Contrary to what might be popular belief in Protestant circles, Catholics also strive for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, it is perhaps the most important thing we can do as human beings! (I had to add the perhaps in case I was forgetting something really important..)
I often notice a problem with the way that I evangelize and the way that many Catholics evangelize: we love talking about truth. We love philosophy and theology. We love history. We love apologetics in general. Why wouldn’t we? They are all in our favor and it is the most “scientific” way of proving that being Catholic is the right religion, the religion that Jesus founded. But there’s a major issue with this: it fails to reach people’s hearts. I watched a pretty interesting TED video today on perspective:
I don’t endorse everything he says. For example, when making decisions, morality must be at the very least one of the factors taken into account. But the main point that I kept thinking about is how people perceive you is often way more important than what you actually say or do for them. To become an effective evangelizer (to evangelize means to proclaim the good news-> the gospel), we must do more than know our creed. We must also live the life of Christ.
Our first step in living the life of Christ is knowing Jesus and forming a personal relationship with Him. As much as proving to me that scientifically it makes sense to believe in God, that isn’t going to make me want to serve God in the same way as learning that Jesus personally died for me.
How do we form this relationship? We start by simply learning. We can do this by talking to friends that are Christians, and asking them who Jesus is. A more straight to the source technique, something that I did, is to straight up read the bible. It is so important that we familiarize ourselves with the bible so that we can learn who Jesus is and what He taught. You can do this by reading the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are four different accounts on Jesus’ life, so they will sometimes all say the same thing, and other times you will get some new insight with different Gospels. John is especially different than the other three, which are called the “synoptic gospels.”
The next step in this relationship is by growing. We can do this by prayer. So what is prayer?
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” – St. John Damascene
There are basically 4 types of prayer, which can be remembered by the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Adoration is a call to worship God. Confession is when we confess to God that we have sinned and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving is, well, being thankful for all of the blessings in your life. And finally supplication is asking God to provide for your needs. All of these types of prayer should be done in order to have a solid prayer life.
Another way to grow in our relationship with Jesus is to participate in the sacraments. The sacraments are means for us to have encounters with God while still on earth. For example while adoring the blessed sacrament in adoration, we are literally in the presence of Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity, just as He said in John 6 in the bread of life discourse. Communion is especially designed to unite us with God and give us the graces to go forth and serve Him for the rest of our days. The word “mass” basically means sending, if you look up its etymology. So the point of the mass is less to evangelize and seek new Christians but to send those Christians out into the world. Confession of course is a great gift that us sinners need so that our sins will be forgiven.
Finally, we must live the life of Christ, uniting our struggles with His. St. Paul put it pretty clearly in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Of course we will continue to struggle as we try to live the Christian life, and we can look back on all of the earlier steps I outlines for inspiration to have hope and persevere. And as we live our lives, we will be doing it more effectively because we are doing it for Jesus, the God who loves us so much and we love too! What a much more effective way to reach others!
“Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ… Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians… Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.”
“The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ.”
“Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional — rather than as an encounter with Christ — which explains why they don’t see it as a source of joy.”
“The essence of Christianity…is an ever-new encounter with… the God who speaks to us, who approaches us and who befriends us!”
– All by Pope Benedict XVI