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.