Cy Kellett is his own guest in this episode. On the 56th anniversary of Lumen Gentium, he discusses what the Church proposes as the way to personal relationship with Jesus. This process—Encounter, Conversion, Communion, and Mission—brings the person into intimacy with Jesus while cementing the person into the life of the Church.
How to have a personal relationship with Jesus, with me, Cy Kellett, next.
Hello and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding, and defending your faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host, and this week is Jesus week here at Catholic Answers. In the week leading up to the Feast of Christ the King, we’ve devoted all of our programming on Focus and on Catholic Answers Live to the person of Jesus Christ. And among the things that modern people are familiar with hearing is “have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Maybe we first thought that this was kind of a Protestant thing, but more and more Catholics have become comfortable with that, and we should be comfortable with it. It’s absolutely necessary, a personal relationship with Jesus. So, that’s what I’m going to talk about a bit in today’s podcast.
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Long before I was the host of Catholic Answers Live, I was a cub reporter at a Catholic newspaper here in San Diego. And among the jobs that I had was, the Bishop of San Diego at that time, a wonderful Bishop named Robert Brom, was going around to each parish and doing a parish weekend, and it would… I suppose it was a process that took years, but I came in somewhere as a new reporter, somewhere in the middle of that process. And each weekend that he would go, you know, a couple weekends a month, he’d go to a different parish, and he’d give a talk on Saturday, and he’d celebrate the Saturday evening Mass or Masses, and then all the Sunday Masses, and he’d meet everybody at the parish and have meetings with the leadership of the parish, and he’d do all that, and I’d report on it.
And he gave a talk the first weekend, and I was very impressed with the talk, and it had to do with the person of Jesus and being in a relationship with the person of Jesus, and how we Catholics understand that. And then, the next weekend, I went to another parish and he gave the same talk, and the next weekend, another parish, the same talk. And this happened week after week, month after month, I heard his talk. And I thought, “Well, either he is the laziest bishop in all the earth, or he really means what he’s saying. This is very important to him, what he’s communicating, and he wants to go to each parish to communicate this message.”
And I started to listen very closely, and I listened closely week in and week out, and the message that he was communicating was very simple, but very, very powerful. As a matter of fact, I have found it time and time again to be transformative in my own life, and I want to share it with you, and I know where he got it. At least I’m pretty sure where he got it. He got it from the Second Vatican Council. And the basic message of it is that there’s a pattern to the Christian life. There are steps that we all go through in the Christian life, four of them, to be exact, and it was the fourth one that he wanted to invite people, everyone in the diocese to join him in as the bishop and people of the diocese of San Diego. He wanted to invite everyone to join him in the fourth one.
And that’s why he gave this same basic talk everywhere he went, month after month, even year after year. And the four kind of steps that he would outline as he would speak to each group were these: encounter, conversion, communion, and mission. Now, many people will be familiar with the last two, communion and mission. Those are common words since the Second Vatican Council, and they’re prominent words throughout the Second Vatican Council. The idea is we need to meet Jesus, encounter; we need to become like Jesus, conversion; we need to share in a life of love with Jesus, what’s something we might call friendship with Jesus, that’s communion; and then we need to go out and invite other people into this, that’s mission.
So, a personal relationship with Jesus is at heart of the Catholic faith, but it is at the heart of the Catholic faith… Well, how else to say it? In a very Catholic way, in a particularly Catholic way. And this is the way that Christ gave us, that we are to have a personal encounter with Christ, but that encounter happens through a church, and it draws us into a church and makes us, eventually, if we’ll follow all the way to the fourth step, coworkers with Christ.
So, as I said, the Second Vatican Council, you will find the words communion and mission over and over, and you will find the word conversion, and you’ll find… I don’t know if the word encounter is there, but the idea of encounter is certainly there. But all of these are present in the first few paragraphs of the document Lumen gentium. So, I want to talk for just a quick moment about the document Lumen gentium and then take a look at the Catholic understanding of how we are to have a personal relationship with Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus, interestingly enough, is also a communal relationship with Jesus. It’s something we do as a member of a community.
So, really kind of fortunately, I suppose, or providentially for us here at Catholic Answers, 56 years ago this week, 56 years before our first celebration of Jesus week, on November 21st, 1964, Pope Paul VI promulgated what is probably almost certainly the most important Church document in the last two or three centuries, and that was Lumen gentium. It’s also called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium. Certainly the most central, it is the central document of the Second Vatican Council, and if you want to know what the Second Vatican Council is about, and you only have time to read one, not 16 documents, then you go to Lumen gentium. The other documents quote it, and it’s quoted more than all the other documents of the Second Vatican Council, in later documents of the Church, so it really is the central document of the Church.
