abandon their parish, they may be given a false view of what it really means to be a Catholic.

So, do we need a “personal relationship with Jesus”? Yes, of course we do! However, a “personal relationship with Jesus” does not seem to indicate fidelity to the Church. Conversely, though, fidelity to the Church does certainly indicate a “personal relationship” with Jesus—in the context of the Church Jesus himself instituted, and in conformity with his will.

What is needed in our parishes is not a call to a nebulous, ill-defined concept, but rather a call to return to the sacraments, and to seek an ever deeper understanding of those sacraments. We need a call to conversion to a firm belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Primarily then, we are in need of a renewed appreciation of the Mass: Save the liturgy, save the world.

Avatar About Dr. Jay Boyd, PhD

Dr. Jay Boyd earned her doctorate in psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1989. She was received into the Catholic Church in 2002. Her blog, "Philothea on Phire", features many posts on the liturgy, NFP, and other topics. She is the author of two books: Natural Family Planning: Trojan Horse in the Catholic Bedroom? and Zeal for Thy House: Suffering Through Mass.


  1. Avatar Bob Sutton says:

    I think you address some important points, Dr. Boyd, but in having read Forming Intentional Disciples several times, I did not find the same attitudes being expressed therein as you did. The necessity of having ex operere operantis working in tandem with ex operere operato is as Catholic as you get, and in working in the field with mostly cradle-Catholics for the past fifteen years, my experience is very much that the first is the key to the second. Explaining to people that Christ is truly present and active in the sacraments only works if a) they want Christ to be truly present and active in THEMSELVES and b) they have some understanding of what Jesus actually can do. The thresholds of conversion laid out by Ms. Weddell seem to dovetail quite nicely with the most basic thresholds of the spiritual life laid out by St. Francis de Sales, for example, in Introduction to the Devout Life– which as you probably know focuses almost entirely on walking the lay person through the steps of a personal relationship with Christ, with very little focus on the sacraments– and he is recognized as the Doctor of the Laity for it. We could not accuse Francis de Sales of a neglect of the sacramental life, not by a long shot– but he recognized the interior formation, attitudes and basic conversion that needs to take place in the baptized believer. This was my experience of reading Forming Intentional Disciples as well. It is addressing the serious lack of many modern Catholics to be able to fruitfully engage Christ IN the sacraments– not emphasizing Christ APART from the sacraments.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      I’m wondering whether you’re not finding the themes Dr Boyd is talking about in Forming Intentional Disciples, Bob, in the same way Protestants can’t find the Blessed Trinity, The Church, Purgatory, Devotion to Mary, etc., in Scripture…

    • Avatar Florian says:

      July 12th…a woman in my Parish who does a tremendous amount of ‘good works’ was asked if she had a personal relationship with Jesus…she looked stunned and then declared firmly “No!”…she said she follows the rules and does what she is obliged to do…but a relationship with Jesus? As she would have with a loved, of course not. Just ‘doing’ charitable things does not mean you have a ‘personal’ relationship with Christ; there are those who go to Mass every Sunday who declare openly they do it because they are ‘obliged’ but get nothing out of it…one may receive Christ in the Eucharist and still have no ‘personal’ relationship with Christ…which is why, perhaps, Pope Francis has declared the Church to be a ‘field hospital’ …so many are lost and wounded and afraid – even those who go to Mass regularly. Lead them home, nurture them, pray for healing and hope and INTRODUCE THEM TO CHRIST and let them experience His love…just going to Mass or following the ‘rules’ does not mean one has a ‘personal’ relationship with Christ…tens of thousands of Mass going Catholics support a woman’s choice. Mrs. Pelosi is a Mass going Catholic and publicly and aggressively promotes the termination of the lives of millions of human babies…and she claims to be a faithful, loving Catholic…I know you mean well, but your article is terribly misleading…one can go through life doing all the right things but have no personal relationship with Christ at all – receiving Christ in the Eucharist should bring us indeed into a more intimate relationship with Him…but have you ever seen people coming back from Communion with the Host still in their mouths, stopping to chat or laugh on their way back to their pew? I know women who beat their children and do it right after receiving Holy Communion…people often grow up in a Catholic family without knowing much of anything about Christ…one family told me it’s a ‘tradition’ but has no deeper meaning than that…so let the ‘intentional’ disciples be formed…we do so much without intention or consciously making a choice…and let’s start by leading others into a ‘personal relationship’ with Christ – which will bring us closer to Him and to His Church…

      • +

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi there, Florian,

        I can’t remember where I read, heard, or watched it, but I think Dr David Anders (an ex-Calvinist) discusses what you’re suggesting in the last few lines of your comment, as being the main problem with Calvinism when it really took hold, and the worldview of the ensuing Puritan and Pietistic movements which resulted.

    • Avatar Paul Forseth says:

      Jesus came to restablish relationship (the Temple Veil was torn from top to bottom) The Catholic Church has wrongly inserted itself into the middle where the Holy Spirit is to be. Being truly part of the family of God has nothing to do with Church affiliation. The Catholic Church at its core in Rome does not know God (any serious theologian knows it) The article tries to say why sin is not sin but only opinion. When one has a true personal revelation and relationship, then all the distractions are put into perspective.

      • Paul, that’s quite an accusation that the Church acts like the Holy Spirit. Are you anti-Catholic? You certainly sound anti-church affiliation with any kind of church. Jesus gave Peter the keys to heaven and gave him the job of starting a church to continue Jesus’ work. My dad died 15 years ago, but he still lives on in me. I am who I am because of my Dad. The same goes for Jesus, and Peter, and all the Church Fathers and Saints impacting my spiritual growth. The Church is my extended family, extended from Jesus. I have a relationship with all of them. Not a personal relationship but a holy relationship. I agree with the sentiment that a personal relationship is risky. A personal relationship is “self determined” and it is that self-determination that got Adam and Eve tossed from the Garden of Eden. God Bless and Good Luck.

      • So your position is that for the first 1,500 years of its existence Christianity was getting it wrong? Is your position is that God really wanted a chaotic whirlwind of factions led by individuals all preaching different and often conflicting ideology? That must be it since the only other sect with any credible claim to the early Church is Eastern Orthodoxy, and they believe in the same sacraments and overarching theology as the Catholic Church (minus the pope).

        “The Catholic Church at its core in Rome does not know God (any serious theologian knows it)”

        Oh goodness. I suppose that St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St.Thomas More, Duns Scotus…huff…puff…William of Ockham, John Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Jimmy Akin, James Schall, and Fulton Sheen (to name just a few) don’t count as “serious theologians?” I mean they ARE Catholic after all, and that would mean that your “Catholicism is Wrong” axiom would require that their contributions to Christianity be disregarded. Now, working out how to create a Protestantism without the groundwork laid by minds like St. Thomas Aquinas and his Summa is a job I certainly wouldn’t want. For their parts in this drama, Luther and Calvin just took out the parts of the Bible and Christian Tradition they didn’t like or found inconvenient. So there’s that.

      • Avatar C. Mitchell Shaw says:

        Paul, for over 24 years I was a Protestant and expressed the same sentiments as you have expressed here. Then I took a serious look at the Church. I entered the church a little over a year ago and am completely convinced that I spoke (as you do) from ignorance when I said things against the church. You say, “The Catholic Church at its core in Rome does not know God (any serious theologian knows it)”. Are you seriously contending that there are no “serious theologians”in the Catholic Church? Augustine, Cyprian, Ambrose, and in modem times G. K. Chesterton and Archbishop Fulton Sheen would stand as stark examples of the error of that statement. In fact, the doctrines of the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the Dual Natures of Christ, the Canon of Scripture, and many others that I am sure you hold were ALL settled by theologians of the Catholic Church more than 1,000 years before there was any such thing as a Protestant. You need to take a humble look at the evidence. This link is a great pledge to start.

      • Avatar Joseph D'Hippolito says:

        Paul, you are absolutely correct! Catholicism has effectively created a caste system, with the prelates at the top, the priests in the middle and the laity at the bottom. Catholicism long ago sacrificed its spiritual patrimony on the altar of power, wealth, prestige, secular influence, monarchistic trappings and institutional arrogance. As a result, church leadership is isolated from the faithful’s legitimate concerns, and the leaders care only about maintaining and perpetuating their own power.

        If you don’t believe this, then ask yourselves why bishops worldwide behaved the way they did regarding clerical sex abuse in their dioceses. For that matter, look at Pope Francis. He talks a good game about the poor but that’s all he does. If Francis really gave a rip, he would have the Vatican sell some of the billions it owns in stocks, bonds, certificates, shares in multinational corporations and holding companies and other financial vehicles, and give the proceeds either to dioceses that have to close schools and churches — many of which serve the poor that this pope claims to love — or to organizations dedicated on providing relief to persecuted Christians.

        For that matter, Francis could use the Vatican’s extensive diplomatic reach on behalf of those Christians.

        To those Catholics who take pride in centuries of church history and scholarship, let me remind you of one thing: The Pharisees also had centuries of history and scholarship on their side. Yet they not only failed to recognize the Messiah when He came; they actively plotted against Him because He threatened their power. If placed in the same situation, Catholic bishops would not behave any differently.

        Do you think a holy, righteous God actually gives a rip about centuries of church history and scholarship, as opposed to genuine faith, repentance and conversion?

  2. I have to disagree with the entire premise of the argument.
    1 – the idea of having a personal relationship should not be rejected just because it sounds too Protestant (as if everything that isn’t Catholic is intrinsically bad).
    2 – the idea of a personal relationship is a Catholic concept, that has been around since the time of Jesus.
    3 – the Popes have made this explicit:
    “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.” -Pope Francis

    “Being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.” -Pope Francis

    “It is necessary to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ, mankind’s only Savior.” Pope Saint John Paul II

    “Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” -Pope Benedict XVI

    “Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians.” -Pope Benedict XVI

    “This mystery (of faith), then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.” -CCC 2558

    It seems to be assumed faith is mere intellectual assent to truths, which is part of it, but not the whole of faith. Faith must be personal.

    • Avatar Brother Rex says:

      Thank you, Marcel.

      Dr. Boyd thinks that having a personal relationship with Jesus has “a distinctly Protestant ring” to it. Perhaps going forward she could pay closer attention to what the chief shepherds of the Catholic Church have had to say on the matter.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Marcel,
      It’s nice to see that Catholics love to proof-text too! :) Shall we call it Sola Dogma?

      Seriously, I don’t think Dr Boyd was rejecting it just because it sounds too Protestant at all, but the narrative of subjectivism which undergirds it. Dr Boyd didn’t say that there was anything wrong whatsoever with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, just with what might be meant by that, or how it might be interpreted.

      Sherry Weddell’s book is excellent in parts, but I agree fully with Dr Boyd about the ‘Protestant narrative’ or ‘mentality’ which is implicit in some sections. I simply put a ‘NO!’ or ‘PROTTY RUBBISH’ in the margin, but cradle Catholics seem to not see it – even if theologically trained – which is one of the points made above. One has to be incredibly wily if one’s to attend an Evangelical Church, especially if it’s meetings are highly charged.

      One other aspect I didn’t like about it was, again, the implicit (Protestant) notion that there’s an ‘Intentional Disciples Members Club’ and ‘normal Catholics’ are outside it. That is, Intentional Disciples are part of a ‘5% club’ and it’s your responsibility to cajole or prise everyone into the ‘Sherry Weddell Club’, because she defines the terms of membership – what defines ‘disciple’ -using her criteria. This is sheer hubris, to my mind.

      Sherry Weddell lambasted me in a commbox when I suggested that ‘Intentional Disciples’, like ‘Dynamic Disciples’ or ‘Evangelical Catholics’, is either a part of a marketing ploy by Publishers (because this kind of differentiation technique is what Protestant publishers use to segment their market), or a way of creating a two-tier view of Catholicism – a parochial ‘Elect’ and Reprobate’, and I know Catechists who are using it like that ,or it’s the implicit narrative in the way they talk about catechesis in relation to parish life. It’s very unhealthy if not just elitist in a patronising and presumptuous manner.

      • Paul – thank you for the thoughts. I have to disagree though.

        1 – It isn’t mere proof-texting when we see the theme run together throughout Church documents.I have noticed that you haven’t posted any counter thoughts, beside your own subjective ones, yet you are criticizing the book for being subjective?
        2 – You say it is ‘PROTTY RUBBISH’? That is just offensive. Seriously, to both Weddell and to our Protestant brothers and sisters. Then to say that even other Catholics can’t see it, even “theologically trained” ones? How do we learn how to see this problem then? I don’t understand, you talk about the insiders club and yet you just created one yourself. This is a real problem.
        3 – To get lambasted for calling her book a marketing ploy may well have deserved a lambasting. Honestly, that is offensive too.

        Not sure why you have a bone to pick with Weddell (and the pantheon of other Catholics you mention), but you still haven’t done much but throw out a lot of baseless accusations, without any evidence to back it up. To me that is no way to dialogue or even try to debate.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Marcel. Thanks for replying.

        Firstly, I know what a great Catechist you are. I’m in England, and I often read some of your excellent stuff dotted about. You’re a way better catechist than I’ll ever be.

        OK. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea starting off with a joke, and the rest of my reply was rather satirical, but that’s the way I am sometimes. Sorry.

        In fact I’m the PA to an Evangelical pastor, and we always tease each other in good humour. In fact, he’s thinking far more seriously about Catholicism owing to our banter. I’m an ex-Evangelical by the way, so it’s by knowing the territory, I can see the ruses. But what’s more he’s a dear friend, even though I can tell him something’s ‘protty rubish’ to his face with a wry smile, and he laughs. He talks about my papist nonsense too.

        What I’m doing is responding in a way that works with him. I can introduce Catholic ideas without getting ‘heavy’. So I’d let him get away with using ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’, but then gently challenge it, rather like Fr Meconi does in the YouTube clip I posted in reply to Brother Rex.

        I’m not criticising the book for being subjective. I think it’s a great book. My issue is with a mindset, or presupposition, in places. Like Dr Boyd, my background is in psychology (Clinical Theology) especially Self-deception and the Akratic. I suppose that’s the way you learn to see it, although it’s also heavily intuitive, based on experience with the psychological ‘games people play’.

        Dare I say it, but it seems you have focussed on my words rather than the ‘gist’, and that’s my point. It seems to me Dr Boyd is working on the ‘gist’ of some of the points Weddell is making, the subtext, which is not explicit. There is a tendency, I believe, in being too ‘logocentric’ and ‘literal’ without seeing what’s being implied at a deeper level.

        I don’t think I have an insiders club. If I did, I’d want to shut it down straight away as I’m not much of a leader. I didn’t realise I had said anyone should be anything, but that some people might miss things. What I was implying was that the content is not everything. As a catechist I let people get away with an awful lot unless they’re deliberately trying to sow dissent. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I see all our parishioners as wonderful because they’re there. Often they won’t attend a course. Maybe they’re scared of being ‘found out’. Maybe they’re just scared. Maybe they’re too busy with their families (and maybe they’re too busy with their families, and it’s just an excuse, no?)

