Category Archives: Communion of Saints

Just How Personal Is Your Relationship With Jesus?

There are lots of people that say they have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Only God knows for sure who does and who doesn’t.  I’m certainly not here to judge.  Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be in a personal relationship with someone.

A personal relationship is reciprocal.  When two people are good friends, for example, they trust each other with a lot of personal stuff about each other.  That’s what makes it “personal.”  There are things they know about each other that mere acquaintances probably don’t know, at least not as well as they do.  If I know a lot about a person, but that person knows little or nothing about me, that’s a one-way relationship, and that’s not very personal.  Someone might be able to find a lot of personal information about me on the internet or by rooting through my trash, but that doesn’t mean we have a personal relationship with each other.

A good example of a personal relationship is a marriage.  Spouses know a lot about each other.  The longer they are married, the more they know.  There may even be things they wish they didn’t know.  As a marriage therapist, I see it all the time.  In addition to knowing each other, spouses also know each other’s families.  Sometimes knowing the spouse’s family is a happy, joyful experience.  Other times, it can be quite trying.  In-laws can be very supportive or very frustrating to a marriage.

The point is, being married makes you a part of each other’s families.  It comes with being in a very personal relationship.  When a couple is dating, one common sign that things are becoming more serious (personal) is the meeting of the parents.  If you want your date to know your parents, and your parents to know your date, your dating relationship is likely becoming quite personal.  Most people want the one they love to be accepted and embraced by family members, especially parents.

So, what about you and Jesus?  If you are a Christian, then you are a member of the Church.  The Church is the Bride and Jesus is the Bridegroom.  Paul talks about this mystery and how marriage relates to the relationship of Jesus to the Church.  Jesus already knows everything about you, but how much do you know about him?  How “personal” is your relationship?  Jesus knows all about your parents and your family.  Have you met his parents and his family?  How familiar are you with the person of Jesus?

The Apostles had very personal relationships with Jesus.  We don’t know how long Joseph his stepfather lived, but we do know that the Apostles knew Jesus’ mother, Mary.  She was part of the family.  She knew Jesus better than anyone.  Her relationship with Jesus was the most personal of all.  For the Disciples, a personal relationship with Jesus included having a personal relationship with his mother.  Jesus affirmed this relationship from the cross when he told John (the disciple Jesus loved), “Behold your mother,” and told Mary, “Behold your son.”  From that moment, John took Mary into his home.  That is a very personal relationship.  To know and love Jesus is to know and love his mother, Mary.

Notice that Jesus did not tell John to “Worship my mother and become an idolater.”  Nor does the Catholic Church tell people to do so.  The Catholic Church simply recognizes that having a personal relationship with Jesus includes his whole family, and that his mother holds a distinctive place, not only as the mother of Jesus (God), but as the greatest disciple of Jesus.  Mary is like the moon which reflects the light of the sun.  She reflects the light of her Son, she does not emit her own light.  Knowing Mary personally is simply part of knowing Jesus personally, just like knowing one’s in-laws is part of knowing one’s spouse.

Many Christians sing a song that says, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God.”  Who is that family?  It includes more than just the other Christians here on Earth.  The family of God also includes Mary and the other saints in Heaven (the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us).  They are all alive with Christ, and getting to know them better is to know Jesus better (more personally).  No matter who you are, there is a Saint that you can relate to and become a prayer partner with.  “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much,” and the saints in Heaven are as righteous as can be.  So, we Catholics ask them to pray for us and with us.  We don’t worship them or “conjure up the dead.”  We just include them in Jesus’ personal family of God.

Do you know Jesus personally?  Is your relationship with him reciprocal?  He knows your family.  Do you take time to get to know his family?  Do you know Mary, his mother, like the Apostles did?  Have you “taken her into your own house?”  If not, you might consider reevaluating just how personal your relationship with Jesus is.  Being a Christian isn’t just about you and Jesus.  And it isn’t just about you, Jesus and your local Christian buddies.  Being a Christian is about the whole family.  It’s a spiritually interpersonal relationship that transcends this present life here on Earth and centers on the person of Jesus Christ.