And in that document, what was the Church trying to do? In a sense, define herself or explain herself in terms that are understandable to a modern audience. It does a whole lot of things. It teaches about the mystery and the structure of the Church; it teaches about the role of the laity, the role of the ordained, the role of the vowed religious; it gives an emphasis on phrases such as “universal call to holiness” and “people of God” that have since entered the common usage among Catholics. But perhaps its most helpful feature is this one that I’m talking about right now: It gives a very helpful explanation of the Christian life, one that can be followed by any person with the result being salvation and the furthering of the kingdom of God. Both. One process, both results: my personal salvation and the furthering of the kingdom of God.
At the center of all of this is the person of Jesus. The Council found it could not define the Church or express the meaning of the Church without essentially making the entire document about Jesus. And it talks about Jesus extensively in a great variety of ways all throughout the document Lumen gentium. And from all this talk about Christ in the document, we can glean this basic pattern of Christian life, a pattern meant to connect us to Jesus Christ, to make us his friends and to equip us, essentially, to go out and be his coworkers. The pattern, as I said, has four parts: encounter, conversion, communion, and mission.
And in essence, the Church fathers, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, wanted the first couple of sentences of the document Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, to be an encounter. They say this: “Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church.” There it is. It’s an invitation to accept Christ as the light of the nation. And it’s saying, “All we’re going to do here in this document, gathered together in the Holy Spirit here to produce this document, is proclaim the Gospel. That’s what we do. We proclaim the Gospel. Christ is the light of nations. What’s the Church, then? It’s the institution that proclaims the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church.
So, encounter is there from the very beginning. If we do not meet Christ, the rest of it is empty. We could become a priest, that priest could become a bishop, that bishop could become the Pope, but if that person has not met Christ, none of this really matters at all. Someone could become one of the greatest theologians in the world, but if the person could know all the details of a theology, and the theology could be intricate and subtle and even helpful to other people, but if that person doesn’t know Christ, it’s all empty. It’s nothing. Christ is the light of nations, not all these other things. And we can easily get confused about this. We can easily think all the other things are the important thing, and the Christ part will take care of itself. Well, not so, says the Church, Christ is the light of nations.
So, we begin with encounter. And throughout the following comments, I’d like to use the person of Peter, Simon Peter, the chief of the apostles, as an example for each one, so just take a quick moment from his life to kind of elucidate what all this means. What is Peter’s life if he doesn’t meet Jesus? You know, the Gospel’s not… It seems like the meeting between Jesus is… It happens several different times, because it’s expressed differently in John’s Gospel, in the synoptic Gospels, and even in the synoptic Gospels there’s tiny little differences. So it does seem like it’s a normal kind of meeting between two people who kind of live in the same neighborhood. “Maybe I saw you here, maybe I heard about you here, maybe I…” But eventually, this culminates in this dramatic moment where Jesus tells Peter to follow him and Peter follows.
Without this meeting, Peter seems to be a very good and righteous Jewish man. He’s not a bad man being, you know, radically called out of a life of depravity and sin. He lives a good life. And many people today think, “Well, I’m living a good life. I don’t really need Jesus.” But the call that Jesus makes, that introduction of himself to Peter, transforms what is a good life into a fully alive human life, a life that matters and has great consequence, so that Peter becomes a key, a key to the whole history of the world that follows him. That’s what Christ is calling us into. He knows that we’re good people, or maybe he knows that we’re bad people. Maybe you’re a bad person. All that doesn’t matter as much as he matters. He’s the transformative thing. He’s the thing that brings either a bad life or a good life fully alive. He’s like the match that lights the fire.
So, encounter is first and essential. We have to meet him. And here’s the thing: If you haven’t met Jesus, he says quite clearly, “Ask and you shall receive.” this is an absolute lock guarantee, “Ask and you shall receive.” All you have to do, if you have not met Jesus, if you’re like, “You know, I’ve been living the Christian life, maybe I haven’t, maybe sometimes I do, maybe sometimes I don’t, but I don’t really know Christ, I can’t say I’m one of those people who has met him and lives with him as a friend in my life,” just ask him for it. Whatever your stage of life, whatever your condition, he will give it to you, guaranteed.