        Every moment is a witness to everyone in the parish. I don’t apply a checklist to anyone I speak to, I just chat with people over coffee after and talk about the homily, or some aspect of the faith after Mass if the opportunity arises. In fact, what normally happens is congregation members who know me (or those I don’t, but say ‘Josie said you could answer this question for me…’) just come up to me in the street and ask me things like ‘what does consubstantial mean’, and I say, ‘Let’s go for a coffee’. I have built up trust, rapport, and a reputation. People know I’m not going to judge them or tell them they’re wrong, but I will say, ‘But what about seeing it this way?’.

        I do what I consider the most fruitful catechesis through ‘catechesis by walking about’ because it’s completely unthreatening. It’s just friends having a chat, but more to the point, it’s how I function best, so I’m not again, advocating a club. OK? :)

        What I didn’t mention was that the majority of my frantic underlinings and marginal comments in FID are ‘GREAT QUOTE!’, ‘REALLY USEFUL TIP’, and things like that with loads of asterisks by them (as with Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism, and Matthew Kelly’s ‘Four Signs’. They’re all scribbled over, too. But these others, don’t have that Protestant ‘flavour’ FID has. But even Kelly’s book, which is really accessible, plays the stats. game at the beginning, although is very practical, down to earth, and I love the way he does things like instead of using Evangelize, Catechize, and Sacramentalise, he distills them to ‘Win, Build, Send’ – far more non-threatening terms (although I agree with Fr Barron that we shouldn’t dumb things down – as long as it’s not at the cost of a winning or losing the window of opportunity that’s opened for us to communicate the Faith. One just has to make a call on what this particular person can handle).

        What I’m resisting is the way their ‘followers’ are using the terms like ‘Evangelical Catholic’, etc., to differentiate, categorise, or ‘slice-and-dice’, parishes and parisioners by introducing stats. as somehow invoilable facts about the state of the soul of parishes and parishioners at the local level. This is exactly what Protestantism does, and it leads to schism after schism.

        I don’t care what Gallup, Barna, or the Pew Study says. They’re useful thoughts to just have in the back of one’s mind, but that’s where they should stay. In the same way, all the points in those underlinings are also tucked away there, just waiting from the appropriate moment to use them.

        ‘Slicing-and-Dicing’ is a way of segmenting the market. You then get spin-offs like ’10 Steps to being an FID’, Become an FID in a Week’, ‘FID for Dummies’…

        I’m not suggesting that will happen or that was Weddell’s intention, but once you ‘segment’ Catholicism by suggesting there’s a ‘type of Disciple’, who is somehow ‘better than’ the run of the mill ordinary Disciple, aren’t we being presumptuous? Isn’t that offensive or belittling of the tender hearts in our congregation who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned catechetically?

        Do you not think it creates an ‘Elect/Reprobate’ sort of mentality if we split Catholics into ‘Evangelical Catholics, and non-Evangelical Catholics (knowing that once you do that, there’s a ‘correct side’ to be on?

        Even if they’re only book titles, the danger is they take on a life of their own. This is the sort of consciousness, or ‘gist’ of the whole thing I think Dr Boyd is getting at.

        Every blessing, Marcel.

      • Avatar Dave McClow says:

        While I agree caution is necessary when it comes to labeling because it could become “judgementalism,” a trait of the Pharisees, it is also true that Jesus had a two tier system–sheep and goats, based on behavior.

        It seems like you have to start somewhere with a standard and help people move toward it, like sinful to holiness.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Dave, do you think that standard is best served if it’s ourselves? I imagine you do. Your point’s perfectly valid. I’m not against that. We can en-thuse people just by being. But by doing that, we’re not objectifying.

        However, Jesus also suggested the wheat and the tares should be allowed to grow together. :)
        Msgr Ronald Knox’s chapter on the second mark of the Church (Holy) in his ‘Creed in Slow Motion’ is great on this issue, and he talks about the wheat and tares. He refers to us ‘motley crew’ as a ‘Mixed bag’. How true.

    • Mark Brumley Mark Brumley says:

      Of course.

    • Avatar Christopher Knuffke says:

      Absolutely! Agreed!

    • Considering that there were 260 popes before the disaster that was the Vatican II that didn’t teach this silliness, I’ll stick with the ex cathedra teaching of those popes. Dr. Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” is a good place to start for a non twaddlish view of authentically Catholic ex cathedra teaching that never mentions a “personal relationship with Jesus”.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Wayne, I hear you.
        I’m not a ‘traditionalist’ but I hope you don’t conclude I’m a ‘dissenter’! :)

        Some do question whether things since Vatican II are in continuity with the past or not, and I think you’re right by making an important point that they probably did not talk about ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’, especially in light of Pope Pius XII’s, Mystici Corporis.

        I do sometimes think that God deserves worship. Period. Even if I don’t understand anything about anything. That is, I should be present, as I would as the subject of a King if he called for it – ‘by decree’ – irrespective of my feelings and understanding.

        But maybe that’s from living in a country which still has a monarchy! :)

  3. Avatar Suzanne Beck says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. As a convert from evangelical Protestantism, I know THOUSANDS of Catholics who receive the Eucharist at least weekly, some more often and who have not a clue of who Jesus is, what he did, and/or that they can really KNOW him. You can know ABOUT someone and NEVER really KNOW them. Sorry, Dr. Boyd, I think you are way off base.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Catholics are off base to Evangelicals.
      Did you just change teams or your game?

    • Avatar Florian says:

      You are exactly right … Pope Benedict once said that there will never be a groundswell of believers living the faith but small groups of fervent Catholics who gather together to keep the flame of faith alive…in what is becoming a world without God…why? because so many, even among Catholics who ‘practice’ the rules of the faith, do not know Jesus Christ or much of anything about Him…although I believe this article was written in good faith, I also believe it is way off mark…Jesus said: “Bring the children to Me…” and, in a sense, we are all children – and we need to get to know Christ better, and bring others to Him…why would anyone go to Church if they don’t know her Founder…or they may go as a duty but without a personal relationship there is only emptiness…as in any relationship. We seek to learn all we can about those we love…but first we need to encounter them, see something attractive about them…then we are drawn closer…there is no other way…

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Just a thought, Florian…
        …but have you any children? If so, have you ever said to them, ‘Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you!’, and had to cope with the ensuing battle? It’s not attractive.
        In the majority of cases, they learn to love vegetables in time, no?
        Doesn’t playing the piano attractively require lots of not-so-attractive practice, too?

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Suzanne. My issue is with what is meant by it, or how it might be (mis)understood. That’s all.

    • Suzanne, at least they are in church where a spiritual spark can become ignited. We need to be a part of that and keep them there.

  4. Avatar Sean Murphy says:

    On a CD by Scott Hahn titled The New Evangelization, Dr. Hahn replies to the question like this (I’m paraphrasing):

    Questioner: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
    Dr. Hahn: “No. I have a personal relationship with my mechanic. I have a covenantal relationship with Jesus.” And then Dr. Hahn goes on to describe the New Covenant (or New Testament) in the Eucharist. It is a great way to respond to the question.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Yes I’ve heard him say that, too.
      What’s more, Hahn always emphasises the fact of it not being ‘me and Jesus’ when we talk about a ‘personal relationship’ but one in communion, in a family, kinship, and what God is doing as a Father of a family.
      In fact, yesterdays OT reading at Mass Hosea 11.1-2, puts it beautifully:
      When Israel was a child, I loved him,
      and out of Egypt I called my son.
      The more I called them,
      the more they went from me…

      • Avatar Suzanne Beck says:

        Yes, but one DOES have a personal relationship with their father! There IS a personal relationship between a father and a son! Yes, it’s covenantal too, but of course if it’s a good relationship it is most certainly PERSONAL.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Suzanne.
        At what point am I familiar enough that should I stop genuflecting?
        Just sayin’. …

  5. It seems to me that this article is theologically off base. Relationship is integral to God himself – he himself is a life giving communion of love – therefore, if we are to become “participators in the divine nature” (CCC 460, 2 Pet 1:4) as the Catechism calls us to become, we must become, ipso facto, participators in relationship. As it turns out, such relational language is at the heart of our faith. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). “Now this is eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) I would gently suggest that someone who denies that a lived relationship with God is at the very center of our faith has simply not understood the relevant theology. The author of the article cites John of the Cross, as if he were opposed to having a relationship with God. One need only read poems that say things like “The bride has entered the sweet garden of her desire, and she rests in delight, laying her neck on the gentle arms of her Beloved.” (Spiritual Canticle) and “O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the Beloved into his Lover” (The Dark Night) to know that St. John of the Cross certainly recognized the intimate relationship between God and us. It is clear from the extensive use that John of the Cross makes of such language that a relationship with God is central to the Catholic life, but that it also should not be confused with emotionalism.

    Nonetheless, positive emotions are part of religion too and can be a gift from God (as is clear from the way that St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercise and St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life both address the proper use of consolation). De Sales, after cautioning us that ” devotion does not consist in delight, pleasant feelings, consolation and sensible tenderness of heart,” nonetheless says that “feelings of tenderness and delightful affections are nevertheless sometimes very good and useful… The least little consolation of devotion which we receive is worth far more than the most excellent worldly delights…. Thus those whom God has given this heavenly manna of interior delights and consolations can neither desire nor receive worldly consolations, at least in such a way as to return them and become attached to them. They are small foretastes of eternal delights foretastes of eternal delights which God gives to those who seek him. They are the sweets which he gives to his little children to attract them.” (Intro to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 13) Nonetheless, spiritual consolation and emotionalism are emphatically not a theme of Wedell’s book. Anyone who has actually been to the midwest parish mentioned in the article and the book, as I have several times, could barely help weeping for joy himself and will easily forgive Weddell’s expressions of emotion. It is a parish which forms people to be completely sold out disciples of Jesus – not merely people sold out on emotionalism! The feeling Weddell refers to is the feeling that happens when you’re worshipping with a congregation in which nearly everyone is actually engaging in that “fully conscious and active participation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 13) in the Sacred Liturgy which the Church calls for – not merely exterior participation, but intentional and interior participation. As I said, it does make one want to weep for joy!

    The idea of a relationship with God is actually central to Catholic mystical theology. The goal of mystical prayer is contemplation. And what is contemplation? “St. Teresa answers: ‘Contemplative prayer {oracion mental} in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.’ Contemplative prayer seeks him ‘whom my soul loves.’ It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord himself.” (CCC 2709) In conclusion, the call to relationship with God goes to the very heart of the Catholic faith, and is based on the inner life of God himself.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Sorry, but I think you’re blowing over a lot of straw men, Matthew.
      I don’t think she is attacking what you’re defending.

  6. Avatar Cathryn Torgerson says:

    I think there can be a both/and approach. Yes, God is truly present and at work in the sacraments, and thank goodness for such a wonderful gift. As Catholics, we do desperately need to better understand His grace made available in the sacraments. But He is also at work, and can be experienced, outside of the sacraments.

    This is clear in Scripture when you read of the many people who met God outside of a sacrament, or for the Jewish people, outside of the sacrificial worship. Paul is clearly a key witness to this in the NT, and the characters of Genesis (Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph) and Moses are important examples in the OT since they met God outside of Temple worship. During the exile, when the Temple was destroyed, the prophets taught that God can be known, and can be present, even when sacrifice is not happening.

    Putting that OT situation into modern circumstances, if our relationship with God is centered primarily on the sacraments, what does that mean for people who do not have the luxury of receiving the Eucharist once/week? What about in places where Christianity is suppressed? Do they somehow have a lesser faith for living in, we might say, the wrong place at the wrong time?

    Knowledge about God and valuing the sacraments are very important for a full faith that embraces all God has to offer. And we don’t want to throw those out in favor of “turning points” (which I don’t think Ms. Weddell suggests). But as Marcel LeJuene points out above, knowledge of God is not the same thing as knowing and being known by God. Song of Songs has, since the early days of the Christianity, been read as an allegory of the story of the soul with God, and it shows how deeply He desires more than just our heads in our relationship with Him.

  7. I had a grace filled experience a few years ago. I have been a cradle Catholic , and I feel I have come to know Jesus/Mary much better and understand what my Catholic faith is really about now. I have always attended church and the sacraments, but now I understand sin better and go to Reconciliation more often. Jesus and the saints have helped me get to where I am now. I understand that a lot of Catholics do not take their faith seriously (or do they really have faith?) My experience is not because of Sherry Widdel although I am looking forward to know more about this program.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      That’s beautiful, Nancy.
      I very much feel a work in progress.
      Yeah. Lots of people don’t take their faith seriously, but sometimes that’s me, too.

    • Avatar Brenda Rummel says:

      Nancy, I’m with you on this. I’m a cradle Catholic, I love Jesus and my Catholic faith. That being said, until our new priest, Fr. Cory, came along, and taught us a better understanding of the Churches teachings and the scriptures and Gospel and presented us with the question about our personal relationship with God, I never thought of it. Until you are asked that question, and you discern it, can a person actually put into words what their personal relationship with God truly is. I know I couldn’t. I now understand that my personal relationship with God is based on the teachings of the church and the bible. Without learning these things, I don’t think I would have ever developed a personal relationship with God. I’m so glad we have Fr. Cory, as before we were given the warm, fuzzy teachings and a lot was left out. Many in our parish think having a spiritual relationship with God is the warm, fuzzy feeling they have and it goes no deeper than that. And when they are asked about their personal relationship with God, that is all they can talk about is the warm, fuzzies with no basis on the Church, bible or sacrament. To me a spiritual relationship is internal. My challenge is to take my internal relationship with God and use it to evangelize those around me. This is a totally new experience for 99% of our parish. We have now formed a core group who will go through the FID book and workbook, with discussion on how it would fit into our parish and community ( about 4000 people in our county which is larger than the start of New Jersey). As disciples who want to evangelize, we welcome Sherry’s book as the starting point for us. We each have a goal of bringing others to the church or back to the church. Sherry has given us the tools to do that. I really don’t care if people think this is a protestant phrase or thought, as long as we use it, and teach it as a Catholic movement with the teachings of the Church and on the foundation that Jesus has laid out for us. I know there are many people who are very intellectual and want to share there higher knowledge, but I am but a simple person in a small parish who wants to be a disciple of God and to evangelize those who are at the very beginning of their spiritual life. I want to share with them on their level and not go over their head or give them the impression that with what knowledge I have I’m superior to them in any way. Many of you are talking at a level that is way over my head and of a lot of others, who won’t comment because they feel inferior to your comments and don’t want to look like a fool. I may sound like a fool to many of you, but I am who I am and nothing Dr. B has to say is going to make me change my mind about what Sherry has given us through her FID book and teachings.

  8. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    After reading the comments so far, most of them seem to be completely missing the point of the article. Maybe it’s just too subtle.

    Dr Boyd, it seems to me, when she talks about ‘a personal relationship’ having ‘a distinctly “Protestant” ring to it’, is not simply having a knee-jerk reaction to the phrase, but expressing something far more implicit and fundamental in the hermeneutic. It’s more about the foundational and implicit presuppositions which flow through the text in places.

    It is, as she points out, something ‘phenomenological’. It’s a mindset, not a vocabulary, that is the problem.

