Getting Personal

Think 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 her treatment of Catholics. But I think the treatment is suspect and Ms Weddell’s approach is sound, even if to some it sounds “Protestant.”

Dr Jay Boyd:

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.

This conclusion is a big stretch. The writer has offered a long essay to make a case that the “Catholic” way is something beyond Protestantism and beyond what we “feel.” I’m unconvinced. There’s some grousing about the new evangelization, about bad-mouthing passive believers, and in the commentariat, some unchristian and unfounded accusations. I’m not surprised that Forming Intentional Disciples (reviewed on this site here) catches some bother from some Catholics. It takes a good and fair poke at many sacred cows. Thing is about Catholicism: we don’t worship cows.

All a personal relationship means is something that’s person-to-person. It usually involves affect. But there are other elements: service, sacrifice, conscious choice. There’s a serious misunderstanding when people misinterpret “personal” for being “emotional.” The truth is that many millions of non-Catholics have personal, spiritual, vibrant, engaging, true, and salvific relationships with God. If that rankles, I have a Luke 15 story to tell you that will bother you even further.

I don’t have a problem with people, including myself, having a personal relationship with God. I confess great surprise that some Christians would object.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Getting Personal

  1. John Drake says:

    You completely miss her point. She’s essentially saying, who are you to judge whether or not I have a personal relationship with Christ, and to chastise me if my relationship with Him isn’t quite the same as yours?

  2. Todd says:

    And yet, neither Sherry Weddell nor I judged her nor did we chastise her. It’s illustrative that it all comes from her own reaction. I get the point. But it has no validity.

  3. Devin says:

    Out of curiosity, are you a subscriber to HPR and do you consider it a good resource?

  4. Sherry Weddell says:

    Hi Todd:

    The description of pre-baptismal disposition that an adult need to have to be baptized fruitfully from the Decree on Justification from the Council of Trent – and a specific response to the challenge of Protestantism: (Chapter 4, FID)

    “• being moved to faith by hearing the basic proclamation of Jesus Christ and his work of salvation;
    • moving intentionally toward God;
    • believing in what God has revealed—especially that God saves sinners through redemption in Jesus Christ;
    • recognizing that one is a sinner;
    • trusting in the mercy of God;
    • beginning to hope in and to love God;
    • repenting of personal sin;
    • resolving to be baptized, to begin a new life, and to walk in the obedience of faith.”

    Faith in Jesus in response to proclamation, moving intentionally toward God, believing in revelation, trusting in a God of Mercy, hoping, loving, repenting, beginning the walk of obedience in the midst of his church which includes the sacramental life.

    It’s all part of the personal “relationship” of discipleship. Just as your whole person – intellect, emotions, imagination, will, body are deeply involved in your relationship with your spouse. There is a reason why marriage is one of the most important images that we are given of our relationship with God. Along with “son”, “child”, and “friend” and one with whom the Father and the Son will come and make their home with. These are all revealed categories and it is not our prerogative to dismiss them.

    Pope Benedict – hardly a Protestant – talked about the necessity of personal relationship with Jesus many times:

    “Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ, even if He does not reveal Himself to us as clearly and irresistibly as he did to Paul in making him the Apostle of the Gentiles. We can also encounter Christ in reading Holy Scripture, in prayer, and in the liturgical life of the Church – touch Christ’s heart and feel that Christ touches ours. And it is only in this personal relationship with Christ, in this meeting with the Risen One, that we are truly Christian… 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.”

    Pope Benedict XVI, Paul VI Hall, September 3, 2008

    • Todd says:

      I don’t know why, but I think you just lack the convert cred Scott and a few others have.

      • Sherry Weddell says:

        Todd – I’m afraid that you are a bit behind the times. Convert became something of a dirty word about 7 or 8 years ago – at least in the eyes of Traditionalists who have had a presence on the internet far beyond their actual numbers. Even Scott Hahn is dismissed as a Neo-Catholic by this lot. I’ve actually been told by high ranking people not to mention that I’m a convert when speaking in certain settings. The working assumption is that because I wasn’t raised in deep Catholic culture – and because I’m happy with the Ordinary Form – that I can only be a “notional” Catholic who can knows the words but will never get “the tune”. (Converts who love the EF often get a break because they have proven their true Catholicism by their preference in liturgy.) I’m quoting all the right words but can’t really grasp their deep meaning – which belongs to the Catholic cognizanti. And my deeply embedded Protestant programing can never be really erased and will always distort my grasp of the Tradition. And If I use language that has been popularly associated with Protestants by American Catholics even if it used by Popes and magisterial teaching? Proof positive. So there’s no need to attention to what I actually say or don’t say. Instead, you need to sniff out my real underlying ethos which I suppose – because of my bone deep Protestant blindness – I supposed to not be conscious of myself. I think I’m Catholic. I think I’m teaching with the Church. But I can’t be so why spend time paying attention to what I say when what really matters is what *you* know I’m not saying. It is all very neat.

      • Todd says:

        If what you say is accurate for a large chunk of traditional Catholicism, I think it’s just a matter of time before the whole movement caves in. Sad.

  5. Sherry Weddell says:

    I should add that outside the Traditionalist world, I have been treated with great respect – especially in the two years since Forming Intentional Disciples came out. I’ve been besieged with requests to do diocesan days, clergy days (by myself – I have at least 9 scheduled right now), help dioceses come up with evangelization plans, etc. Some very high profile events. I have no reason to complain. FID has received astonishingly positive feed-back. A English bishop told the Tablet recently that FID was the best work of pastoral theology he’d read in many years. But among some Traditionalists, the response is very different.

    • Ben Dunlap says:

      Traditionalists are a big tent (even if it’s a small big tent on the periphery, so to speak). Perhaps you could do them — and those like me who sympathize with certain Traditionalist concerns — a work of mercy by translating the key concepts of your book into language that is more familiar to them (us?).

      I’m about half way through the book and have followed your new blog and am eager to learn more and discuss — the book is extremely compelling — but I find myself stuck on some of the concepts. Like the key one, “discipleship”, which so far hasn’t been defined, as far as I can tell. Maybe I really just missed the definition, but I thought I had been looking hard for it!

      Maybe you could map the five thresholds to the traditional Three Ways, etc., or talk at more length about the liturgy; i.e., “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). Or compare the experience of charismatic communities like Christ the King and Franciscan U with that of “traditional” one like Holy Rosary in Portland or Thomas Aquinas College.

      Just some ideas if you wanted some for your blog! I for one would be grateful and eager to read and discuss. Thanks and God bless, Sherry.

  6. “This is a false notion of what a relationship with Jesus truly entails; it implies that one must “feel” something.” Wow- is it? I can’t think of any relationship I’d describe as ‘personal’ that didn’t involve my feelings. Conversely, my impersonal relationships involve little-to-no emotional engagement at all.

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