As promised in my last post, here is how one enters a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. NB: Not to belabor the obvious, but it cannot be overemphasized that having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ IS what it means to be a Christian. EVERYTHING in Christian belief and practice exists only to bring people to this relationship, deepen this relationship, and ensure that this relationship endures forever and ever: every prayer, every sacrament, every liturgy; the Bible, the clergy, the pope, every Church teaching; incense and creeds and candles, altars and holy cards; EVERYTHING. The main difference between Catholic Christianity and other denominations is that the Catholic Church offers every help possible to enter, maintain, deepen, and ensure that relationship with Jesus Christ (and through Him, with the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the whole Body of Christ; and through all, to bring every living person into this relationship). To bring all to a living, saving encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ is the Church’s only purpose.
Some people have had a relationship with Jesus as early as they can remember, having grown up in homes where He was an integral part of everyday life. Some can say, for example, “I’ve always known Him, my parents always talked about Him.” Some of the saints (e.g., St. Therésè of Lisieux) also had this experience. This is probably not the experience of most people, however.
The basic principle of coming to know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is to seek Him at every possible opportunity, through every possible avenue. The “standard” non-sacramental form of accepting Jesus (one used by many Protestants) is “the sinners’ prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, I acknowledge you as my Savior, and that your death on the Cross saved me from the penalty for my sins, namely, Hell. I repent of all my sins and invite you into my heart as my Lord and Savior. I surrender my life to you. Do with me as you will.” It can be very helpful for others to pray with you as you invite Jesus to be Lord of your life. These “others” should be people that already have a relationship with Jesus Christ. In my case, I came to know Jesus Christ in a personal way when two brothers in the Lord from a local Catholic charismatic prayer meeting prayed over me.
On an ongoing basis, the prayer for entering into or deepening a relationship with the Lord can be as simple as “Jesus, I need you”; “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me”; “Jesus, I love you”; “Jesus, come into my heart”; “Jesus, I want to know you”; “Jesus, fill me with your Holy Spirit”. Ultimately, there is no magic formula: God meets us where we’re at and works with every person uniquely
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, has noted that in many Christians’ lives, the grace offered through the sacraments is “bound” and needs to be “released”. For example, Baptism offers all the grace needed to die to self and rise to new life with Christ, but our receptivity to that grace determines how fruitfully the sacrament works in us. Over a Christian’s lifetime, every surrender to the Lord enables a further unfolding of what the Lord has done for him in Baptism. The parable of the sower and the seed (Mk 4:3-9, 13-20) illustrates this principle: the Word of God is living and effective (the seed), but its fruitfulness is determined by the receptivity of the person who hears it (the soil). Neither the sacraments, nor the Word of God, nor, for that matter, the salvation offered us through Jesus’ death and resurrection, are “magical”. Hearts can be either hardened to, or open and receptive to, their saving and transforming power.
Coming into or deepening one’s relationship with the Lord can include being moved by a sermon and responding to it: “Jesus, I want to know you.” Read the Scriptures, especially gospel passages, and realize that the Scripture you’re reading was written with you in mind: put yourself into the Scripture scene (e.g., “Lord, I want to see”, with you as the blind man) and ask the Lord for the vision to know Him clearly.
Finally, for some people, images derived from Scripture can be powerful for coming to know Jesus. Imagine opening the door of your heart to Jesus. Ask him to take you into His pierced heart. Imagine His Holy Spirit welling up in you as a fountain of living water. Kneel at the foot of the Cross and ask for His mercy.
If you pray and at first nothing seems to happen: keep asking; keep seeking; keep knocking. Jesus is the One who has given you the desire for relationship with Him. He is already seeking you, and in His time, He will answer your earnest prayer.