  9. Just last week I performed a search on the Vatican web site for two phrases:
    1) “personal relationship with God”
    2) “personal relationship with Jesus”
    What might you guess the number of times these phrases occurred combined? 0 – 10 – 20 times?
    I was surprised to see it appear over 100 times. Now, I didn’t evaluate the usage but I find it interesting in light of this thought-provoking piece. From my standpoint the key to understanding a proper Catholic perspective on this is through magisterium faithful spiritual theology of the Church. Two great sources – and

  10. Avatar Carole Brown says:

    Dear Dr. Boyd,

    I apologize for what is turning out to be a rather lengthy essay. Perhaps I should submit an article in response but perhaps there is an immediate moment to be seized.

    I write as a lifelong Catholic, and a lay person who has served in ministry my whole adult life. I am also a scholar on the thought of Pope John Paul II (PhD). Although you raise some important issues in your article, you also perpetuate some problematic thought in an important Catholic journal. Your opinion that a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a problem is shared by not a few people in the Church’s middle management, many who are committed to Catholic orthodoxy (as I am) but who are not up to speed on the Church’s teaching on this topic. Ever since the Council, the popes have been preparing for the new evangelization, and it is THEIR language, not protestants, that is driving this concern for the need to help baptized people to experience a personal relationship with Jesus–in the Church! By no means does a personal relationship with Jesus take the place of a lived sacramental life in the Church, nor does it replace the authority of the Church in our lives–rather it makes us alive in the Church, helps us to be disposed to receive the sacraments properly (ex operae operantis), to appropriate Christ’s teaching, and to bear the intended fruit. There are people who adopt the “protestant” notion that one can have a personal relationship with the Lord, “instead of” the Church. That’s not what the popes, or I, or Sherry are promoting.
    You write: “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 exposed to Protestant thinking.”
    You seem to reject the personalistic approach. Pope John Paul did not–in fact, he wrote the book on Christian personalism. It’s called “Redeemer of Man”–his first encyclical. He writes: “The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly… must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must “appropriate” and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he “gained so great a Redeemer”, and if God “gave his only Son “in order that man “should not perish but have eternal life”. […] In reality, the name for that deep amazement at man’s worth and dignity is the Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity. This amazement determines the Church’s mission in the world and, perhaps even more so, “in the modern world”.”[section 10]

    He goes on to say, “…as the Council teaches, “by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man”. The Church therefore sees its fundamental task in enabling that union to be brought about and renewed continually. The Church wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life, with the power of the truth about man and the world that is contained in the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption and with the power of the love that is radiated by that truth.”

    Is it possible that many baptized people do not experience conversion? Apparently so! He writes in Ecclessia in Europa that “Many of the baptized live as if Christ did not exist: the gestures and signs of faith are repeated, especially in devotional practices, but they fail to correspond to a real acceptance of the content of the faith and fidelity to the person of Jesus. The great certainties of the faith are being undermined in many people by a vague religiosity lacking real commitment…….”

    Indeed–is that not the premise of Sherry’s book, confirmed by statistics that 60% of Catholics do not believe God is personal?

    A Catholic certainly can have a personal relationship with Jesus through the sacraments– but……”Without this constant ever renewed endeavour for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice……”

    What does JohnPaul mean by conversion? He writes in Mission of the Redeemer–” From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God’s gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from “life according to the flesh” to “life according to the Spirit” (cf. Rom 8:3-13). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple. ”

    How many Catholics do you know whose faith manifests as total and radical? Your article rightly points out that far too many Catholics reject Catholic moral teaching. I would argue that one of the reasons they do not have the energy for the moral life is that they do not have a life-giving relationship with Jesus, therefore they do not draw life from the sacraments.

    Pope John Paul calls on catechists explicitly to be aware that for many baptized children who show up in the parish for catechesis, ” the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit….”
    Later he describes what should be happening in the context of catechesis: “a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith” (CT 25). He seems to think that catechesis doesn’t really work if this step hasn’t been taken. “within the whole process of evangelization, the aim of catechesis is to be the teaching and maturation stage, that is to say, the period in which the Christian, having accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and having given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of heart, endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself.”

    Wow–self-entrustment to Jesus?

    John Paul II goes so far as to say we must “fall in love” with our Lord. In Novo Millenio Inuente he writes, “we who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Saviour of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead.
    The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West has much to say in this regard. It shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart. This is the lived experience of Christ’s promise: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21). It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union”. How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila? […] Yes, dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine “schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly “falls in love”.
    I speak from some personal experience in that regard–I have “fallen in love” with Jesus–and I remember well that there was a time when I was “in the church” but not “in love”. I grew up Catholic, but had no love for God, or the Church. My moral life was swiftly deteriorating as I grew into my teens. But, thankfully, a friend introduced me to Jesus……I started reading scripture, started to experience him speaking “to ME”. And then, I came to know his friendship, and started to care about how my sins were hurting him, and became willing to change. Only after this friendship with Jesus took root in my life did I come to understand that the Eucharist was, in fact, this Jesus whom I was coming to know and love in the Scriptures. Only after my faith in Jesus was actually established as a personal relationship, did I realize that I could be confident in the authority that he had given the church, because I knew he was trustworthy.

    Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all begun to intgrate the subjective dimension of our faith with the objective. We are not Spock. God works with us in all our complicated messiness, including our emotional life. Everything about the church should draw us into a conscious and loving–indeed personal–relationship with Jesus Christ.” That relationship prompts a holy desire to be united to him sacramentally, a holy curiousity to know what he thinks, and what he teaches, and a holy desire to be obedient to him, even in the hard parts, because Jesus is trustworthy, and his love makes up for the lack thereof that prompts people to make gods of sex, money, success, power–etc.

    Much more to say, but I will stop here. Blessings.

    • Dear Carole, I am the Executive Director of the National Catholic Register. I would be grateful if you could send your contact information to me at . I would like to speak with you about your comments here.

    • Avatar Tom McGuire says:

      Carole I read your response yesterday; in pray reflected on it, and had to come back and read it again today. Thank you for a wonderful clear journey through the teaching of John Paul II on the personal relationship with Jesus. What you share is confirmed in my experience as a life long Catholic. I do hope you will write the article for this journal as well.

  11. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    I believe in a personal relationship with Jesus/Christ and I don’t believe in a personal relationship with Jesus/Christ, depending on who’s asking me, and why/how it’s being asked. But I also change my phraseology, depending on the context, too.

    I think in the field of Evangelism/Catechesis, one can’t be a one-trick pony. The illative sense and the Virtue of Prudence are crucial. One has to be intuitive and be able to smell a rat, detect the reality behind the appearance, or read the subtext.

    Too many ‘models and methods’ are straightjackets or cookie-cutter approaches to evangelisation and catechesis which tacitly prove that the catechist doesn’t want a ‘personal relationship’ with you, whilst wanting you to have a personal relationship with God through their agenda, in their way. They want to ‘fix you’, to ‘do unto’ you. The catechumens know this subconsciously, they just can’t put their finger on it, they just ‘have a hunch’ something’s not quite right. It’s in this way, something’s also fishy with the phrase ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, too.

    I think Dan Burke is right: ‘From my standpoint the key to understanding a proper Catholic perspective on this is through magisterium faithful spiritual theology of the Church. ‘

    ‘Asset-stripping’ Sherry Weddell, Msgr Francis Kelly, George Weigel, Scott Hahn, Fr Robert Barron, Matthew Kelly, and so have the core ideas bubbling about in one’s head to apply, on the fly, to situations is great. The risk is when they take on a ‘magisterial’ life of their own or the single lens through which to view everything. If they do, then one becomes blind to the problems.

    The difficulty is, I believe, that a lot of well-known bloggers and catechists have put their eggs, uncritically, into the Weddell basket, and so have to hammer Dr Boyd as it’s an indirect criticism of their judgement if she’s right (which I think she is).

    • Avatar Bob Sutton says:

      Paul, given the breadth and scope of the teachings of John Paul II on the topic as just cited by Ms. Brown, I am not sure exactly how the topic as such could be reduced to a one-trick pony….? While we always have to be wary of a cult of personality working on our judgment, I think it rather a good thing that the teachings of St. John Paul cited above take on a magisterial life of their own. My enjoyment of Ms. Weddell’s book was based on its effective and very practical application of what the ordinary magisterium has been giving to us for a few decades now, not based on her personality, turns of phrase or anything other Catholics have said about her. As a worker in catechetical ministries, I am excited by its potential to bring people to Christ through His Church in a powerful way, as well as by what seems to me to be it’s ability to bring some unity in that goal for faithful Catholics already engaged in ministry. I am pleased to see that so many others who commented here seem to feel the same, having recognized the voices of the popes, the saints & spiritual masters in their reading of Forming Intentional Disciples. I do not know Ms. Weddell personally but would like to think that was her goal in producing the book to begin with… Not as a break with what is but a call to experience what is with a renewed vigor and depth. Puts us right in the thick of the New Evangelization, in my view; and that is what led to me commenting here: not because the article implicitly questions my own judgment, but because I cannot see that the dangers that Dr. Boyd is addressing are actually present in the reading of Forming Intentional Disciples. Quite the opposite, in my understanding of it.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        I’ve apologised to Marcel, above, as I can be a bit flippant, and I do the same to you. Sorry. But sometimes the whole thing gets, well, just too clinical and pedantic, to my mind, missing the wood for the trees.

        The words on the pages of FID don’t say what Dr Boyd and I are trying to point out, and I agree with you. But, plenty of Christians say ‘I love you in the Lord’, and one knows it doesn’t mean that, but at the same time they’d like you to think it does. It’s a bit like always enquiring ‘How are you?’ when you meet. It’s called ‘dissembling’ in the jargon. It’s wanting to give an impression of oneself, or a desire to fit into convention, but doesn’t necessarily fit with reality of the words being expressed.

        I think my reply to Marcel covers your concerns about me. :)

      • Avatar Sherry Weddell says:


        You wrote:

        “The words on the pages of FID don’t say what Dr Boyd and I are trying to point out, and I agree with you. But, plenty of Christians say ‘I love you in the Lord’, and one knows it doesn’t mean that, but at the same time they’d like you to think it does. It’s a bit like always enquiring ‘How are you?’ when you meet. It’s called ‘dissembling’ in the jargon. It’s wanting to give an impression of oneself, or a desire to fit into convention, but doesn’t necessarily fit with reality of the words being expressed.”

        So although we have never met nor have you ever heard me speak, and despite that fact that you acknowledge that the “words on the pages” of FID don’t say what you and Dr. Brody have asserted they say, that doesn’t matter. Because you have somehow divined that I was “dissembling” which in the common English which I speak, means that I was consciously masking my true meaning and purpose when writing the book. In other words, that I was lying. Which implies I was also “dissembling” during the entire previous 8 years when we were teaching this same material in our Making Disciples seminar and of course, have continued to do so throughout the two years that have passed since the publication of the book.

        I am pedantic enough to believe that words have meaning. Last time I was in England (which happens to have been last week), it was still considered highly offensive to publicly accuse an author of “dissembling” about her primary message, especially someone you don’t know at all on the basis of no evidence at all. You owe me an equally public apology.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Anyway. I’ve thought about it and I unreservedly apologise Sherry, although I’ve never had it demanded of me and I wouldn’t ever dream to demand it for myself as I really don’t think I’m that important.

        But I’ll leave it there.

    • Dear Paul – I am glad you agree with me that the answer is found in faithful spiritual theology. As one who is immersed in this reality at a graduate level, Dr. Boyd has imposed on the phrase “personal relationship” meaning that is not in keeping with the spiritual theological tradition of the Church. Though I have no disrespect toward her, her impoverished reference to the dark night is clear evidence that this is a realm wherein she has only traveled intellectually or is generally lacking in experience. Either way, Dr. Brown is on the right track.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Sherry

        There was no accusation and intended. I was using the dissembling example to show that words don’t always mean what can be seen on the surface. It depends on what people ‘hear’ when they hear ‘personal relationship’. When I say it was raining cats and dogs people know what I mean by that. The trouble is, ‘personal relationship’ is very ambiguous, no? At other times we say things and people know they are just part of polite social discourse, like asking the state of someone’s health to open the conversation. The trouble is when Protestants and Catholics, for example, use the word ‘atonement’ without realising there’s a difference in meaning.

        To have a personal relationship with Jesus means something completely different from what it meant when I was an Evangelical. Fr Meconi makes the point I’m getting at in his short video on the Franciscan University Youtube Channel I pointed to. He gets it, and with great humour, invites the street preacher to a paradigm revolution.

        My concern isn’t so much with the content as I replied to Marcel, but the way it seems to be being used to slice and dice who’s in and who’s out and engender a tick box mentality.

        If we’re constantly trying to take our own spiritual temperature or that of others, ‘Oh I’m at Stage 2 currently in the framework’ or whatever, or declaring myself an ID, and judging others not to be, what am I doing?

        My problem is that people are using the book to analyse themselves and the parishioners in their parish whatever your intention, in the same way people used to when I was an Evangelical.

        To me Dr Boyd is saying there is a difference in how people might run with the ideas, depending on their frame of reference, and I agree.

        I have to say, the best book I have read which would explain how I’m seeing it is Christian Smith’s, How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps.

        What he emphasises in that book is that to really understand one has to have a paradigm shift in one’s frame of reference, one’s way of perceiving reality, not merely a change in doctrinal content. My concern is regarding that issue, and I think some of the content in FID engenders the wrong mentality.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Dan thanks for your reply, but what about us in the pews who might be ex-Evangelicals and not theologically trained with PhDs and the like, just trying to do our best? :)
        I have to teach myself, using books like yours.

        What if we read our Evangelical presuppositions into the book if we don’t know any better?
        Some of us are not experts, but we’re doing our best to Evangelise and Catechise with poor resources, training, and skills.

        I’m not ‘having a go’, I’m just trying to feebly articulate that we need to be careful with terms like ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, and using Protestant-like ‘Church Growth’ stats and lingo, etc., because they can be taken wrongly so easily, and I think that’s whats behind Dr Boyd’s piece, isn’t it? I wouldn’t know about the minutiae of her points, but the general message is one of caution, and I concur with it.

        Shouldn’t we just be Evangelising etc., without trying to monitor and measure everyone or ourselves, or where we are on the scale? And, for example, if I used the term ‘Mass’ as an Evangelical, I meant cannibalism, so ‘personal relationship’ might be giving the wrong message or misinterpreted, too, no?

        Maybe I’m just thick or a heretic, because I definitely seem to be in a minority. :)

    • “Too many ‘models and methods’ are straightjackets or cookie-cutter approaches to evangelisation and catechesis…” Speaking a longtime catechist: yes.

  12. So what do you make of john paul ii on this issue? Benedict? Francis? Is that magisterial teaching on spirituality catholc enough?

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Carole.
      Not quite sure who it’s addressed to but my name is as much in the mud as Dr Boyd’s so I’ll have a bash. :)

      I use whatever’s appropriate to the situation at hand, but mostly try to apply the virtue of Prudence or ‘phronesis’. That is constantly, and as rapidly as possible, adapt to feedback. But I often find satire or fun my default position, but then, I love Stephen Colbert (and I’m a Brit).

