Immersed in Christ: Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Spirituality means relationship with Jesus Christ
Baptism essentially incorporates us into Christ. We are “saved” by being incorporated into Christ’s body on the cross, dying in him and rising with him to live as his risen body on earth. This is the mystery of our identity; a mystery so shocking that John Paul II taught, quoting St. Augustine, that by Baptism we become Christ.
If St. Augustine and John Paul sound too extreme for us, we can at least accept to say that, as Christ’s body, we are in “partnership” with him. The first thing we need to do is focus Catholics on living in constant relationship — in real language that means in constant, conscious interaction — with Jesus Christ. All day long. In everything they do.
This gives us an immediate answer to young adults who want “spirituality” but don’t think they will find it in “religion”; that is, in what they have experienced in church. The “religion” they experienced may have seemed to them to be just a system of doctrines, rules and practices. Personal relationship and interaction with Jesus may have had very little to do with it. They did not experience God. So they think they have to seek elsewhere. But they don’t. Not if we teach them to interact with Jesus Christ as Catholics.
A girl in my parish went to a Baptist revival in her junior year of high school. When the preacher invited all those who had “never received Jesus” to come up, she went up. They sent me as her pastor a postcard so I could follow up on her “conversion.” When I saw her at Mass that Sunday I asked her, “Why did you say you had never received Jesus before? Isn’t that what you do every time you receive Communion?”
She knew this as a catechism answer. But it was not something she was conscious of when she actually went up to receive Communion. I think this might be more common than I would like to believe. Catholics can be present at Mass, receive Communion, and receive absolution repeatedly in Confession, without ever consciously interacting with Jesus Christ. But we can change that.
Is it simple to form people — children, youth and adults — to deep, constant, personal interaction with Jesus Christ? I think so.
Let me make three suggestions, all of them easy and practical.
1. Preach it and teach it. Focus explicitly and repeatedly on the need to interact consciously and constantly with the person of Jesus Christ as the core of our religion. “The Lord be with you.” Preachers and teachers should speak from lived experience. This might call many of us to deeper personal conversion and discovery.
2. Integrate it into everything else we teach. Be explicit about what should be obvious but is not. Teach participation in Mass as a way of interacting with God and co-acting with Jesus Christ in the offering of the sacrifice. Teach Reconciliation as encounter with Jesus Christ. Teach morality as loyalty to the person of Jesus Christ and as following the Spirit of Christ in everything we do. Teach prayer and reflection on Scripture as searching for union with the mind and heart of Christ who is present and teaching us through his word. Teach marriage as the image — and experience — of consciously being for one another what Jesus is for the Church, his spouse. Teach social justice as Christ in us loving Christ in others and establishing his kingdom on earth. Above all, teach Baptism as the mystery of “being Christ” — of consciously being and acting as the living, risen body of Jesus all day long.
3. Offer a concrete and practical way to help people remain conscious of interacting with Christ all day long. Use whatever reminders and “gimmicks” it takes to help them form the habit.
I suggest the WIT prayer. Begin the day with a waking prayer that renews awareness of Baptism: “Lord, I give you my body. Live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me.” Form the habit of repeating this all day long, saying to Jesus before and during everything we do: “Lord, do this with me; do this in me; do this through me.”
This alone will transform one’s whole experience of life and religion. Simple and easy as it is, this one thing will go far to renew the Church.
If we just do it.