The Little Flower

I received the ten part documentary DVD set Catholicism for my birthday last week.  I had already seen some of the episodes on PBS and EWTN, and also in the men’s group at my parish.  It’s nice to have my own set, though.  I think Fr. Barron did an excellent job on the series.  I love how he traveled all over the world, even to my home town, to demonstrate the universality of the Church.  He also did a good job of going into some theological depth without completely losing the viewer.

Today I watched an episode that highlighted St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.”  She has become an important influence in my spiritual journey.  It’s funny when I think back on my cradle Catholic days as a young man.  I used to ride my bicycle across town to visit a high school buddy of mine.  On the way I sometimes passed a Catholic Church called “Little Flower.”  I didn’t even know what that name meant.  I had no idea it was even named after a person.  I never visited that parish and I never learned about St. Therese and her nickname.  Now The Little Flower is a role model for me.  Just shows how clueless I was about my own faith back then.

In the episode, Father Barron talked about the “little way” of St. Therese and her view of holiness.  He related how St. Therese imagined that she could lift her arms up to God like a little child and He would, of course, reach down to lift her up.  In this way, she sensed that God could raise her up so very high because of her “littleness.”

While I was watching this episode, my toddler twins would periodically come into my room to see what I was doing and to say some childlike things to me.  My little daughter came in and, like she and her brother so often do, said with a smile, “You pick me up?”  I immediately saw in her the very essence of The Little Flower’s “little way.”  I reached down, picked her up, and to her delight and mine, lifted her high above my head.  Then I gave her a big hug and told her I loved her.

St. Therese, The Little Flower, pray for us!

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God’s Magnifying Glass

Last night I had a spiritual “Aha!” moment.  It was one of those times when so many things come together at once that it takes a while to let it all sink in.  It is still sinking in, but I can safely say that it is a pivotal point in my spiritual journey.  I have a fresh awareness of someone I have known all of my life.  I heard, for the first time, a verse of Scripture that has been read to me all of my life.  I don’t know why it took me so long to finally hear it with my heart and not just my ears.

 

I was watching The Journey Home television program on EWTN.  The show interviews people that have converted or reverted to Catholicism and allows them to tell their stories.  The guest was Marie Romine, an actress and former Presbyterian.  In the midst of telling her story, she suddenly said, “Mary is a magnifying glass.”  I slightly cocked my head like a confused dog and wondered for an instant, “What does she mean by that?”  In the next moment, she quoted Luke1:46, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Then she said, “If you really want to know Jesus personally, look through Mary.  She magnifies her Son.”  Then, it hit me.

 

I suddenly realized that I had never heard that one, little verse explained so simply, so eloquently and so powerfully.  All of the technical, apologetic, theological explanations about Mary that were in my head suddenly captured my heart and embraced it.  Of course, I knew that Mary is all about Jesus, her Son.  I knew why we Catholics honor her as we do.  I knew how to argue the Protestant view and the Catholic view of Mary.  I knew the purpose of praying the Rosary.  Then Mary wrapped her arms around me, quieted my brain, and opened my heart to hers.  After all these years, my head and my heart finally connected.

 

I looked through the magnifying glass of Mary’s heart and saw Jesus, nothing else.  I was looking at The Master through the heart of the perfect disciple.  It was like looking through pure glass, free of dirt, dust, defects or deformities.  The glass magnified Jesus wherever it was aimed, and nothing could obstruct the view or distract from His beauty.  This magnifying glass was a heart full of grace, and it brought new focus to my faith.

 

Every question that my heart had ever asked about Mary was answered by, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  Every Catholic devotion, prayer and teaching about Mary could be summed up in her words.  I realized that the heart of every disciple is destined to be like her grace-filled heart.  Before John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, or any other disciple, Mary knew Jesus personally and loved Him perfectly.  Her soul, like ours, was created to magnify the Lord, yet she has always fulfilled her purpose to this day.  That is why, as we gaze through her soul’s magnifying glass, we can truly say,

 

Hail, Mary, full of grace!