      Making light of things doesn’t do me any favours in these sorts of measured discussions, but I think when I’m dealing with all people, but especially in the parish, I have to be artful and winsome in the good sense. I have to be approachable and not ‘po-faced’. Unfortunately, the more po-faced someone is in a commbox, the more they’re likely to get a custard pie. I can’t help myself :)

      To me, everything – the approach and methodology – has to be constantly adaptable on-the-fly. In most cases, Pope Francis seems a good bet with those cautiously seeking as they’ve seen good things in the press about him and he accords (‘rings true’) with them, and they’re beginning to think they might want to go deeper. Pope Francis might work with a dissenter, too, whilst any mention of Benedict to them and you’ve metaphorically thrown down the gauntlet, and should expect a fight, no?

      My job is not to be some sort of ‘Catechetical Ninja’, but a lover, and so the only reason assign ‘names’ or ‘labels’ to people is when one wants to differentiate them in some way. Frankly, I think labelling or measuring in the field of grace does no good whatsoever.

      ‘We’re all in the same boat, and we’re all seasick’, as Fr Robert Barron likes constantly reminding us, quoting Chesterton. I agree.

  13. Avatar Carole Brown says:

    No one wants to make anyone’s name mud here. It’s just necessary in a public forum to correct any possible misunderstanding regarding something so very essential in what the Holy Spirit is leading the Church to via the magisterium. It is a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant, rather than to allow ignorance to be perpetuated. Dr Boyd has unwittingly exposed a very common area of ignorance that is very prevalent in the Church throughout the West, in both progressive and orthodox wings, and most unfortunately in the middle management. In that regard, this conversation has become a wonderful meeting point, to direct people to further study of the Church’s magisterium regarding the necessity of personal conversion for the baptized. As a catechist, I hope you will take it upon yourself to be a catechist after the heart of John Paul II. Meditate on Catechesi Tradendae, and take on his personalistic mindset. Jesus is counting on you!

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      I believe it is vital to instruct the ignorant, too…at the appropriate time, in the right manner, and when I know they are ready to listen because they trust me. In fact, in my experience, they often come to me when they’re ready. Sometimes people are testing us with a ‘side issue’ to see how we’d react and whether we’re safe if they raised the ‘big issue’, no?

      Making names mud, patronising people, or a host of other ways of treating people might end up at the same place. They switch off and don’t listen. Is that there fault? Are they just being stubborn or the catechist’s favourite, ‘dissenters’? Many catechists think they’ve done their job by correcting, on the spot. The fact that the person goes away angry, hurt, or worse, leaves the Church, is then rationalised by the Catechist: ‘It wasn’t my fault. They just couldn’t take the truth. I did my job. I instructed the ignorant and they didn’t like it.’

      Might it be that a lot of the problems are our fault? What if we’re the biggest obstacle to our parishes ‘coming alive’? Not because we’re not doing anything, but that what we’re doing is objectifying, supercilious, or simply insensitive?

      Often, ‘parish visions’ are what a small group want to impose on the rest. Some sort of ‘framework for growth’. At that point they seem to forget they have two ears and one mouth. They become obsessed with immediate gratification. At that point they become ignorant. Ignorant of anything but themselves, too.

      There are plenty of other ways we can be our own worst enemies too.

  14. I agree with the article, but I should add some points.

    1. Often times personal relationship is spoken as an opposition to the Church. That one can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ without His Church. This is of course impossible.

    2. The Catholic Faith is something that is lived, and something that we don’t always have to have a conscious understanding of. Surely there are people who receive the Sacraments, and don’t “know” Jesus, but is that the fault of the Sacraments, or the fault of the dispassion of the receiver? We have everything in the Church, if we simply be open to it, and this is what I think is the point of Dr. Boyd’s article.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Joe.
      I agree.
      I have worked in one of the poorest parts of London. Many of the Christians I worked with couldn’t read, or completely flunked school. They simply didnt have the mental capacity to have high flown discussions about anything. Yet they were somehow powerfully fed by God by receiving the sacraments without all the doctrine and theology. But they didn’t describe it as a personal relationship with Jesus.

      My concern is the need to ‘dymythologise’ or demystery-fy, rather than that more tacit experience you describe which is more ineffable and I would say, common to many.
      Protestantism can be over-rational in this sense, trying to ‘prove the Gospel’ (thinking specifically of presuppositional apologetics), and I’m concerned at this ‘intellectual turn’, has crept into Catholicism. Despite feeling catechesis is necessary, there cant be one size fits all models suitable for all, but that somehow we need to be ‘all things to all men’.

      My experience, and that of others I know, is ‘ineffable’ in the sense that I cannot compare it to anything human. It’s just a form of ‘certainty’ that cannot be communicated, but I can’t call it a ‘relationship’.

      It’s not that I’m a ‘mystic’. My problem is judging souls based on a set of stats or the best empirical evidence or the experience of a relationship – i.e., might I be deluded about my experience or criteria?

      Can I say ‘this is what my relationship with Jesus has done for me, he’ll do it for you, too if you just let him’? Grace doesn’t work algorithmically, does it?

      My problem is that I’m too unsure, and one of the factors of Protestantism I struggled with was just how cocksure my fellow Evangelicals were, especially when ‘the Spirit’ told them, or ‘convicted them’, as they put it.

      In other words, if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, then you’re right that there are plenty of people who don’t ‘know’ Jesus, who know Jesus. :)

  15. This article and all the comments have been most enlightening. I am almost afraid to comment because I am not a theologian and I do experience a lot of “feelings” and I believe I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I also believe in everything that the Church teaches.
    Seven years ago I did not believe in any organized religion, nor profess Jesus to be the son of God, no idea who or what the Holy Spirit was. I was a left wing, political activist and I had nothing but disdain for the Catholic Church or those who believed.
    The Blessed Mother introduced me to her Son. I then knew that God existed and I was a sinner of the highest magnitude. A couple months after that revelation I was taken to a healing Mass. I was prayed over and was “baptized” in the Holy Spirit. I had no idea what that meant and I was actually terrified. The experience however, changed my life forever. The Holy Spirit began to work in me and changed everything I ever believed to what God wanted me to believe. I discovered that what I thought was reality was a lie and that God was the reality I had been missing. The Holy Spirit led me to a Charismatic Catholic Church (in the midwest) and I joined RCIA. I won’t get into everything that occurred with the Lord, but suffice to say that Pentecost was not just something that happened 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is still bringing transformation in powerful ways upon this earth. The Lord rearranged my entire life so that I went through RCIA, was confirmed and given a great desire for the Eucharist, then changed my job so that I could go to daily Mass. I don’t just believe Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, I know He is. I will state very plainly that I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that I am also in love with His Church and the Mass.

    Catholics need to fall in love with Jesus. God loves us and wants us to love Him, freely. I am blessed to live where there are many wonderful priests who know that they must change the interior of people to bring them to the Lord. I think it is important for Catholics to know that they can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that goes beyond receiving the Eucharist. The laity seem to have forgotten that God is supernatural. We have Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We should all have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, in a tangible way.

    I did leave that Charismatic parish for a more traditional one. Jesus followed me. :)

  16. Avatar Bob Sutton says:

    Hey Paul– I agree with Ms. Brown, your name is not in the mud. :-)
    To your point of FID leading to judging others or over-categorizing them, I found the opposite to be true in reading (and in re-reading) the book. What excited my wife and myself, who are both active in Catholic ministry, was that the book affords a common language for those in ministry (including pastors, bishops, etc.!) to assess the situation in parishes, movements, etc. in terms of where they are so that they can more effectively bring them where they need to be. I know many devout, faithful Catholics who can see what is missing in the spiritual lives of our parishes– a greater love for the Eucharist, knowledge of Church teaching, etc.– but what FID gives me is the ability to articulate it in terms of where people are at in a stage of spiritual growth rather than simply the ability to see what they are lacking. I rather find that it is that kind of view that leads to judgment and elitism rather than that expressed in FID; or the mistake that if we could just plop some of these cafeteria Catholics down in front of the Lord for holy hour, they would see the light. A few comments up, Joe of St. Therese (who also agreed with Dr. Boyd) asked whether the fact that some do not have a personal relationship with Christ is not the fault of the believer, not the sacraments– and I agree. The thing is, Forming Intentional Disciples agrees, and that is what mystified me about this article in the first place. The book is not written to make the point that the sacraments do not provide a relationship with Christ, but to provide an antidote and a solution to the fact that many Catholics do not know how to fully access that relationship with Christ in the first place. It is all well to fill up the tank with super-premium-unleaded petrol (or even NASA rocket fuel, for that matter)– but if the fuel line in the car is clogged, it will do very little good. FID is addressing the clogged fuel line, not the quality of the gasoline, and I feel like Dr. Boyd seems to believe it will therefore lead people into error by not talking enough about the gasoline. To me this seems like saying a book on Shakespeares plays leads people to believe his poetry was not good enough because it barely mentions his poems: that is not what the book is written for. And the way it is written, I found to be very much consonant with Evangelii Nuntiandi, with Catechesi Tradendae, and other magisterial writings on evangelism & catechesis– as well as with the method of accompaniment so lived by St. John Bosco, St. Francis de Sales & others.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Bob. Thanks for the thoughtful reply.
      I can see your point, and I so want to agree!
      However, the things that unsettle me are the things encapsulated in your comment, ‘so that they can more effectively bring them where they need to be.’

      Can we really do that? Are we really in a position to? Aren’t we arrogating something to ourselves which is simply above our capability?

      Everything inside me bailks thinking that I somehow have the right to do this, or suffiently capable of knowing where ‘they ought to be’.

      This is the kind of mentality I found in Protestantism which just seemed to cause problems, if not simply producing polarisations, then creating demographically ‘thin’ congregations who though alike: more like a coterie than a congregation.

  17. My parents & grandparents grew up in a Catholic Church that taught that the Church is the Body of Christ on earth. In faithfully following Church teaching & passing it on to their children, they lived out & grew into the “personal relationship” with Jesus that there seems to be so much hand wringing about. I’m very grateful that God doesn’t require that we write books or attain graduate degrees but simply become as children & follow Church teaching. This way of humility to open to everyone.

  18. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    Maybe putting it this way helps where I’m coming from as I’m no expert?

    Might it be the case that the reason a Protestant has a personal relationship with Christ because they do not believe in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Therefore, Christ is not ‘really’ in the body of people around them, but in heaven.

    As a Catholic, what is my relationship ontologically with Christ, if the Church is really Jesus, not just a symbol nor something that represents him, and I am to see Jesus in my neighbour too?

    To me, a personal relationship with Christ can’t be only ‘vertical’, it seems, and so cannot be one-to-one if I am going to take the Church as being the Mystical body of Christ. My neighbour is intimately linked to me it’s not my position ‘to bring them where they need to be’ when they might be there already?

    I’m at a loss as to what we’re about if the nature of the Church is not Christ himself, and the implication on relationships that has.

    Or maybe its

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Or maybe it’s…that I’ve got it totally wrong.

      If so, can someone help, because I thought ‘relationship with Christ’ was inherently ecclesiological, with others, in communion…

      In short, isn’t my relationship with Christ is always ecclesiological because she is constantly teaching me who Jesus is through communion with her?

      • Avatar Christopher Knuffke says:

        I think we need to distinguish the Catholic “AND”: That is, there is an objective (hierarchical, sacramental) aspect in our relationship to Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church. . .AND there is a subjective (personal, mystical) aspect in our relationshp to Christ and His Church – founded on baptismal communion in faith, hope, and love. . .

  19. Avatar Harvey B. says:

    Like so many other areas, we often disagree with each other because the terms are not well defined.
    We can’t completely disparage the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” because we as Catholics are members of the body of Christ!
    So just as a branch has a personal relationship with the tree trunk, we have a personal relationship with Jesus.
    Now if we go more toward the Protestant meaning of the term, then we can certainly say that the phrase is wrong, because there is no tree trunk in their analogy.

    I once heard a local priest tell the story of a time when a Protestant accosted him with the question. He replied, “Of course I have a personal relationship with Jesus. I put Him in my mouth every morning, and I drink His blood!” The inquirer shirked away, not knowing what to say.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi harvey.
      I think you’re right about talking past each other at times.
      I have said here I believe in a personal relationship with Jesus and I don’t believe in a personal relationship, too.

      You said, “The inquirer shirked away, not knowing what to say.’ However, so would I. It’s just gross to anyone who doesn’t understand it, so he wasn’t considering his audience at all. Another point I’ve been making is one of appropriate contextualisation.

      I did point people to Fr David Meconi’s short YouTube video to make my point, but most of the responses seem to have ignored that.
      Here it is again:
      I’m all for deification/theosis/divinization, or whatever you want to call it.

      My point all the way through is the term ‘Personal relationship with Jesus’ is problematic exactly because it is so misleading and open to possible misinterpretation.

  20. Avatar Carole Brown says:


    You write “Can we really do that? Are we really in a position to? Aren’t we arrogating something to ourselves which is simply above our capability?” You ask this question about something the church says we MUST do. ‘The Church exists to evangelize!” “…the church evangelizes when she seeks to convert!” (Evangelii Nuntiandi)

    The real problem here is that we act in practice as if when the sacraments of intiation are complete, conversion is also a fait accompli! We treat the situation as if the sacrament was enough–“ex opere operato”. But then, why do so many kids stop practicing as soon as confirmation is over?? Because…………they have not really experienced conversion. The “ex opere operantis” has not yet kicked in. Can we judge that this is the case? Very often we can!

    Father Raniero Cantalamesa (Preacher to the Papal Household) explains the problem. “Catholic theology recognizes the concept of a valid but tied sacrament. A sacrament is called tied if the fruit that should accompany it remains bound because of certain blocks that prevent its effectiveness. An extreme example of this is the Sacrament of Matrimony or Holy Orders received in the state of mortal sin. In such circumstances these sacraments cannot grant any grace to people until the obstacle of sin is removed through penance. Once this happens the sacrament is said to live again thanks to the indelible character and irrevocability of the gift of God: God remains faithful even if we are unfaithful because He cannot deny Himself (see Timothy 2:13).

    In the case of baptism what is it that causes the fruit of the sacrament to stay tied? The sacraments are not magical rituals that act mechanically, without the person’s knowledge or disregarding any response on his part. Their effectiveness is the fruit of a synergy or cooperation between divine omnipotence – in reality the grace of Christ or the Holy Spirit and human freedom, because as St. Augustine said, “The one who created you without your cooperation, will not save without your cooperation.”

    The opus operatum of baptism, namely, God’s part or grace, has several aspects – forgiveness of sins, the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (these, however, only as a seed), divine sonship – all of which are operated through the effective action of the Holy Spirit. But what does the opus operantis in baptism – namely, man’s part, consist of? It consists of faith! Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). At the side of baptism, therefore, there is another element: the faith of man. “To all who received Him He gave the power to become children of God: to those who believe in His name” (John 1:13). [end of quote]

    Sherry’s book has to do with this aspect: helping the opus operantis to take hold. Can we help? Of course we can. By being “credible witnesses” , by making the initial proclamation (kerygma) “by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by Faith”————in other words, by creating conditions that favor the opus operantis. Will everyone go for it? No. And there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    Helping, encouraging and supporting the opus operantis is an ecclessial act. It’s what the Church –that is to say, US–its what the Church does–or should be doing. Not only sacramentally, but personally, (i.e. in you and me) to accompany people in “crossing the threshold of faith” (As John Paul put it). The problem is, we haven’t been doing it. We

    Consider this: The Church is the sacrament of intimate union with God. (Lumen Gentium 2) The purpose of Catechesis is to bring people into this intimacy. (Catechesi Tradendae 5).