And don’t… Well, we’ll talk a little bit about the next step, conversion, but all you’ve got to do when Christ is presented, when you think, “Yes, that’s…He’s answering my question,” whether it’s while I’m sitting quietly before the Blessed Sacrament or receiving Communion or going to confession, or whether it’s while I’m being charitable to my neighbor, or whether I’m praying the Our Father at home, or just in an ordinary circumstance, and I realize he is introducing himself to me. Well, the only thing to do then is say yes. But if you haven’t had the encounter with Jesus asked for it. It’s a lock, cinch, 100% guarantee. Sometime between now and the time you die, he will introduce himself at the time, probably, that’s best for you. As a matter of fact, you can almost certainly say at the time that’s best for you, he will introduce himself.
“Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathers together in the Holy Spirit, eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church.” Now in the first few chapters, there is some hint at step two, but I’m going to go to a little bit further down in the document, and then we’ll come back, because conversion is hinted at, but not really spoken of clearly in the first four paragraphs, which is where I’m taking the rest of this material from.
So, later in the document, there’s the statement that the Church by charity, example, and prayer seeks everyone’s conversion, seeks the… Well, it literally uses the word “their conversion.” It means people who approach the Church. “By charity, example and prayer, seeks their conversion.” And then again, further down in the document, it refers to conversion again. Let me just see if I can find it here. I know I’ve got it marked here. Well, I had it marked here in the document, but the basic idea is that there’s a… Throughout Lumen gentium, there’s a sense of process in the whole Christian life, and that the Church is accompanying and helping, and Jesus and especially the Father are accompanying and helping along the way.
So, a little further down in the document, it says… It’s talking about the faithful participating in the mission of the Church, what we’ll get to, but it talks about the relationship of conversion to mission. “Let them not hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by continual conversion and by wrestling against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness.” So, that’s the one I more wanted to get to, and it’s much farther down in the document, but you see that it’s there. That’s the main thing; I want to show that it’s there in the document Lumen gentium, even though it’s only hinted at in the first four paragraphs, where I’m taking most of the content of this talk from.
Conversion, if we think about St. Peter, we think about those three years of Peter walking with Jesus, following Jesus, doing as Jesus says, learning how to pray the Our father from Jesus, hearing Jesus preach about the Beatitudes, or seeing Jesus perform his miracles of healing, even participating with Jesus in exorcisms and healings and the preaching of the kingdom of God, as Jesus sent all of the apostles and eventually all of his disciples to do. All of this walking with Jesus changes Peter, some of it quite intentionally, I’m sure. Peter saying, “I want to be more like this guy,” and trying to imitate him, or, more importantly, Jesus saying, “I’m going to form Peter,” and day by day, teaching him, helping him, bringing him, drawing him closer, I’m sure hearing the confession of his sins many times.
So, bit by bit, Peter becomes more and more like Jesus, but some of it happens unintentionally, I’m sure, as well, that just because he has made Jesus the primary focus of his life, he, by the kind of osmosis of friendship, picks up characteristics of Jesus, becomes more like him. Lets go of this, becoming… You think of the conversion of St. Matthew and Peter’s role in the conversion of St. Matthew. Peter didn’t like it that this sinner was being called and that all these tax collectors and sinners came.
So, just by being around Jesus, Peter’s temperament is changed, to stop categorizing people as “those are the people that we don’t hang out with, and these are the people we do hang out with,” and start to be, like Jesus, an invitation to everybody. Doesn’t matter where you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been. Everybody, come to dinner. “And if you want to have dinner with me…” Jesus, I’m speaking of Jesus now. If you want to have dinner with him, got to have dinner with all this crowd that he invited. That’s the conversion of St. Matthew. And that’s what happens with Peter at the conversion of St. Matthew, is this sense of, “I got to be more like this guy, Jesus, and less like the kind of judgmental person,” even though his judgmentalism wasn’t an evil judgmentalism. It was kind of a religious, pious judgmentalism, but it was wrong, and it had to be transformed by Jesus.
So you see, over time, Peter becomes more and more like Jesus. He does not become fully like Jesus, because even after three years of this, Peter betrays Jesus on the night of his trial. So, I suppose there’s something very hopeful in that for us. It’s hard to see it as hopeful, but Jesus just never gives up on Peter. Conversion is hard work, and it takes a great deal of time, and for many of us, even our deathbed will be a moment where we’re having to let the Lord convert us, you know, because we still have such a long way to go. But conversion is a long, long process, one that involves just walking with Jesus, conversing with him, trying to be like Jesus.
