Do religious practices and disciplines distract from or enhance your relationship with God/Jesus?
Watch Brian Holdsworth’s video addressing the question of whether or not Catholics have a relationship with Jesus.
For those of us that remember what life was like before social media, it’s easy to look at the quality of relationships young people have today with some cynicism. Back in the day if you wanted to be friends with someone, you had to go through the awkward and sometimes traumatic experience of talking to them and spending time with them and if you wanted something more, you had to build up the courage to ask them to be your boyfriend or girlfriend.
Real relationships of intimacy take effort and work. You need to break through those superficial stages of just being familiar with someone until you reach a point where you can have deep conversations with them, where you can spend time with them and just be yourself, or where you can trust them and be vulnerable with them. That kind of relationship takes time and it takes effort.
Which is why I don’t get it when people look at the kind of effort that some Christians put into knowing their faith through spiritual disciplines and ridicule them by saying, it’s not about all that, it’s just about a relationship with Jesus.
As a Catholic, this is something I hear a lot from non-Catholics, especially in the comments to my videos. They’ll say that all that religiosity in the Catholic Church is a distraction, or worse, it’s some kind of idolatry, and that what you need is a relationship with Jesus.
I’ve spent some time in a variety of non-Catholic churches before I joined the Catholic Church, so I have some familiarity with what this version of a relationship with Jesus was and if I asked, what does it look like and what do I have to do to have one, they reply would often be something like, “Say this prayer where you invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior and then you’re good. You could also get baptized at some point, but it’s not that important.”
Something about that has an uncanny similarity to the kinds of relationships we have on social media. Just accept God’s friend request, and now you have a relationship with him. But honestly, for all the friends you have on a platform like Facebook, how many of them can you actually say you have an authentic relationship with?
What the Catholic Church has always recognized and encouraged is that if you want to have a relationship with God, you have to put effort into it. You have to spend time with him just like you would with anyone else you wanted to have a relationship with. For Catholics, that means spending time in prayer and to help make that process easier, we’ve got things like formal prayers.
That’s why we have something like the Rosary and yes, formatted, scripted prayer can seem impersonal, but that format is what leads to something deeper.
That’s why we have social customs that help us get passed the initial awkwardness of an introduction to someone new. For example, we shake hands and we have standardized greetings like, “Good day, nice to meet you.” and “ ‘sup yo.”
With those out of the way, we can quickly move into small talk and again, I get it. I’m an introvert, I hate small talk. Nobody wants to have a conversation about the weather or traffic, but it’s what leads to something deeper. Like, “Hey, how about this beautiful weather we’ve been having?”
“Ya, it’s great, I was finally able to take my pet armadillo out for a walk.”
“You have a pet armadillo, I love armadillos!”
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere and it’s all thanks to that social template that we faithfully observed.
Formal prayers are kind of like that. They give us a script and a starting point.
But God doesn’t just want to be pals with you. Being part of your armadillo enthusiasts club isn’t gonna cut it. God is love itself. He wants deep and profound intimacy with you. He wants you to know him the way he knows you.
Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and the bible is filled with sayings about God living in us and we in him. That’s a kind of intimacy that exceeds even a spousal relationship and what distinguishes that kind of relationship from mere friendships… it gets physical.
How do we go beyond that basic friendship level of intimacy to something more where we really allow God to deeply live within us as physical beings? Well, that’s where the sacraments come in.
God made us physical beings so it should stand to reason that his plan of salvation and restoration for us as well as his plan to have a profoundly intimate relationship with us should have some physical quality to it. And that’s exactly what we have in the Bible where gave us sacraments like baptism and communion.
Jesus said, in John 6, that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood live in him, and he in them. And this is where we get the practice of communion and the sacrifice of the mass. We took Jesus at his word and understand that this is how he lives in us and transforms us from the inside out. This is what a deep, spiritual, and physical relationship with God looks like.
Why else would God need to become physically incarnate if there wasn’t a physical dimension to our salvation and restoration? And so, just as he commanded us to do, we gather to break the bread of life and consume it just as the apostles did at the last supper.
Now you can ridicule that as superfluous, but if you don’t take up these spiritual practices of prayer and sacramental life, then all you have with God is a friend request that you once accepted and I’m sorry, but that’s not a relationship. If you want to go deeper and discover a real relationship with him, the kind that Catholics enjoy, you need to find this thing that you’ve been condemning as religion but is actually just the effort it takes to grow in intimacy with God.