    Ask yourself: can a person have an intimate union with another person and not know about it? Doesn’t that defy the definition of what intimacy is?

    Now ask yourself: how many Catholics do I know who have an intimate union with God?

    • Dr. Carole Brown – DEAD ON TARGET

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      I agree, Dr Brown,

      But that’s not about ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, nor does it address the statistics and categorising our fellow parishioners, as I think the book encourages us to do.

      I’m all for credible witnesses. if you read my other comments, I thought I was suggesting that as my primary approach, but I’m not going to place the ‘FID matrix’ over the octogenarian daily Mass goer as somehow ‘needing my help’ because she doesn’t know what ‘a personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ is, or show any other ‘outward signs’ of her Faith.

  21. With great respect, the author seems to completely disregard the theological distinction between actus fidei v. virtus fidei (one can fully receive and not really Recieve/appropriate Sacramental grace)… or the Pelagian heresy, which would reduce faith to an external matter of performance, which was exacerbated after Trent, in the Church’s need to define Herself against the Protestants, resulting in minimalism and externalism (Manualist tradition). An important thesis of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth trilogy, established in sound, Biblical scholarship: relationship (with Jesus Christ) is the heart of ritual. Catholics who understand and receive this authentically ( in the fullness of Catholic tradition) , and with fairness, recognize it is not entirely a “subjectivist” project, but a God- breathed (theopneustos), personal response in the heart of the human person responding to God… anchored in the Church. Von Balthasar suggested we discover Him in the “ineffable poverty of the Cross,” in the vertical and horizontal, subjective anchored in the objective, body and soul… united, that makes us whole, or holy.

    Finally, with all due concern for our not worshiping emotions (or organ music, incense and Latin, all of which we ought to greatly and appropriately appreciate) in thename of God, one might simply ask, if “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” language is so problematic, why is it the cornerstone of real renewal… advocated by all recent popes tracing back to the earliest days of Christ? Why does it distinguish vibrant, winning Catholic communities (=gaining converts and forming disciples, not simply preserving like minded Catholic ghettos) showcased in the book Rebuilt, or Christ the King in Michigan, or Father Ricardo’s parish… each of which have near “full” participation, are converting nonbelievers (and those who thought they were), and producing numerous vocations?

    Why does this underscore the most dynamic Catholic evangelization/discipleship movements in the world, including FOCUS, NET, FUS and conferences, St. Augustine Institute… and all programming that shares the same?

    Given an honest appraisal of our current situation, particularly contrasted by those that evidence great success, I have much greater concern for a lack of an authentic engagement of “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” as clearly articulated by our popes and faithfulness commentators. We formerly presumed “faithful” are being called to deeper conversion. As we are in the presence of a great Banquet, with many outside starving to death, let us not be sidetracked by conversations of dietetics and silverware placement….

  22. “a baptized, confirmed Catholic who faithfully partakes of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion in the manner prescribed by the Church certainly has a “personal relationship” with Jesus, whether or not he or she uses that phrase to describe it.”

    I’m a peep in the pew and I would say the above describes an institutional/ liturgical relationship with Jesus that I would not also describe as personal. I think of it as I do my marriage: I could be married to my wife; live with her; sleep with her; make babies and raise them with her; and still not have a personal relationship with her.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Christian.
      Can’t that sentence also be read to imply that one might use some other term rather than ‘personal relationship’? In other words it’s not implying simply the removal of personal relationship to some cold, liturgical, existence.

      Could it be, instead, ‘“a baptized, confirmed Catholic who faithfully partakes of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion in the manner prescribed by the Church certainly has a “personal relationship” with Jesus, whether or not he or she uses that phrase to describe it, but in essence, for a Catholic, it’s far deeper, it’s a communion.”.
      I know she doesn’t say that, but neither is she closing off the possibility, is she? It clarifies the position to the Protestant so they don’t see it through their own ‘my mate Jesus’ lens, but something more ‘mystical’.

      I see my marriage in terms of a communio personarum, as you probably do, too.

      • “…but in essence, for a Catholic, it’s far deeper, it’s a communion.” Well, yes, if it is, then it is. But then: where is your fruit? Your time, talent, and treasure? Most Catholics I know are much less engaged on average than Protestants I know with following Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 25. So if you love Jesus, see him in the least of his children, visit the sick, feed the poor, draw sustenance from the study of his word, and don’t just bury your talents in the ground, then even if you are not Catholic, you have a personal relationship with Jesus. This would be analogous to the spouse in my prior example. I know of men who have great personal relationships with people, but seem to not have much going on with their wives beyond habits and structures. Habits & structures in themselves don’t make a personal relationship.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Christian.
        Where’s ‘the fruit’ of a Carthusian or Cistercian? :)
        I’m sure there are times when monks don’t want to pray. Should they just abandon the habits and structures because it’s not resulting in a personal relationship? Or are you implying habits and structures are an impediment to personal relationship?

        I believe that habits and structures are far better at keeping the spirit alive, rather than going for the personal relationship and taking away the scaffolding. The latter is what Protestantism is, no?

        What if Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta had said, ‘Right, I’m off’ because she wasn’t having a relationship with Jesus? Wasn’t it the very habits and structures that kept her going?
        Many people who suffer from chronic depression survive on habits and structures – routines – too.

        To do things for my wife when I don’t feel like it – because it’s the thing to do – is more an act of love, no?

        For me, habits and structures keep the flame alive in ‘the dark ages’ of my life.

      • Gee whiz, I’d say monks set a tough standard for producing good fruit.

  23. Avatar Carole Brown says:

    We produced some “conversion story” testimonies in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. They are here–scroll down a little way and you’ll see three of them in a row. More to come, hopefully.

    I have a little-old-lady friend who is very evangelically tuned in. She watched one of them, and said, “Is there any way we could show these to elderly people? Because you know, we never talked about religion growing up.”

    She seems to think it would be good for them to start talking about it. I’m inclined to agree with her. I don’t think evangelizing elderly people has to be rough or confrontational. It arises simply from a desire for them to meet him whom we love. There are gentle, appropriate ways to go about it.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      I’m in full agreement.
      I’m all for testimonies – when they’re contextually appropriate and not rammed down people’s throats – and you probably agree.

      Again, my issue is with the way people are being judged whether they’re FIDs or not, based on the stats. That’s all.
      If I say A, B, C ,D, E are the criteria for being an FID, and only 2% in my congregation fit that criteria, so what? It might depress me, it might spur me to action, but it also shows I’m seeing the persons around me like bugs in a petri dish.
      ‘FID’ is a ‘made up’ criterion. It might be useful as a ‘rule of thumb’ even, but I’m not going to use it like a ruler.

      For me, the fact that people are coming to Mass is a great start. Anyone there is a disciple. 100% fit my definition, so I’m not trying to change them because they’re already there. Do they need some work done – yep – but we all do.

      People get caught up in one’s enthusiasm if it is ‘en-theos’. Setting criteria of who’s a disciple and who’s not, simply leads to objectification in my book. Having everyone who’s in the pew as a fellow disciple reduces that risk.

      I can’t have a genuine ‘personal relationship’ with my fellow parishioner even, if I’m objectifying them, wanting to fix them. What if God might be trying to teach me something through them?

      In fact, I’m amazed at what insights I’ve gained from those who would be considered non-FIDs
      All parishioners are precious in their own way.

      I found this food for thought when it came out:

  24. Avatar Carole Brown says:

    A St John Paul II approach would not advocate treating people in your parish like bugs in petri dish. And I’m not suggesting that you go about this in a way that wouldn’t work for you. John Paul has “communio” in mind, a spirituality of communion, where every member of the body helps and supports the other members of the body in growing into intimacy with Jesus Christ. When I meet people, I don’t think of them as a project. I think of them as someone our Lord loves–sometimes people who do not realize how much he loves them. I’m interested in helping them to discover his profound, particular, personal love for them, because I believe it will make them flourish. That’s how I love–I can’t stand the thought that anyone would have to go through life without knowing his love. I take interest in how their relationship with the Lord is going, and I make gentle inquiries that will help me to get a sense of it. I offer advice sometimes. I suggest books sometimes. I offer to pray with people sometimes, to invite the Lord into situations that they worry about. I’ve been on this road for a lot longer than some, so I am more mature than some. But I am also less mature than some, and so I have a spiritual director who can help me, and I cultivate friendships with people who can challenge me. And I seek to deepen constantly through daily prayer, spiritual reading and sacramental life. We are all a work in progress.

    We in the USA are realizing that we are going to bleed to death if we don’t become more explicit about leading baptized people to conversion. I think the point of all the stats in the beginning of the book was to show how badly the internal culture of the Church, largely a culture of silence, is doing with passing on actual, lived faith. FID is just supplying a methodology to help us start thinking about conversion in our ministry, and a framework for journeying people through it. It is consistent with the personalistic approach of John Paul II. Of course, its not meant to be a straitjacket.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      But that’s exactly what I’ve been arguing :)

      The article is about a personal relationship with Jesus. I have said at least twice I believe in that and I don’t believe in that, depending on whom I’m talking to.
      As I also said, I have the ideas and stats in mind as a sort of ‘vade mecum’.

      My problem is with language, statistics, and terminology and how they might be interpreted.
      I don’t think Dr Boyd is criticising a personal relationship with Jesus, but ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’. :) That’s why I am defending her. I’m sure she wouldn’t disagree.

      I don’t think its wise using that sort of language if there are Evangelicals around as they’ll get the wrong end of the stick.

      In the same way, confessional Protestants, like Michael Horton, RC Spoul, Albert Mohler, etc, are very concerned about the ‘Church Growth’ approach to ‘Church’ which is all the rage with people like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. It stems from Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, and the like, and uses all the latest stats and ‘pew study’ research. In fact, as you probably know, they’d argue Peale was the one that kicked off that ‘measuring how we’re doing’ mentality, and is also closely linked with the ‘How to win friends and influence people’ worldview.

      These confessional Evangelicals agree there’s something wrong, and we need to do something, and would advocate something probably you or I would advocate.

      The trouble is, as I’ve said, several times, is that this statistical approach when used in Evangelicalism has proved divisive – not in a genuine faithful/heretic manner – but in a ‘faithful/heretic’ manner.

      I suppose I could say my problem is using Protestant language and concepts too close to ‘Recovering Protestants’, yet meaning, or implying, something different.

      As I suggested somewhere earlier, Catholic ‘Church’ is a communion, whilst Protestant ‘Church’ is more a coterie.

      In this sense, I find Ms Weddell’s book unhelpful and ‘Protestant’.

      My reading of Dr Boyd’s piece was that she has the same, or similar, concerns, irrespective of whether she got some of the finer points wrong. I know I’m bound to do that as I’m pretty ignorant. But that’s why I read the great books of people who’ve taken exception to what I’ve said here, because I think they’re great teachers, including Ms Weddell.

      If I’m talking with Evangelicals or Catholics who’ve picked up the sort of vague ‘cafeteria’ views which are largely Protestant, I try to avoid all the things (language) I have been critiquing above, and try to reframe it so they see a richer viewpoint without latching onto a concept or word, and interpret it through the wrong lens or thinking that I’m saying something I’m not.

  25. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    …But when I came into those assignments [seminary rector and parish], I didn’t come in saying ‘How can I be a problem solver?’, it began with, How do I serve you?’ Those of us in administration know, the problems will appear themselves. If they don’t you’re not looking!

    But, moreover, our service to Jesus Christ isn’t, as it were, as if we are repairing some sort of computer program. We serve people made in God’s image and likeness – brothers and sisters – who love the Lord so dearly, but sometimes they may not necessarily understand the depth of that love.

    Most Rev Jeffrey M Monforton, Franciscan University of Steubenville Graduate Commencement Address, May 2014 4’12”

  26. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    Why do I seem overly cautious about labelling or ‘pushing’, rather than wooing?

    Firstly, because labelling others (through labelling myself) will devolve into a clique very quickly if it’s not consciously counteracted. So, even if the clique’s not ‘mouthing off’ as an exclusive club, people will observe, subconsciously, if not overtly, who you ‘prefer to talk to’, or who’s talking to who. That can be very damaging, so I just talk to people who are the closest, making sure I’m not with the same gaggle. But then, it’s because I see everyone as part of the club. I’m no different. I’m not a catechist. It is not my identity. This is where Psychology and interpersonal dynamics is so important, I feel.

    Secondly, I see the whole process of catechesis like a game of Billiards, Snooker, or Pool. Every ball will have a knock-on effect. Subsequently, the worst thing is if this becomes a game of ‘Catechetical Ten-Pin Bowling’.

    What I mean by that is that, if I wind someone up, I’m never just winding them up alone. As a catechist, I have ‘authority’, I’m seen as somehow deputising, or in some sort of relationship (cahoots or colluding for some?) with ‘the Priest’. The thing is, we can never be sure of how we’re perceived. By having any title whatsoever, can change interpersonal dynamics completely even with those we’re close to.

    If I offend someone by ‘correcting them’ because I misjudge how to position it, or come on too strong with the Gospel or how Jesus has changed my life (especially if there a facts/sciencey sort of person so people bubbling about Jesus is likely to be a complete put-off), I’ve lost them, but what’s more, to get them back – if at all – is well nigh impossible. BUT what’s more, they’ll tell their friends, and you’ll have lost them, too, because in their eyes, their friend is more credible than you. So by ‘hitting’ one person either with correction or ‘Jesus’ if they’re not open, loses more than one, if not possibly 10 or more, and guess what, you’ll see them begin to stick together…

    There is a Confessional Christian, Greg Koukl, who’s a good friend of Dr Frank Beckwith (they co-authored a book together) who proposes an ‘Ambassador’s Creed’ which is what I base my parish relationship upon:

    Watching the tree videos (Knowledge, Wisdom, Character) using his ‘workshop’ analogies, are particularly helpful.

    This is Koukl giving some more brilliant advice, he says he can’t guarantee they’ll work, but I’ve found they do! It also works where the Priest is sceptical or not ‘orthodox’, and you can get him sucked up into it (in a good way), too.

    I’m always on a quest for dry tinder… :)

  27. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Lot to agree and disagree with here. Dr Boyd did a great service to initiate such a lively dialogue. I did not have time to read every comment, so someone may have addressed this. One of my concerns is that when talking about Catholic Moral Teaching, there seems to be a tendency to limit it to abortion and other related matters. The whole of Catholic Social Doctrine, constitutive to Catholic Moral Teaching, is not included as a concern. I wonder if the encounter with Jesus in the poor is not extremely important to conversion implied in Matthew Chapter 25. Francis, Bishop of Rome, speaks to the topic in Article #180 of Joy of the Gospel:
    “Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of “charity à la carte”, or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.”

    What is the role of the whole of Catholic Social Doctrine in the life of Catholics?

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Tom.
      I hear you. I think you’d like Pope Francis’ Audience of 25th June.