All of this brings us to communion, which the Second Vatican Council tells us is the source and summit of our Christian life. Communion is the point of everything. In the second letter of St. Peter, Peter says… This is late, late in Peter’s life, maybe at the very end of Peter’s life, maybe even written by a follower of Peter after Peter’s life, based on the teachings of Peter. We don’t know exactly for sure, but certainly this is an insight Peter had late, late in his life. What is all this about? Why all this constant conversion? Why does the Lord ask so many hard things? Because he did ask many hard things to Peter. Because, when you have overcome this world, as he says in the second letter of St. Peter, as Peter says in his second letter, when you’ve overcome this world, then you become partakers in the divine life. All of this is to become partakers in the divine life.
What is that? That’s a shared life of love in which we participate in the life of the Triune God. In a certain sense, we are members of the Triune God. We are made members of the Triune God. St. John of the Cross, if I remember correctly, I think it was St. John of the Cross said, “I will be God by participation.” That is not “I will be God by nature.” By nature, I’m a human being. I will be God by participation. That’s why so much transformation is needed, and that even after we go through a life of transformation and conversion, we still probably need a good deal of time in purgation and purgatory so that we can be made members of God, we can participate in the divine nature. That’s an extraordinary thing.
So, a little word in paragraph three, then, on communion. “All men,” this is from Lumen gentium, “all men are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, and toward whom our whole life strains.” Jesus shared communion with Peter on more than one occasion, but obviously most profoundly and most completely and most perfectly at the last Supper, when he said, “This is my body, this is my blood,” and shared that with Jesus. This communion, even though we don’t always have an emotional reaction to it, is in fact the perfect sharing of Christ’s life with us. The only obstacle… Whatever obstacles there are to that are within us, not in Christ. He gives himself fully to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
And this is why it’s the source and summit. Communion with Jesus is the source and summit of our life. In communing with him… This begins with baptism. When we’re baptized into him, the language, all the language around baptism is communion language: sharing of life, dying with him, rising with him, all of that. From this communion that he offers us through the sacraments and most perfectly in the Eucharistic sacrament, because it is himself, then we draw our life. But also, we’re never going to a higher place than this. We’re going to have better access. We’re going to have the fullness of ourselves, we’ll be open to accessing what God is giving us in communion, but you never get higher than communion. It’s the summit. It’s the high point. It’s the perfect sharing of life.
And we could stop there, in a certain sense. You could stop there, and some do. You know, in a certain sense, I suppose that’s the mentality of the Sunday obligation, I mean, the person who is only interested in the Sunday, “I have to meet my Sunday obligation. Now I’ve met my Sunday obligation, I can go on about my Sunday. I can go on about my week.” Next week, meet that Sunday obligation again. Christ is not refusing to commune with that person, but that person is only in a limited way participating in the Christian life.
And here we go to paragraph five of the document Lumen gentium, promulgated 56 years ago this week. I just want to read you a good deal of the end of that paragraph, the whole second part of that paragraph. “When Jesus, who had suffered the death of the cross for mankind, had risen, He appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ and eternal Priest, and He poured out on His disciples the Spirit promised by the Father. From this source the Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of His kingdom. While it slowly grows, the Church strains towards the completed Kingdom and, with all its strengths, hopes and desires to be united in the glory of its King.”
Here, we have the kind of… It’s not the end of the Christian life, but it’s the last of these steps. And we see here that the steps of the Christian life are, in fact, a cycle. They go around, because here we have… We’ve been invited to mission. Having received communion with Jesus, the task is not complete in our lives. We don’t, we’re not fully sharing in that personal relationship with Jesus until we are missionaries. The primary mode of missionary activity is always mothers and fathers to children, husbands and wives certainly to one another, and mothers and fathers to children.
The family is the primary place for this missionary work to happen, but it’s certainly not the whole of it. As a matter of fact, a great deal of Lumen gentium is dedicated to how, in fact, in the modern world, we’re to carry out this mission, we’re to try to reveal Christ in the world, in our secular life, in our daily activities. And there’s been great lay movements, you know, you think of, I don’t know, Communion and Liberation or the Opus Dei or a million others that, either before the Council or in the years subsequent to the Council, got on to this work. Because clearly it’s a work of the Holy Spirit that the seeds were laid long before the Council, the Council gave a wonderful expression to this, and in the years subsequent to the Council, some get it and some don’t get it.