The Lord is with you!

Blessed are you among women

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

 

Holy Mary, mother of God,

Pray for us sinners,

Now, and at the hour of our death,

 

Amen.

From now on, I will see Mary in a wondrous, new way.

No Longer Afraid of Mary: Becoming A Momma’s Boy

I am now 12 days into a do-it-yourself, 33 day retreat called, 33 Days To Morning Glory.  The focus is on Mary’s unique spousal relationship with the Holy Spirit and how that relationship applies to and includes us.  Much of the retreat is presented through the perspectives of four Saints of the Church, St. Louis de Monfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Theresa and Blessed John Paul II.

My appreciation for Mary has been growing, even before beginning this retreat.  One resource I have found helpful is the phone app created by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.  The app is good at explaining a balanced approach to Marian doctrine.  In my spiritual journey through various forms of Protestantism and Catholicism, I have experienced what the Marian Fathers call the two extremes of understanding Mary: Marian excess and Marian defect.  Marian excess is “to think of Mary as if she were God.  She is not God.  She is a creature, and to think otherwise is to fall into idolatry.”  I’ve noticed this approach in some Catholics.  Marian defect “means to think of Mary as being ‘just like the rest of us,’ having no particularly special significance.”  This is what I experienced in most Protestant circles where the regard Mary is given is perhaps a nod of affirmation during a Christmas play, if any.

My 20+ years in Protestantism made me skittish about having a relationship with Mary.  I now understand that Mary is all about a relationship with Jesus (as is the rest of Catholic doctrine).  Her singular goal is to bring souls to her son.  She was and is the perfect disciple.  She was the first person to accept Jesus into her heart and into her body.  Knowing Mary and becoming close to Mary is not an obstacle or a distraction from a relationship with Christ.  The opposite is true.  The role of every Christian disciple is to bring people to Christ, not just by preaching or teaching, but through relationship.  No one had a closer relationship to Jesus than His mother.  To really know Mary and have a relationship with her is to know Jesus.  (Incidentally, that’s what the Rosary is all about.  It is not just a series of vain, repetitious prayers or some kind of superstitious incantation.  It is a spiritual meditation on the life and ministry of Christ through the eyes of His mother).

Some folks will claim that Jesus was dismissive of His mother and actually put her down and/or minimized her.  Don’t let such doctrines fool you.  The Scriptures they use to support such ideas are easily shown to be misapplied.  Imagine the sinless Jesus Christ going against one of the Ten Commandments to “honor thy father and mother” and you can begin to see how misled such claims against Mary are.  Catholic doctrines reveal the true and perfect honor that Jesus Christ, the sinless, obedient God-man bestows on His mother and Father.

I’m not afraid of Mary anymore.  I’m not the least bit scared that God will be offended if I love her and embrace her.  God loves and embraces her.  She is the chosen daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the mother of Jesus Christ.  If the Holy Trinity honors and loves her so completely and perfectly, how can I go wrong by honoring and loving her, too?  It’s not idolatry, it’s being godly.  I’m looking forward to the rest of this retreat.  I love getting to know my mother and her Son, my Brother.  Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “Real men love Jesus?”  I would add, “…and real men are momma’s boys.”

The Ultimate and Original “Cloud”

Before there was an iCloud to pull everything together, there was the “great cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 says we are surrounded by.  The Feast of All Saints reminds us of this cloud and how all Christians, whether in this life or the next, are intimately connected in one Body with Christ as the Head.

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is that we do not view the Church as being just an earthly group of believers.  The Church on earth is called “The Church Militant” because we are waging a war against evil and spiritual wickedness.  Scripture calls Satan “the god of this world.”  As Christians, we are “in the world, but not of the world.”  It is a spiritual battle for souls here on earth and we Christians are spiritual warriors.