      He’s pretty clear on a lot of the issues you’ve raised, especially where he says:
      ‘There are those who believe they can maintain a personal, direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and the mediation of the Church. These are dangerous and harmful temptations. These are, as the great Paul VI said, absurd dichotomies.’
      Pretty strong words!
      ‘Outside the Church’ could mean non-Catholics, or it could be what I’ve been suggesting here, namely, ‘Jesus alone’, seeing that relationship only in terms of ‘verticality’ rather than only being able to have a full relationship with Christ through the mediation of Church, for the Church is Christ, rather than someone remote, ‘up in heaven’. In the context of what he’s talked about, as well as what’s sometimes implicit, ‘narcissism’ is a constant concern of his, so I take the latter meaning as being more appropriate.

      The whole thing, is here:

  28. Thanks to HPR for hosting this important conversation, and the constructive, meaningful interaction by all.

    Per the principal theme here, which I receive as a call to deeper conversion per revealed “all and” holiness (integration of subjective and objective, personal and corporate)… I’d like to share with you a new initiative at Our mission is that we might decrease; Him increase. We do not seek to create our own “brand,” but at the service of every bishop and pastor’s objectives— showcase and make accessible the great treasure of our Faith.

    Instead of simply SPECTATING from the sidelines of someone else’s drama (=most people’s discretionary existence), we’re inviting all to discover and PARTICIPATE in our God-given identity and mission— the Ultimate Drama specified by Eucharist and Liturgy. In our amnesia, Jesus Christ is God’s revelation of “man to himself” (Irenaeus). He is the DNA of human existence.

    Drawing from great experience of many, including a number of those in this thread– we believe God wants us to win; we believe His Holy Spirit is being uniquely poured out. We believe if we are faithful to the model He revealed, we will see parish transformation in 3-5 years– to become “that’ kind of community, beating with God’s heart for everyone He has entrusted to us, His Church.

    Prayers appreciated.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi John!
      Thanks. In fact I came back here just now wondering whether anyone would have picked it up, and if not, was going to point to it myself!
      I read it earlier as is on my daily ‘blogroll’ as it’s full of wise spiritual advice.
      I fully agreed with what Fr Bartunek was saying, as I do his beautiful Retreat Guides. I have a copy of ‘The Better Part’ on my bedside table which I use almost daily, as well as on my Kindle for when I’m away. I love the way it really helps engage the reader at a deeper level.

      As I’ve said before several times: I believe in a personal relationship with Jesus and I don’t believe in ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’, depending on who I’m speaking to, and the context.

      Last week, I sat down with an Anglican Evangelical clergyman I know very well, who’s just about to take up his first post as a vicar of a parish. He kept telling me how ‘the voice in his head’ was telling him to do this, then that, and how he was finally ‘led’ to this appointment.

      I have plenty of Evangelical friends who talk about things in the same way, as if God is micro-managing every aspect of their life. God, however, never seems to ask them to do anything that’s not in their favour (funny that). Anything that’s not in their favour is a surprise. Then comes the prayer postmortem of why God didn’t deliver… If it’s really personal, I’ve seen them ‘lose their faith’ over it. Does a real personal relationship with Jesus create people that fickle?

      That’s what they mean by a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’. We don’t, do we?

  29. Never follow religion of others because you are following somebody else belief. Live with spirituality in your heart which is your own belief.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Jack!
      Is that your belief, and do you want us to accept it?
      But if we do, then won’t we be following your belief?
      Just sayin’… :)
      Have a great day!

  30. Avatar David McPike says:

    “Ask yourself: can a person have an intimate union with another person and not know about it? Doesn’t that defy the definition of what intimacy is?”

    Well I guess we need to define ‘intimacy,’ then: Some common synonyms: closeness, warmth, familiarity, affection. And if we look at the Latin root: inwardness, profundity, secrecy. Now let’s take my wife, for example, and the baby in her womb, and let’s suppose the baby is a boy. Does he have an intimate union with my wife? Yes. Does he ‘know’ about it? No. Our relationship with God, at the most intimate level, is always, always beyond the level of our knowledge. Every validly baptised baby certainly has a profoundly intimate personal union with God, without any act of his or her will or intellect (i.e., without knowing about it). At least that’s my understanding – or has one of the recent popes said something about that not being the case?

    Great comments. It seems like a lot of “intentional disciple”-types are (unintentionally, no doubt) not very careful readers. I appreciated this comment, among others:

    “Too many ‘models and methods’ are straightjackets or cookie-cutter approaches to evangelisation and catechesis which tacitly prove that the catechist doesn’t want a ‘personal relationship’ with you, whilst wanting you to have a personal relationship with God through their agenda, in their way.”

    (… Carol’s) rhetorical questions indicate that she has no interest in really listening to you, getting genuinely ‘intersubjective,’ and actually understanding who you are and the position that you (and Boyd) are representing (which you have expressed very graciously and articulately). So the take-away for me is: Yes! You’re right – the dangers you (and Boyd) speak of is real, and people who label themselves “intentional disciples” would indeed do well to have the humility to really listen and to seek to avoid such dangers. (The same applies to Sherry Waddell’s interpretation of your “dissembling” comment, which quite clearly did not say what she took it to say.)

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Thank you so much, David.
      Your support is most welcome, and ‘getting’ what I was trying to communicate. I was feeling rather like a pariah.
      It is really appreciated.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Oh, and also, your analogy is superb.
      Thank you for that, too.

  31. Avatar anatolia says:

    1. Speaking of “personal relationship” is inherently subjective and open to multiple interpretations and self-delusions.

    2. Corollary: Personal prayer is most often self-referential. In prayer, is one’s focus on Christ or one the idol one has made of his own thoughts and feelings?

    3. The Church’s liturgy is the highest form of communion and worship; it is from the liturgy that personal devotion and “personal relationship” must flow, not the other way around. The liturgy is the victory celebration of the resurrection of Christ over death, it is the proclamation of the Gospel: proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s victory over death.

  32. A lot of great comments here. I believe what Dr. Boyd is bringing up is that non-Catholics want to impart “their own” personal relationship with Jesus on everyone else! (Catholic or not) That could be worse than 40,000 denominations. I think it is wise caution. Yes, the popes mention a personal relationship with Jesus, but they do it with the bible and sacraments. There are way too many Christians who believe their personal relationship with Jesus takes place on a bass fishing boat. ( similar to the Catholics who take Communion not really cherishing what the sacrament means.) Let’s help each other stay on the narrow path.

  33. Thank Dr BOYD for your interesting observation. Having a personal relationship with Christ is not out of the Catholic Tradition as Marcel has beautiful reminded us. Relating to God in intimate way is the only genuine reason why one should take the Sacraments of the Church seriously. I guess you might have experienced or overheard how people drop our BLESSED LORD IN THE EUCHARIST on their pews. Some others receive HIM anyway with disregard to being or not in the state of Grace.

    Again, you said that “having a personal relationship with Christ” breeds relativism. I do not think so or else it would not be actually a relationship with Christ. Which is why Ms Sherry Weddell laid much emphasis on “the Power of Christian Community.” The beauty of Christian life is in the diverse-interrelated-experience of the Person Of Jesus by various people from all walks of life(Cf. 1 Cor.12:4f). There is a huge lack of companionship in this journey of faith in many parishes.

    The subject of “relativism” within our Church circles often reminds me of what is actually going on in the “Extra Ordinary Form of the Mass.” It’s all about you and God they say. I have continued to struggle in vain to understand how it is only “me n God”. And this you know is completely counter-Scriptural and counterproductive. People do not spend their time where they get nothing. Many people are very very hungry for God. One of the worst things that could happen to a hungry person is filling up with junk. If you are low on gas, you don’t want kerosene. Unfortunately, this is what happens to so many people.
    Life is first spiritual before temporal. In order to understand this, everyone needs each other. Ms Weddell correctly identifies that there is less emphasis and promotion of this. That is why she repeatedly says we need new “Ananiases”! And I tell you, without “Ananiases” of our time, there would be little or no understanding of the “Dark Night” of St John of the Cross; there would not be meaningful comprehension of the “Contemplative and Active” spiritual lives. Speaking about that, the two are not opposed. Whether Martha or Mary’s; explosive or quiet; whether Elijah’s Our Blessed Mother’s (during the Annunciation) or the Pentecost experiences, all of them have same terminus ad quem–bearing good fruits that will last.
    Also, I know you know about the Gospels. Take a look at this: Mark 9:38-41. The fact that a principle comes from “outside” does not necessarily make it wrong. It is not very clear to me what you meant by “clearly recognizable Catholic identity”. Whatever that genuinely promotes the advancement of the Kingdom of God is CATHOLIC, no matter where it comes from otherwise we would not have been reading “Pauline Letters” today.

    In reality, anyone with personal relationship is faithful to the Church.

  34. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    Firstly, I’m so grateful for all the comments as they’ve really got me thinking more about the question. Thank you so much. The issues of ‘personal relationship’ are something I struggle with constantly.

    Secondly, for many people I deal with who suffer from bi-polar disorder and especially depression, and some Catholics who are just overly scrupulous, this kind of ‘personal relationship’ language haunts them. They feel desolate and empty, and I have even observed one particular tragedy as a result of well-meaning, but completely thoughless, ‘counsel’.

    A ‘personal relationship’ is not something we can generate by ourselves, and that relationship feels most distant when we are struggling, suffering, or in pain. Sometimes all we can do is call out to ‘God’. I’m reminded of the struggle even St Therese had in her last days.

    From my experience, Christians can be completely insensitive wanting to promote how wonderful their personal relationship with God is, without considering their listeners (who might not be the people they’re talking to), and how it might be making them feel guilty, inadequate, and worthless, when all they can do every morning is cry out, ‘WHERE ARE YOU GOD!’ in tears and great agony.

    The last thing they need is someone telling them to ‘offer it up’, or ‘just let go and let God’, and then God will work, when they cry out daily with tears and supplication.

    What on earth are they doing if not that? Yet, God is still silent – so they feel they must be doing something wrong, are evil and so irredeemable, damned, or something else just as negative.
    Day in day out they try try different things to get got out of hiding, sometimes they are just speechless and broken. Even at the bottom of the pit, silence.

    All I can say is that there are so many people out there in our congregations who feel abandoned and have tried everything, including the ‘letting go’ and nothing’s happened, whilst members of their congregation skip about telling everyone that since they ‘got Jesus’, he’s provided everything on their shopping list.

    But, despite those suffering desolation, feeling nothing of Jesus, personal or otherwise, THEY STILL COME TO MASS. They participate, even in their emptiness. To me that shows amazing hope. What’s more, I am humbled by all the love and selfless little things they do in the parish.

    I could go on about how damaging and painful this sort of language can be to gentle souls, but just thinking of the cases I know who, for whatever reason, don’t have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, and those people who tell them that’s because they’re not X-ing, especially those who tell them they must, somehow be ‘blocking the Spirit’ or they’re just ignorant, and if they were Catechised, everything would be OK, but it’s just too upsetting.

    Thank you again everyone.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      And the next site I go to in my ‘blogroll’ I find this:

      …But here are the keys of the Kingdom I’ve been handed in return. I never despair of the Church. I never worry about whether the “New Evangelization” is working. Instead, I ponder in my heart these tiny sparks, these unseen flames that are burning, all over our country and the world. I pray for these followers of Christ who suffer and wonder and struggle and rail and radiate a strange kind of joy, anonymously and in silence. They are poor in spirit and rich in love. They are the little ones about whom Christ said, “Let them come unto me.” They consent to be last here and they will one day be first.
      They inspire and sustain and continually convert me.
      The true evangelizers, then as now, are those who are humble enough to know they are sick and need to be healed.

      Heather King, What Is Your Story? Tell Me Your Pain. Enough with the polemics. Aleteia 15th July 2014.

    • Avatar Tom McGuire says:

      Perhaps we do not spend enough time with the Book of Lamentations. In this book the people of God see little hope after the destruction of Jerusalem, but remain faithful in common prayer.

    • Avatar Jim Kiesow says:

      Re: Paul Rodden post of July 15 at 1:31 am

      Thank you, Paul, for this heartfelt, beautiful comment. I have had several relatives, faithful Catholics, who expressly wondered why God did/does not speak to them, or reveal things to them, as He does to so many others who claim to experience God in some clear and certain way. They say: “I try to listen, but he does not speak in clear words to me, or at least I have never heard him say anything, have you?” Since other family members have expressed the same thing, one wondered if this was due to a “genetic” problem! “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.” Their faith is/was primarily based upon what Jesus reveals/revealed to them through his Catholic Church, not upon what they “hear” in their prayers; and their most intimate time with Him is when they receive Communion.

      I wonder how many people say they have a “personal relationship with Christ” (PRWC) because they want to fit in to the group, or want it to be true so badly that they imagine they”hear” God in prayer; so conformity, pressure, imagination, and personal agendas are the basis of their PRWC.

      Those in the Church who are suffering, and are doing it in communion with Christ in their own special ways, may not be great catechists or new evangelists, but nonetheless may be some of His great saints.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi there, Jim.

        Thank you, too. The supportive comments I have received here (interestingly primarily from those who, like me, just do our best as ‘non-experts’) have encouraged me greatly as I was feeling rather despondent.

        I hear you, and my heart goes out to you and your relatives.
        In some senses, part of the ‘Protestanisation’ is in the ‘intellectualisation’ or it having to be ‘externalised’ or articulated in some way, for Protestantism is heavily ‘logocentric’ – ‘word’ and concept-centred – by nature. It seems to me we are to Evangelise, not ‘externalise’, ‘extrovert’, or proselytise. We cannot tell people what their experience ‘should be like’ as if there’s somehow a guaranteed causal relationship between events and outcomes.

        I have Christians tell me ‘If you do X, Y will happen’ – e.g., ‘If you have a personal relationship with Christ, then these are the expected manifestations and/or outcomes…’.

        To me you can say that about cooking a meal properly by following the recipe, but it simply can’t follow in the spiritual life, can it?

        I have to say, I have found more in common with those who seem to be regular Mass goers who’ve commented here, and somewhat surprised by the experts who seem to have taken offence, who I thought might have had a bigger perspective based on the diversity found in real parish life. We are a worldwide Church, so what we teach in catechesis, I believe, should be generic in that sense – being very sensitive to culture, especially at the local level – but cautious about any secular or non-Catholic socio-cultural bias, which is a different matter entirely.

        In short, I have problems with what appears to be an over-emphasis on ‘experience’, ‘knowing’ and ‘believing’ for, to me, they ‘smell’ more of the Enlightenment than the Church.
        I had been been sensing this for some time, but found support in Dr Brad Gregory’s ‘Unintended Reformation’.

        Thank you again.

  35. Avatar Fr. Matthew C. MacDonald says:

    While I do think the notion of a personal relationship with Jesus, within the realm of a lived relationship of faith, is definitely not against Church teaching, I do think it is limited in explaining what the mission and goals of the Church’s New Evangelization should be towards people, both inside and outside her communion, and even risks compromising what they are. I also do think that Dr. Jay Boyd makes a legitimate critique of what an over-emphasis and over-exaggeration of this experiential dimension of faith can bring. Yes, the Magisterium since the Second Vatican Council, especially in the writings of Pope Saint John Paul II, have had a personalistic emphasis, and have rightly emphasized the experiential dimension of the faith. Yet, this must be viewed within the hermeneutic of continuity within the larger part of the magisterial and theological tradition of the Church.