And that’s why I think Bishop Brom talked about this everywhere he went, is that many, many people don’t get it, What the Second Vatican council is about, and why it’s always, and always will be considered a great work of the Holy Spirit, because it tells us what we are to do in the modern world. First of all, it tells the modern world who we are. If the modern world takes an interest, it can always read Lumen gentium. But it tells us who are in the modern world who we are and what we are called to do.
And many, many people, even today, who are called into communion and share in that communion, go to communion, go to confession, live a life of conversion and communion with Jesus, still, for whatever reason, refuse to be missionaries. Refuse to be missionaries, refuse to give up gossiping, or fight against solitary sexual sins, or be generous to the poor, or do all those things that make the light of Christ shine. This is part of a personal relationship with Jesus, is Jesus has to shine through me, or what kind of a personal relationship is it? It’s not a completed personal relationship.
And this is not about fussing at people who aren’t good, you know, I don’t know, as good a Catholics as me on the internet. That’s not shining the light of Christ. Shining the light of Christ is forgiving from my heart, sharing with the poor, living in chastity and generosity so that the world can see Christ through me. So, in a certain sense, you might think of an image like this. You know, you go to Mass and you receive communion. Communion is the thing that everybody needs, but there’s a million people out there in the world who didn’t go to Mass and didn’t receive communion, so your job is to take it to them. They can have communion with Christ, however imperfect, through you. And if you don’t do that, then even the communion that you received can’t be fully received. It has to be given.
So, this is the way to a personal relationship with Jesus. whatever else they might say on TV or, you know, here or there about how to have a personal relationship with Jesus, the Church tells us how to have a personal relationship with Jesus. First, you got to meet him. If you haven’t met him, ask. And be in places where you can meet him, you know, where charitable works are being done by the Church, where there’s prayer, where… You know, if you want to meet your spouse, you go to a place where the opposite sex is. Most people, college, I guess. Today, I don’t even know where they go, but that’s what you do. You have to go to… So, if you want to meet Jesus, you got to go and be in the places where he is, but you got to ask him: “I want to meet you. I’m not sure that I know you. I’m not sure that I ever did really, truly meet you. I hear other people say that they have a friendship with you. I don’t know if I have a friendship with you. Help me out.” And he will. He will, guaranteed.
Then we have to be willing to go through conversion, and some of us resist the conversion because it means morally challenging things. It means accepting teachings of the Church that we in our hearts are in rebellion about. It means being docile to the Spirit. Conversion means docility. Docility is a good thing, not a bad thing. You know, whatever they teach you on whatever the latest HBO TV series is about being fierce and standing up for yourself and expressing yourself, life is not about all those things. True life is about docility to the Spirit so that God can give you all the good things he has, being docile so that you can undergo conversion.
Such a person can share in communion. The person who has met Jesus and docile and had the docility of heart to be converted to Jesus can commune with Jesus, can sit quietly in the presence of the Eucharist and let Jesus do his work. Even though you don’t feel anything, you know that if you go every day, or once a week, or maybe in your case, you can only make it once a month, you know that he does his work, and you become able to do things you couldn’t do before. I can confess this in my own life, that I was not a person who was able to forgive other people until I began to sit with the Blessed Sacrament every day. And then I did nothing. I didn’t take any courses. I didn’t read any books. I simply sat with the Eucharist, and then one day, I realized I could forgive some things I never could forgive before. That’s the power of Christ communing with us.
But then we have to be willing to go on mission. We have to be willing to say, “You know, how many years have I got left?” Well, I’m 56. I’m the same exact age as Lumen gentium. How many years I got left? 20, 30, 40? All right, how can I spend those in a way that shares Christ with others, with my family first, but also with the world, wherever I go? I have to change some things. Some things I do do not… The way I drive does not share Christ with anyone. I got to change that. That one I’m still working on.
Encounter, conversion, communion, and mission. This is the way to a personal relationship with Christ, and you’ll notice that this personal relationship with Christ makes you part of the body of Christ, part of a communion, a community, one that lives forever, has not reached its glory yet, but will one day reach its glory. How did they begin that Lumen gentium? They began it this way. “Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature,” that’s what we got to do, proclaim the Gospel to every creature, “to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church.” That’s us. Is the light of Christ brightly visible on our countenance, our face? If it is, because we have met him, become like him, and shared in communion with him, then we truly can say we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
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