We seem to be hearing a lot of talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus”. It all sounds rather cloying and Evangelical to me.
Sherry Weddell, along with other authors, has been influential in proposing discipleship of Christ as a necessary part of renewing Catholic life in parishes. One of her most disturbing findings was that people who are actively involved in the life of their parish were not actually sure whether they believed in a God with whom they could have a personal relationship. When that happens, the parish can become simply a social activity provider for customers, or a group to raise funds for worthy causes.
It is reasonable to question whether promoting discipleship has to involve an “Evangelical” style of activity, but the central point that we must foster a personal relationship with Jesus among people in the parish is undeniable. For some Catholics, the language of “personal relationship” may be off-putting. “Devotion” is an expression found in the spiritual classics and may be a helpful alternative, provided that it is understood not as a system but as genuine love for God; St Josemaría Escrivá spoke simply of friendship with Christ.
What Weddell and others have done is to give a startling wake-up call to many bishops and priests in the West who are looking at a steady decline in the life of their parishes and wondering what to do about it. The straightforward call to personal discipleship with Christ, shared in the comm-union of the Church, has a great deal to commend it.
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