    I think that it is more apt to say that the goal of the new evangelization should be helping people from traditionally Catholic cultures, and raised in a Catholic family, to live in a filial relationship, and a spousal relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ. I think this is more in-line with the Church’s teaching on spiritual theology, especially in light of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Theresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and Saint Ignatius Loyola, as well as their modern commentators. This point is particularly highlighted by the Jesuit Fr. Paul Quay in his book “The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God” when he speaks about spiritual childhood in light of personal recapitulation in Christ in faith (a lived faith in relationship with the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit).

    We are not just called to have a personal relationship with Jesus like we would another person. Through Jesus Christ, and our baptism in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we become sons and daughters of the Father in Him. We are called to spiritual maturity in Christ through a lived faith relationship in Christ (Rm 13:14; Col 3:10; Eph 4:24) through which we grow beyond spiritual immaturity, or childishness, brought about by our wounded sinfulness to full spiritual adulthood and espousalment.

    To say I have a personal relationship with Jesus, does not capture the dynamic reality of the relationship of faith, and the fulfillment and destiny to which we are called to in God, by virtue of our baptism. A “Personal Relationship with Jesus” can imply a faith relationship in which I am still spiritually immature, where my faith is just about expressing myself, or getting what I want (servile or infantile love), or following Christ and His Church just out of fear of hell, or fear of rejection alone (moralizing love). This is what Dr. Boyd warns about immanentism (aka Principle of Vital or Religious Immanence – Pope St. Pius X – Pascendi Dominici Gregis, n. 7 & 10), where faith just becomes about what I experience alone. The Church teaches that faith “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Thus, faith both includes experience, but is more than it – its about losing and finding oneself in Christ the Beloved, loving Him on His terms, not just on my terms, and loving my neighbor as God loves them. It is also allowing Christ to fully increase in me mystically through grace – to be born again in me, to be crucified and to die again in me, to rise and be glorified again in me, so that I am created into the new person, according to God, in justice and the Holiness of Truth (Eph 4:24).

    This is not to discount the importance of reawakening people to the personal commitment and personal dimension of the lived relationship of faith to God, but the personal relationship language can short-change people, and the Church’s mission to evangelize and preach the gospel to all nations.

    Most people are at different levels of spiritual maturity, and the Church has a responsibility to both reach people where they are, and bring them to Christ. I think Dr. Boyd is trying to say that the “Personal Relationship with Jesus” language, if not put in its larger, deeper, and proper context within the Church’s theological and spiritual tradition, risks reducing the faith to an experiential spiritual saccharin that bates people in but denies them their full vocation, fulfillment, and destiny in Christ.

    This is why the Church has always taught lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi – the Eucharist and the Mass are the foundation of the Church’s life and mission in the world. Everything else is built upon it. When the Mass is offered poorly in a minimalistic sense (bad art and architecture, bad music, bad preaching, bad vestments); when people are not formed on how to enter into the Mass; when the Eucharist is not given right worship in a true sense of actual participation, but rather is time just to “experientially express myself” alone; all of this leads to the corruption of faith via spiritual infantilism. Thus, it hinders the faithful from perceiving Jesus’ presence in their life in prayer, in their day-to-day encounters with people, in their family life, and the big and small events in life that shape us, and form us as Sons and Daughters of the Father.

    This is why the vocation of parents in virtue of the sacrament of marriage, and baptizing their children in the Church, is to teach them about the faith – both via Catechesis and evangelization in their living out a Holy Marriage – in which their love becomes an icon of the love between Christ and His Church. This then also helps children to see the presence of God working mystically in their lives, and manifesting His love for them on a personal level. This is what causes Catholics to fall away, and become “cafeteria Catholics,” or pure atheists. This is why Catholics begin to capitulate to the world, and their own roundedness, because they cannot perceive and enter into the mystery of faith, so they seek it in immanence, and turn to things like porn, drugs, alcohol, addictive, sinful behavior, and the like. This is ultimately why there is some truth behind the personal relationship with Jesus language. But, at the same time, it ultimately falls short, because it is often employed in a way that is divorced from the sacramental, spiritual, historical, and theological patrimony of the Church which, in the end, infantilizes and distorts the faith.

    • On the other hand, any kind of language, even traditional language, can be a stumbling block for many people in any number of circumstances. Personally, I can’t relate to the use of marriage beyond that of an occasional metaphor for my relationship with Christ, and not only because I’m male. Marriage is a partnership. It always has been and is especially true today. It’s not a one-size-fitting-all image that’s suitable for everyone. Marriage is a mutuality, and we certainly don’t have that level of relationship with God.

      Jesus preached we were no longer slaves/servants but friends. A more apt metaphor, and one more applicable today would be that of being apprentices to the master builder. We are obliged more to teach and be taught the faith, as if it were a classroom. We are urged to live the faith in the world, to be an example, an inviting witness for others. As such, we try this life under the tutelage of One who, as a person, has a relationship with us, and is intimately concerned with our fruitfulness and faithfulness.

      Sherry Weddell’s book and ministry are very much needed. We use them in my parish. Her book doesn’t insult individual people in any sense. But perhaps some perceive a pricked conscience. Are we all doing everything we can to move beyond old ways and into new opportunities? Even if it creates friction with a more traditional brand of Catholicism?

      • I meant to write “We are obliged **less** to teach and be taught …”

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Todd.
        Interesting comments. With any books I read, I sort of absorb the ideas, but then let them inform my thinking on any situation, rather than allowing them form any blueprint, because every situation, every person, and every parish and group is slightly different.

        One thing that struck me while I was reading your comment – but not related to your comment in any way – is that I wonder what impact, or how, this new trend of naming or promoting various different types, or categories, of disciples, affects, or fits in with, the notion of ‘the hermeneutic of continuity’? But also, then, whether this thinking implies, tacitly, some sort of ‘apostasy’?

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Fr Matthew.
      Thank you for such a helpful and balanced comment. I’m no expert and somewhat self-taught, as I’ve never had anyone around to teach me (apart from those who just wanted to ‘transmit’ their own ideas).

      But, what you’re expressing here, I think is right on the nail. Not because it expresses my view, but that it’s from the perspective of the ‘big picture’: wider than ‘white, educated, middle-class American’ (or whatever you’d call the equivalent, as I’m a Brit!). It takes people into account who are not experts or gifted intellectually, and I believe God speaks to them ‘in his own way’.

      In short what you’ve written expresses what I sense, even though I’ve been hopeless communicating it as I simply don’t have the academic skill or background.

      Thank you.

      • Thanks for replying, Paul. I largely reject the notion of a hermeneutic of continuity. I don’t find it fits a faith in which seekers are called to conversion and believers to continuing conversion. Keep in mind the lives of so many saints. Many people abandoned former lives to take up the mantle of Christ. Perhaps Peter retained his skills as a fisherman, but he left his nets and followed, as the Bible tells us. There was no continuity from his job to his vocation, except in the metaphorical sense of catching fish/people.

        It might be that more Catholics today are being urged, nudged, and poked by the Holy Spirit to move beyond old ways of thinking and doing things. We live in challenging times. The hermeneutic of continuity, in such a setting, may be a security blanket, a way to avoid a demanding and challenging call. Sometimes, when the need is grave, it is a good thing to reject the old, especially if it is sinful, and embrace the new wholeheartedly. This is why I wouldn’t mind seeing the principle of continuity retired, at least as an unchallenged virtue.

        We already have a hierarchical church, so I’m not sure identifying believers is as much of a problem as you suggest. The clear divisions I see are 1. seekers, those curious about Jesus and Christianity; 2. believers, those who have adhered to Christ in word and will; and 3. disciples, those who align their whole lives according to the pattern of Christ and the call of the Holy Spirit. People who cling to Christ in faith and works.

        Catholics are spread out over these areas, but mainly operate as believers. From what my friends in other churches tell me, it’s pretty much true across all denominational lines. It’s just how we are.

        When I use that knowledge or analysis to browbeat others, then it becomes my problem, not that of Ms Weddell or her Dominican-inspired system. Many non-Catholic Christians have found great grace in how they perceive their personal relationship with Christ. We can attend to that, listen carefully, and ask for the grace God is offering us in our lives. Even if accepting that offer means a break from the past.

  36. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    The tiny comment by Wayne, above, I just noticed reminded me of a thought I often have:

    Shouldn’t we simply worship God, irrespective of anything? Isn’t simply our due? Isn’t it, in a sense, ‘by decree’?

  37. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    How much is a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ counting equality with God a thing to be grasped? :)

  38. Avatar Carole Brown says:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church 2558. “Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.”

    • Agreed. But Christians have such varying approaches to prayer, this can be very difficult to pin down in actuality. Intercessory prayer, for example, is a fine practice. But what of the Christian who spends all of her prayer time talking, asking, and petitioning, and leaving no space and silence for the reply of God?

      I think there’s no doubt that a person-to-person relationship with God is essential. But how do mortals accomplish this with a seemingly silent partner whose ways are inscrutable?

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Carole,
      Sorry, but you’re still completely missing the point I was making.

  39. Avatar Carole Brown says:

    Father Matthew,
    Regarding your response, I cannot disagree with you on about 90% of what you say. You are absolutely correct that our Catholic faith is about espousal to Jesus, and filial love for the Father—lofty concepts indeed! But still…….foundationally a personal relationship, a relationship between persons. These are ultimately realized in Eucharistic and sacramental communion.
    I also think that Dr Boyd raises some valid concerns. I have at least one friend who has a “personal relationship with Jesus” but who has rationalized an immoral lifestyle. That happens in some cases. But I know far more people who have been Catholic their whole life, and have no sense of a personal relationship with Jesus. Many of them have likewise adopted immoral practices (Dr Boyd complains about this in her article, and we know that it’s true—upwards of 90 percent of Catholics contracept, very few see any problem with homosexuality, etc. etc.). Sacramental practice is clearly no guarantor of having submitted oneself to God. (The recent clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Church underscore this in a devastating way.)
    I think you and Dr Boyd are far too dismissive of the term “personal relationship with Jesus”, (the term adopted by the magisterium of the Church!). She, in fact, said in her article, “Frankly, the question is not one that has a Catholic meaning.”
    St Paul once said, “The life I now live, I live by faith in him who loved me and gave himself for me.” What a profound testament, and what great energy for the gospel it released! Where is that energy now? The bishops of the 1974 synod on evangelization were asking the same thing: what happened to the hidden energy of the good news, that is able to have such a powerful effect on men’s consciences?”
    At the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII indicated that while the doctrines of the Church cannot change, the “modus” or way that those doctrines are communicated can change. I think that the personalistic language introduced by Pope John Paul, and continually re-affirmed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, is that new modus. It is the language of a personal relationship with Jesus, in the Church; only confidence in Jesus gives us confidence in the Church—he invented the Church! St John Paul II treated of catechesis in just that way! People must come into intimacy with Jesus (his word!) (Catechesis in Our Times, 5). The Catechism (2558) says that the faithful must live from a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God.
    Ultimately, you are correct— will be spousal, filial, and sacramental. But it cannot be these without also being personal. I think perhaps the real problem here is that we are steeped in Deism: God is “out there somewhere”. But he doesn’t know me, love me, or have anything real to do with my life. That’s not Christianity, but maybe something we as Catholics have become rather comfortable with.

    • Avatar Tom McGuire says:

      Reading these comments, especially Carole Brown’s: “I think perhaps the real problem here is that we are steeped in Deism: God is “out there somewhere”. But he doesn’t know me, love me, or have anything real to do with my life. That’s not Christianity, but maybe something we as Catholics have become rather comfortable with.” I wonder what is the real problem?

      With all the violent, cruel, and inhumane events of everyday life, is our theology like a cocoon that.we use to protect ourselves from that dirty reality.

      What is the experience of children crossing our borders fleeing death in their home countries?
      What is the experience of the people in the many war torn parts of the world, many of which the United States has had a major role?
      What is the experience of people in countries where people of faith are persecuted and killed?

      For many God is unresponsive. They may pray, but receive no response, yet they persist in faith. We who live in comfort and relative safety find comfort in our relationship with God, while ignoring their pleas. The Gospel seems to call us to a relationship with God in the little ones who suffer. Getting down and dirty with them, loving them in actions of justice and mercy, and defending them even to the point of our own death.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Carole.
      Several times I think I’ve said that I thought the central theme of the article is a certain meaning of ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, not a personal relationship with Jesus. It is that former meaning, or usage, of ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ with which I have issues.

      As a concrete example of exactly what I’ve been getting at in this discussion…
      When you say, ‘we are steeped in Deism’, didn’t you mean, ‘you are steeped in Deism’? For that comment, where it is situated, and the implication of what follows, cannot include yourself, can it?

      Are you, or are you not, including yourself as a Deist (‘we’) when, in the next sentence, you say it’s not Christianity? If not, why did you use ‘we’? However, if you did mean it, then you’re including yourself in the Deist ‘set’ which = not Christian by your own definition. Why would you want to do that?

      So, you didn’t really mean ‘we’ did you, and that’s exactly the type of point I’ve been making all along, isn’t it?

      For me, as I’ve said several times, I think, Sherry Weddell’s book made bucket-loads of really useful and outstanding points and informed my thinking about the way I catechise, but I didn’t nail my colours to it, nor use it as the primary lens through which I view catechesis or parishioners. The same is true of the other authors and books I mentioned. I don’t believe I have a right to stand outside people and assess where they’re at spiritually, but there are lots of books out there with great ideas to ‘keep in mind’.

      I think all of the authors I mentioned superb. I’m grateful, and frankly, I couldn’t do any better. They are truly gifted, and I really mean that. However, my situation is my situation. Like the catechism, it has to be ‘localised’ and ‘contextualised’, or as Fidei Depositum says of the Catechism, ‘It is meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which must take into account various situations and cultures, while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to Catholic doctrine.’

      I believe catechesis itself has to do the same. It has to appropriate itself to the audience, which is what I take ‘new in expression, new in method’ as meaning within the New Evangelisation, instead of ‘instruction’, ‘catechism class’, and rote learning.

      The problem is, my suspicions are that some people may have run with ‘Forming Intentional Disciples’ as the ‘master narrative’, or major theme, of their catechetical modelling, and I think Dr Boyd’s comments, if accepted, make the wisdom of doing that not so wise, possibly…?

      • Good thoughts here. There is always a danger of taking an author, or an approach, and making an idol of it. If so, your issue is less with Ms Weddell and more with the idolmakers. My observation is that she’s been scapegoated a bit on this thread, and that strikes me as unfair.

        There is also a danger of an over-reliance on catechesis as such. FID goes beyond catechesis in that it advocates for the development of discipleship, which is less of an intellectual exercise and more of an apprenticeship in a way of life.

