by Thomas J. Centrella
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Thy Word. Psalm 119:9
How can we as Catholic parents help our children keep their way pure when they go out into the world? This is the fourth in a series of articles on seven practices that can help our children—as well as ourselves—stay on the right path. Thus far, we have discussed five of these seven practices:
- Daily Mass and Weekly Eucharistic Adoration
- Frequent Confession
- Immersion in the Mind of Christ, Not the World
- Devotion to Mary through the Daily Rosary
- Charity and Service to Others
Today, we will discuss something that is integral to each of these five practices, and indeed to our entire Catholic Faith: Cultivation of a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ.
6. Cultivation of a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life (1 John 5:11-12).
Evangelical Christians are mistaken about many things—some of them very serious—but they are absolutely right about two:
- We need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Savior, and
- We need to read God’s Word so that we can cultivate this personal relationship.
Have you ever been asked by an evangelical Christian if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? What do you say? My answer is simple: Yes.
I have indeed committed my life to Jesus Christ and invited Him to be my Lord (He who rules over my life) and my Savior (He upon whom I utterly depend for my salvation). In doing so, I have confirmed my belief in His saving death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. I have made this Act of Faith many times, and it has transformed my life.
Committing my life to Jesus Christ and accepting Him as my Lord and Savior has moved me to try to live my life in obedience to what He expects of me. This in turn has led me to better appreciate my Catholic Faith, which shows me how to live my life in obedience to Him. In other words, God has helped me to grow in my Catholic Faith through my personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and He has helped me to cultivate my personal relationship with Jesus Christ through my Catholic Faith!
There is absolutely nothing about making this Act of Faith that is against Catholic Church teaching. The problem is with evangelical Christians’ erroneous understanding of what this Act of Faith means for a person’s salvation. As Catholics, we do not believe “once saved, always saved.” It is foolish to think that we can say one prayer, however sincere, and then assume our salvation is guaranteed. That is not faith; it is presumption. To the contrary, the Bible warns that some have made a “shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19), and urges us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
It is a grave error to treat this prayer as if it were “the one thing required.” In fact, I think it is because of this error that some Christians no longer even have Baptism. If all you need to do is accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, why do you need to be baptized? (I’m not sure how they reconcile this with the fact that Jesus specifically tells us to be baptized [Mark 16:16; John 3:5-6]). The truth, however, is that the “one thing required” is to do the Will of God, and although I believe making such an Act of Faith is indeed part of doing His Will, it is not the only part. That’s why we need the guidance of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which the Holy Spirit leads into all truth (John 16:13).
Nevertheless, just because evangelical Christians aggressively promote an incorrect understanding of this practice does not mean we should automatically avoid the practice altogether. St. Thomas Aquinas drew heavily upon the thoughts of Aristotle, and the latter wasn’t even a Christian. Like St. Thomas, we just need to understand this practice according to our Catholic Faith.
Moreover, in this case, we aren’t even acquiring the practice from outside our Faith. It’s just that evangelical Christians have so famously promoted this practice, that many Catholics lump it together with everything else “those fundamentalists” do. Yet, this Act of Faith is basic to all that we believe. How can we not be willing to commit our life to Jesus Christ and accept Him as Our Lord and Savior? What could be more authentically Catholic than that?
In fact, our commitment to Jesus Christ actually began with our Baptism. That is when we were “born again.” We confirmed this commitment when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. We continue to confirm it every time we receive the Holy Eucharist, as well as when we recite the Nicene Creed or renew our baptismal promises.
The sacraments are more powerful than any prayer, and no prayer could ever be a substitute for a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we should not make this Act of Faith at all. To the contrary, making this Act of Faith—definitively praying in our own words that we commit our life to Jesus Christ and we ask Him to be Our Lord and Savior—is an excellent way to give ourselves entirely to God.
How many Catholics receive the sacraments and say the prayers at Mass (if they say them at all) without really thinking about what they are doing? How many forget their baptismal promises, and instead have a hollow, empty shell as their religion without truly being committed to Jesus Christ? God does not want lip service. He wants all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength. He wants all of us.
Encouraging our children to commit their lives to Jesus Christ and to earnestly ask Him to be their Lord and Savior will help them in ways we cannot even imagine. It is a prayer that God will always say yes to! In fact, I think asking our older children if they are willing to say this prayer with us could be an excellent part of their preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, as well as another opportunity for us to bond with them in a special way.
It is not enough to know about God. We need to know Him personally, while at the same time remain in fellowship with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that He established. Choosing one or the other is not sufficient. We need both: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and fellowship in His Church. This fellowship includes the Communion of Saints in Heaven, the holy souls in Purgatory, and the Catholic faithful striving to “fight the good fight” here on Earth under the guidance of the Magisterium.
Every time we gaze upon a crucifix is an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ, to beg Him to continue to be Our Lord and Savior, and to thank Him for dying on the Cross and rising from the dead for us. For, by His death on the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus won for us the graces we need for our salvation, and through the sacraments we receive those graces. This is our Faith. This is our Hope. Praise God!
In the final installment of this series, we will discuss another practice that can truly help our children—and us—in our walk with Christ: Daily, Reverent Reading of Sacred Scripture. If we truly want to know Our Lord Jesus Christ and have a personal relationship with Him, we must consume His Holy Word. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 133, quoting St. Jerome).