There exists a state of being between this life and Heaven where Christians may be purged of anything that cannot enter heaven, anything that is not pure and built upon Christ.  1Corinthians 3:11-15 describes this state of purging as a fire that burns away the wood, hay and stubble of our lives, yet leaves us saved with our good works of precious stones, gold and silver.  Since eternity is not limited by our time constraints, and God is outside of time, we cannot place any sense of time on this state of being.  Yet, few of us are perfect and ready to enter Heaven “right now” in this life.  We will be different in Heaven than we are “right now.” This means that a change takes place somewhere in between this life and Heaven.  Catholics call this state of being Purgatory, because it is a purging process.  Since the purging process is not a pleasant one (it is not easy to relinquish things our souls tend to cling to), the Christians in this state of purging are referred to as “The Church Suffering.”

Christians that are in Heaven are called “The Church Triumphant.”  This is the ultimate goal of Christianity, to triumph over Satan, sin, death and the evil in the world and in ourselves.  Heaven is where we are finally joined completely with Christ and “see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him.”  On the day of resurrection, even our physical bodies will be glorified and present with Christ.  No more sin or death.  Triumph!

All Christians are united in one body of Christ.  The Church Militant, The Church Suffering and The Church Triumphant are all the Body of Christ with Jesus as Head.  This is why the “cloud” that surrounds us is so awesome.  It is connected to us.  We in The Church Militant are not separated from Christians in The Church Triumphant.  Far from being dead, they are more alive than we are!  That is why we can call upon them to pray for us and intercede to God on our behalf.  In the same way that we ask other Christians here on earth to pray for us and with us, we can call upon the Saints in Heaven to do the same, for we are all one Body of Christ!  I am so glad to be able to call upon our mother, Mary, the Saints in Heaven, my earthly Christian brothers and sisters, and, most of all, Jesus, the One Mediator who makes it all possible by allowing us to share in His mediation through His One Body.  Thank God for “the cloud!”

Have a blessed Feast of All Saints!

Today Is The Feast Of St. Thomas (My Namesake)

Today is the feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle, and the saint my parents named me after.  He is famous for being the doubter.  He was absent when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the rest of the Apostles, and he would not believe them when they told him they had seen Christ.  “I will not believe it until I put my hands in his wounds,” he said.  When Jesus appeared again, Thomas was there.  Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds and Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and believe!”

I’m thankful for Thomas.  He allows us to see that God is patient with our doubts.  In fact, Jesus used the doubt of Thomas to encourage you and me in our “unseeing” faith.  We can’t see Christ standing before us or touch his wounds, yet we can believe he lives.  We see only bread and wine, yet we can believe that it is actually the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ we receive in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  We can’t see Heaven, but we can believe Jesus has prepared a place for us because he said so.  We can’t always see the good that comes from our obedience to the Faith, but we know God does.

People are often hard on Thomas for his doubt, but Jesus wasn’t.  Jesus takes our crooked ways and makes them strait if we let him.  The lesson from Thomas isn’t that we should demand visible evidence for our belief.  The lesson is that the doubt of Thomas was God’s tool to encourage us in our faith.  “We walk by faith, not by sight.”  My own name reminds me of this daily.

The Rosary: Vain Repetition?

The Church devotes the month of May to Mary.  As May approaches, it is fitting to contemplate her role in the life of Christ and the Church.  The Rosary is a prayer often misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  I’ve recently blogged about the appropriateness of praying to saints and Mary is included in that number.  I’ve also blogged about Mary specifically and her role in the life of Jesus and the Church.  The following video dovetails nicely with my previous posts.  Mr Jimmy Akin is an experienced Catholic apologist and master of explaining things clearly and respectfully.  If you have ever had reservations or downright objections to praying the Rosary, I hope you find this video to be enlightening.  Bottom line: every Catholic teaching is ultimately about Christ.  The Rosary is no exception.