        CCC 2478 urges us, through Saint Ignatius, to put the best possible interpretation on what a person might say or do. That includes people who use the phrase “personal relationship with God,” an places upon a skeptic the responsibility to ask clarifying questions, and accept what is said. And sometimes, we are obligated to hold our tongue, when suspicion persists. It’s a matter of prudence, a much-overlooked virtue all around these days.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Thanks Todd.
        Very useful points. Thanks. Especially about the idolmakers. I think my concern is with both. The transmitter and the receiver. However, do you think that if something’s in print there’s an additional level of responsibility, particularly if it’s taken authoratitively?

        Elsewhere, for example, I believe Ms Weddell is running ‘charism discernment workshops’. From what I’ve heard, they seem very like the ‘name it and claim it’ approach of the Prosperity Gospel, except with Charisms. This concerns me as it also seems to fit in with ‘Protestant ring’ being challenged, and is not related to the ‘idolaters’. Can’t God blow where he wills in the distribution of his gifts? I think the catechism is using ‘discern’ in the sense of true/fake (#799-801) rather than ‘find out what yours are’, as if we somehow ‘possess’ them and are, by nature, fixed (and so able to be ‘discerned’), but I’m open to correction.

        Again, I don’t think I’m that important. Not in a deprecating sense, but that Providence is above my ken, and one of the things that started me questioning Evangelicalism was a palpable ‘narcissistic turn’ in the early 1980s towards nondenominationalism and ‘church shopping’, among other ‘self-help’-like workshops and books.

        You’re right in your last paragraph. I think we can all be guilty of that. Myself included. Although here, my concern is the authority/responsibilty issue. I hope in my other comments above I have tried to make sure I am clear what I mean.

        Thanks Todd for challenging me.

      • My parish has done her called and gifted workshops for over seven years. I participated in one when I arrived there six years ago. I can attest it is certainly not “prosperity gospel” crap. The workshop is about determining one’s gifts based on a reflection of one’s experiences. The way we use it with our students involves what they reflect on and what others observe–discern if you will–in us. It strikes me as a close cousin to Ignatian discernment.

        The New Testament lists at least 24 gifts. That’s too many to “try on” in the sense of going through one by one and determining which fit. Though I suppose it could be done in that way. I don’t have a problem with the questionnaire format that tries to identify the most likely gifts. And since the process involves a one-on-one session with a trained listener, much wasted time and self-deception can be avoided.

        I’m not sure what to make of the “Protestant ring.” In its best sense, Protestant equals Christian, and since there’s no denying that the Holy Spirit works among Protestants, I think the Catholics can be fine with it. Or better, embrace it. The meme against things non-Catholic, or sometimes more accurately, things non-Roman or non-institutional, is itself a kind of idolatry in reverse, an anti-idolatry. Catholic suspicion of Protestant things can sometimes be valid. But in this case, it has a whiff of envy and resentment about it. Elder sibling on the porch and all.

        Ms Weddell and her workshop materials are quite clear about for what spiritual gifts are given and how they are utilized to serve. The whole notion may be challenging to believers who have not got off square one since their First Communion. But that’s not FID’s problem, but rather Catholic pastors who have parishioners who have indulged the hermeneutics of entitlement and complaint.

        Blessings on your weekend, Paul.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi Todd.
        Thanks for your input. It’s very helpful. You have explained it better than where I had seen it that gave me the impression I had of it.

        I think if what you’re saying is the case with those workshops, then I can’t say our parish is any where near ready yet, in your ‘not got off square one since their First Communion’, sense. :)

        That’s why I find it important to start where they’re at and use ‘baby steps’ so we can take more with us, minimising the risk of any falling off the cart.

        Funnily enough, I just came here to post something from an eMail I just received.
        I have a friend who’s just finishing his PhD on Newman and is getting anxious. He mentioned his anxiety to his supervisor (whom he sees as a Victorian living in the 21st Century) told him not to worry because so much in modern education is focussed in the wrong direction, and when a student is at university to ‘read’ Theology, that’s what they’re there for.
        His supervisor completed his fatherly advice by saying, ‘Remember. Weighing a pig doesn’t make it grow’. :)

  40. Nothing is wrong with having a personal relationship with Jesus when it is OWNED from a Catholic Perspective. Protestantism had the right idea, but the wrong methodology. For us a personal relationship with Jesus begins with frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist and Adoration as you pointed out, but. let us not micromanage what people may or may feel or sense while they are developing a closer encounters with Jesus.

    • Avatar Christopher Knuffke says:

      Re: David L. Gray. . . Our personal relationship with Jesus begins with baptism, yes?

  41. Avatar Joseph D'Hippolito says:

    I would like Catholics to stop talking about a “personal relationship with Christ through the Eucharist” as if it really *were* a personal relationship. It’s not. It’s nothing but a sacramental ritual. That’s fine, in and of itself, but let’s not deceive ourselves. One cannot have a relationship with a piece of consecrated bread. Relationship implies give-and-take. It demands mutual attention and commitment.

    When I think of a “personal relationship with Christ,” I think of His status as the Heavenly High Priest Who intercedes nonstop for *all* of God’s adopted sons and daughters — regardless of whether they’re Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or non-denominational. I think of the Holy Spirit, Whose role as Comforter and Advocate draws those same adopted sons and daughters closer to the Father. I think of prayer — not rote prayer but honest, heartfelt honesty toward God, in the matter of the Psalms.

    Those things constitute the essence of a “personal relationship with Christ.” So-called “fidelity” to church authorities isn’t part of the equations — especially if those self-proclaimed authorities are effectively apostate.

    • Avatar Christopher Knuffke says:

      Re: Joseph D’Hippolito. . . Catholics do not believe the Eucharist is ONLY a “sacramental ritual”, nor that the Eucharist is just “a piece of consecrated bread”. Catholics believe “the Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which He instituted to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until His return in glory”. (Compendium, #271; Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1322-1323, 1409) “He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with His Body and His Blood, with His Soul and Divinity”. (Compendium, #282; Catechism, #1373-1375, 1413)

  42. Avatar Carole Brown says:

    Maybe this will help. Ralph Martin has a good way of explaining church teaching on New Evangelization, and the need for personal conversion of the baptized in here.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Carole,
      I’m still not arguing against any of the things you’ve been saying. :) I’ve been in agreement, as I am with Ralph Martin (and Bob Rice, Raniero Cantalamessa, Rino Fisichella, and a host of others)

      Likewise, Fr Robert Barron has just posted an excellent video summary/review of the bits of FID I also found really useful too, on Word on Fire, if you haven’t seen it. I have a suspicion some people aren’t actually reading my comments but just knee-jerk reacting. My issue is only with certain aspects of FID. I’ve said time and time again how great I think the book is. It seems to me even Sherry Weddell came in just to hit me – probably because someone snitched on me – because she didn’t respond to Dr Boyd at all.

      This is the more the gist of the ‘personal relationship’ point I have been making all along:
      ‘Many men and women have a conversion experience to a personal relationship with Jesus, but once the initial experience passes, they’re just running on the fumes of warm and fuzzy feelings. Those feelings might last for a few hours or days or even years. But eventually they wear off, leaving the person wondering if the experience was real. In a sense, people who find themselves in that state are like children wondering who they really are or if they truly know their parents.’
      Scott Hahn, Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelisation.

      I have come across many people in this state, on any quest that helps them get a ‘fix’ or keep the euphoria going. It’s tragic, and I consider it even a form of abuse in some cases.
      Broadly, I’m more for a Christocentric relationship with Jesus than an anthropocentric one. One based on ‘mystery’, on revelation, rather than ‘feelings’, a more ecclesiological than subjectivist/narcissistic one.

      My concern has been predominantly pastoral, and so found the negative responses fascinating, particularly that the majority of people who have supported my position have been lay people taslking about struggling with with the very things I’ve been suggesting might cause problems for lay people.

  43. Avatar Paul Rodden says:

    OK. Maybe putting it this way, helps…

    My concern is what might be called the ‘Commodification of Grace’.
    For example, nearly every Sophia Institute Press book mentions it is ‘abridged’ and has ‘minor editorial revisions’.

    Now, if you have the originals (which in some cases I have) most of those ‘minor editorial revisions’ are to focus everything on ‘you’, when the original was neutral. Are they really that minor? Is it just because adding a three letter word – ‘you – doesn’t seem much (when it actually changes the whole dynamic of the sentence). Why this change? It even happens in the titles.

    For example, first published as ‘Holy Communion’, St Peter Julian Eymard’s book is now called, ‘How to Get More Out of Holy Communion’, and ‘The School of Love’ by Fr John Kane, is re-titled, ‘Transforming Your Life Through the Eucharist’. (But thank goodness at least they’re keeping these classics in print!)

    Now, the argument, no doubt, is that ‘it’s more likely to reach out to people’, but isn’t that exactly the point? Are we not kowtowing to culture? Are we changing the ‘content’ of people’s minds, but not the underlying paradigm (worldview)?

    To me, the Gospel is rooting out that underlying me-focused and instrumental/utilitarian paradigm, or have I got it completely wrong? If so, can someone show me where I am in error, please, because I want to be correct and not mislead people.

    Maybe I’m being miserable and dour, but this me-centered/’instrumentalistic’ view of Christianity is exactly what Protestantism does, doesn’t it? This is my concern with this ‘Personal Relationship’ language and the ‘workshop’ mentality. That somehow ‘we’ can change, ‘if only…’, and there is some sort of ‘technique’ in the order of grace, that growth in the spiritual life is beginning to be seen as a ‘technology’.

    When I look at the saints, they didn’t charge people for seminars and build a cottage industry, if not international business, around their Preaching and Evangelisation, did they? They did it within the realm of grace. Their joy was in the preaching, even if they lost out. The Gospel trumped their bank-balance, no? They preached and evangelised because it was in their belly, and God richly blessed them.

    Isn’t it wonderful that God works without the need for intelligence to understand experts and money to pay for workshops, so if you can’t afford a workshop, get to one, or even know they exist, he still works, quietly, behind the scenes on people’s souls?

    So, to argue, ‘But if you went on X seminar, you’d be so richly blessed and “grow” in your spiritual life’, just sounds fishy to me, if nothing else, but I’m open to any correction, and so why I should embrace the trend.

    Lastly, to clarify, in no way am I arguing a sort of passive, just ‘let’s see what happens’ , or ‘let go and let God’ view, but that of a pastoral sensitivity – that God gives us what we need, when we need it, and puts people in our path when they need it – and a concern about driving what might be an (our own) ideological agenda roughshod over people which might lose more by alienating than it saves.

    • The “commodification” you speak of is an interesting phenomenon. One priest I know speaks of a model of “services rendered,” a notion that clergy (and by extension, lay staff) exist in the eyes of many only to provide services on demand: funerals, weddings, counseling, children’s religious education, and so on. This interplay of economics, entitlement, leadership, servanthood, etc., is fairly pervasive. You have to cast the net pretty wide to get the full portion of it.

      On the other hand, if we are speaking directly to people, why wouldn’t we want to use “You”? The call of Christ is indeed personal, directed, and geared to what each individual can offer in terms of a loving relationship.

      Me-centered Christianity, by the way, isn’t a solely Protestant quality. It’s a *human* failing. It’s all over traditionalist Catholicism: “Give me my Mass my way with no distractions, please.” You can’t breathe easy just because you’re a non-Protestant.

      I don’t have a problem with people being apprenticed in the Gospel individually. FID could presumably be abused by people ill-trained in the dynamics of the workshop and tutoring. But I know there’s a serious training process for people who conduct the method.

      I detect a bit of disconnect between what you’re reading and hearing, Paul, and what I know of the FID materials. I also observe Ms Weddell asked for an apology for some specific criticism you made, and I don’t recall you responding to that. The HPR blog is a public forum, and in public, people have a responsibility to conduct themselves ethically. You claim she “hit” you, but my reading was you “hit” first.

      My honest sense is that you and Dr Boyd are over-thinking this, and there’s not as much of a problem as you seem to think there is.

      • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

        Hi there, Todd.
        Thanks for your reply.

        Maybe you’re right and I’m over-thinking it. I’m going to reflect upon that, so in the meantime I won’t be posting any more whilst I ponder it. Your comments have been thought provoking.

        I’m just conscious of too many people I know, or situations I know of, where people are running through their own agendas and seem to be ‘professionalising’ everything. What I’m struggling with is the complexity of it all. It seems to me there is little hope for the person who’s just ‘getting on with it’ who hasn’t got time, money, or intellectual capacity to get an advanced degree in catechetics or go away on workshops. :)

        There seems to be something ‘elitist’ about it all. Certainly here in England in the little town we live in, across all denominations, the ‘success’ of Evangelism and ‘church growth’ seems correlated to factors such as professional status and wealth. In other words, those who have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ are those who have the brains and can afford to. :)

        The ‘you’ comments I made were tacitly asking why those authors didn’t use ‘you’ back then. Is ‘the crisis’ a result of all those spiritual classics not being ‘personalised’? No.
        If the ‘services rendered’ model, as you call it is pervasive, that doesn’t mean it’s right, does it? Shouldn’t it be challenged?

        I agree, the me-centred ‘everything’ is a human failing, but that’s exactly why I’m arguing that at least the Church should be trying to step off that roundabout and setting an alternative example. I don’t need ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’ or workshop to know that.

        As to the apology, I did apologise, but the threads don’t always follow sequentially. I must admit, I’ve never demanded an apology of anyone. Wouldn’t dream of it! My recent point above was that she swung in, then swung out, but didn’t respond to the article.

        I’m a nobody in the big scheme of things not even worth bothering about, but she responds to my comment (reading into it something I didn’t mean) which was tucked away in a whole stream of comments, which I find curious. Isn’t the article far more important and worth bothering about, yet there’s been complete silence?

        In short, if she replies to me or not, is somewhat inconsequential, but I thought a measured response to the article, defending her position, showing that Dr Boyd is ‘over-thinking’ her, might have been of more use?

  44. Avatar Fr Beseau says:

    Dr. Boyd’s contention that the language of “personal relationship with Jesus” is problematic, is only true if discipleship is considered to be the final step of our journey. Sherry Weddell’s focus of her book is clearly on evangelization and discipleship and, while she may not be as explicit as some would like, she never claims that becoming a disciple is the final stage of becoming Catholic.
    One challenge evangelical Christian pastors express is the wall that many in their communities come up against once they have “become disciples.” People in their communities come to them wanting to know what comes after discipleship and all the pastor can say is, “There isn’t anything after discipleship.” Of course, as Catholics we know there is much, much more. While we will always be disciples of Jesus, discipleship is only the beginning. I would add that we are also friends of Jesus, children of the Father and apostles of the Holy Spirit.
    The “new evangelization” flows from a recognition that there is something missing in the work and language of the Church. Two dangers do exist with the work of the new evangelization. First, that discipleship is the ultimate end for Catholics and two, that the Sacred Liturgy is a primary place for evangelization. The first danger is consistent with Dr. Boyd’s article, but I do not believe the leaders of the new evangelization (like Sherry Weddell) would hold to that. The second has been with us a very long time. One of the grave mistakes we continue to make is that we try to fit everything (welcome, evangelization, catechesis, personal prayer, formation and worship) into 45 to 60 minutes a week.


  1. […] much of a personal relationship with God? There’s an interesting discussion at the online version of Homiletic and Pastoral Review about it. Sherry Weddell takes some heat for […]