By Fr. James Chelich on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, 1993
INTRODUCTION “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” This is an often asked question in Christian circles. It is asked and understood in a whole variety of ways, some very narrow and some extremely broad. At the heart of the question is the word, “personal”. What makes a relationship “personal”? Is it not the quality of the communication between two people? Doesn’t it very much have to do with how they listen to each other and the way they speak with one another? The quality of our listening and our speaking makes or breaks a human relationship. If this is true of human personal relationships, it is equally true of relationship with God. In Jesus, God introduced Himself to us in personal terms. We are invited to relate to God as a Person, and we are invited to relate to God in our own human personal way. Speaking with God in a personal way is the subject of Prayer. Listening to God in a personal way is the subject of this little pamphlet. It is my hope that this little booklet will help you realize that Jesus is really and truly present to you. It is my further hope that it will help you begin to hear His voice speaking to you personally. My prayer is that you will be drawn into a rich, personal relationship with the Lord, one that will endure through all the seasons of your life and that will see you safely into the Kingdom of Heaven. Father James Chelich The Feast of Saint Francis, 1993 Copyright: 1993 Father James Chelich Saint Thomas the Apostle Church 1449 Wilcox park Drive, S.E. Grand Rapids, MI 49506 I Do you have a living relationship with the Word of God? It depends on how you hear it! Do you hear the Word of God “personally”? “I tell you, unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” The scribes and the Pharisees heard the Word of God as talking about someone other than themselves or as a general norm or ideal. The disciples, on the other hand, hear the Word of God as a person speaking directly to them and specifically about their own life. Notice the sharp contrast: Hearing the Word of God Hearing the Word of God as addressed to me VS. as addressed to someone else personally! or as a general norm or ideal. Now let’s apply this to a passage of the Scripture. Read Matthew 5:21-47. This passage contains a famous list of religious norms or ideals, and most people take them just that way — as ideals or “shoulds”. But try hearing them differently — hear them as the living voice of a real person speaking to you personally about your life: Matthew 5:21ff Jesus is speaking to me about the anger and resentment in my life. Matthew 5:27ff Jesus is speaking to me about the way I look at other men or women, and the fantasies I entertain about them. Matthew 5:31ff Jesus is speaking to me about the “death” at work in my own marriage (relationships). Matthew 5:33ff Jesus is speaking to me about the language I use with others. Matthew 5:38ff Jesus is speaking to me about the violence in my words and actions. Matthew 5:43ff Jesus is speaking to me about the hatred or prejudice toward other groups, races, or religions that is ingrained in my attitude and thinking. What a difference! The first essential aspect of a living relationship with the Word of God is to hear it as addressed to me personally. “Personally” means: + I hear a person, Jesus, the Lord, speaking, + I hear Jesus speaking to me personally, and specifically about my life. Do you hear the Word of God with “immediacy”? “As he (Jesus) was walking along the Sea of Galilee he watched two brothers, Simon now known as Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the Sea. They were fishermen. He said to them, ‘ Come after me and I will make you fishers of men and women.’ They immediately abandoned their nets and became his followers. He walked along farther and caught sight of two other brothers, James, Zebedee’s son, and his brother John. They too were in their boat, getting their nets in order with their father, Zebedee. He called them, and immediately they abandoned boat and father to follow him.” Matthew 4:18-22 A second essential aspect of a living relationship with the Word of God is expressed in the word “immediately”. “Immediacy” means: + a readiness to turn aside from anything preoccupying me at the moment and give my full attention. + having the attitude that what I am hearing is urgent to the moment and vital for me to hear. + having the firm intention that I will act promptly, in some concrete way, to respond to what I have heard. A “disciple” is one who has a particular relationship with the Word of God: As disciple, I hear the Word of God… …as the Lord speaking, …as addressed to me personally and as having to do with me personally, …as urgent to the moment and vital for me to hear, …with the firm intention that I will act promptly, in some way, to respond to what I have heard. II Mary, Woman of the Word! “Holy Mary clearly carried out the will of the Father, and therefore, it is a greater thing for her to be a disciple of Christ than to be his mother. She is more blessed in being a disciple of Christ than in being the mother of Christ.” Saint Augustine (Sermo 2,7: PL 38,937) The heart of Mary’s relationship with Jesus is to be found not in the fact that she conceived him, bore him, and raised him; but in her relationship with the Word of God, of Whom He was the incarnation. Mary’s relationship with the Word of God began even before Jesus was conceived in her. It continued throughout His earthly life and after His resurrection and entrance into glory. Mary is model and teacher of this relationship for all disciples in every age. The Bible gives us a clear revelation of the character of Mary’s relationship with the Word of God in the following passages: Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation Luke 1:39-45 The Visitation John 2:1-11 The Wedding at Cana When we examine these passages we discover five fundamental characteristics of a living relationship with the Word of God: Read: Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation “The angel said to her: ‘Rejoice, O Highly favored daughter! the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.'” v28 The Word of God comes to Mary and Mary HEARS the Word… HEARING means regularly reading or listening to the Scripture (the Bible). Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” You cannot say that you “know” Jesus or have a personal relationship with the Word of God if you do not take the time to pick up the Bible and read it. “She was deeply troubled by his words, and wondered what his greeting meant.” v29 Hearing the Word of God, Mary HEEDS the Word… HEEDING God’s Word means hearing the Word as spoken to you personally — and urgently. It means saying to yourself, “God is speaking to me personally in the Word I have just heard (or read). I know He is! I want to know what God is saying to me. I want to understand what it has to do with me.” “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” v38 Heeding the Word of God, Mary COMMITS to the Word… COMMITTING to God’s Word means that once we have heard it and come to an understanding of what it is saying to us personally, we commit to it! We don’t go on asking endless questions. We don’t engage in useless discussions about what it might mean. We don’t put it off with qualifications and excuses. We simply commit to it: “I have heard it, I know where it is ‘hitting me’, I know what it is pointing to in my life. I will not deny it or fight it. I say ‘Yes’ to it! I will yield to it. I will let the Word at work in me have its way in me and my life.” Read: Luke 1:39-45 The Visitation “Thereupon Mary set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.” v30-40 Having committed to the Word, Mary DOES SOMETHING about it… By no means did Mary understand the full meaning of Word she heard. She knew it was addressed to her personally and that it would radically change her life. Rather than get stuck in endless questions and speculation, Mary proceeded to do something about what she did understand. She does understand that Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age and is in need. Mary is immediately up and off to put into action as much of what she heard as she can grasp at the moment. She trusts that the rest will unfold. Because she is off to DO what she can about what she heard, Mary receives confirmation of God’s Word to her and a greater understanding of it. Elizabeth announces to her that she has in fact conceived a child, and that her child is “the Lord.” To live God’s Word means TO ACT upon it in some direct way — to take some concrete step or make some concrete change in our life because of what we have heard. Perhaps we cannot to do everything it might be calling for, but we can do something! We take one step closer to living the life God is calling us to live. When we take one step forward, God’s grace lays hold of us, lifts us and carries us ahead — often further than we could have imagined, and often over the obstacles in our way: “Hear me…whom I have carried from your infancy. Even in your old age I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you; It is I who have done this, I who will continue and I who will carry you to safety.” Isaiah 46:3-4 “So He became their savior in every affliction. It was not a messenger or an angel, but He himself who saved them. Because of His love and pity He redeemed them Himself, lifting them and carrying them…” Isaiah 63:8-9 “They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagle’s wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” Isaiah 40:31 “The Lord is the strength of His people, the saving refuge of His anointed. Save Your people, and bless Your inheritance; feed them, and carry them forever.” Psalm 28:9 Read: John 2:1-11 The Wedding at Cana “His mother instructed those waiting on table, ‘Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you.’” v5 Having acted on the Word in her own life, Mary becomes a WITNESSES to the Word… Mary directs others who are in confusion, need or trouble to God’s Word. WITNESSING to the Word means directing others to the Word of God so that the Word of God can begin to speak to them personally. It means sharing with them the way God’s Word has worked in your own personal life. It means showing them how to Hear, Heed, Commit, and Act on the Word of God. WITNESSING does not mean getting in between people and the Word of God by trying to solve their problems and straighten out their lives. DISCIPLESHIP can be described in terms of our relationship with the Word of God: specifically, how we hear the Word of God and how we respond to it: “Let everyone who has ears attend to what he has heard… Take heed then, to how you hear…” Luke 8:8 and 18 “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and act upon it.” Luke 8:21 HOLINESS can be described as the quality of our relationship with the Word of God: “Blest are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Luke 11:28 III Exercising a Living Relationship with the Word of God So how do you enter and sustain a living relationship with the Word of God? First, get a Bible! Next, set aside time every day. Fifteen minutes will do. HEAR: Open your Bible and read a small portion from the Word of God. You can do this in one of two ways: A. You can randomly open your Bible and read the first verses your eyes settle upon. You then do this a second and third time. B. You can choose one book of the Bible to read through continuously day by day, for instance one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), or perhaps one of the letters of the New Testament. Simply begin where you left off the day before and read for five minutes. (I recom- mend this method if you are just beginning to form your relationship with the Word of God.) Do not begin at the beginning of the Bible and decide that you are going to read continuously through the whole Bible. You will hit dry and tedious portions and it will discourage you. Before you read, pray: These are not just words on a page. This is the voice of Jesus speaking to me. Jesus, give me ears to hear you. Focus your awareness. HEAR what you are reading as the actual voice of a living person speaking to you. HEED: Read the passage or verses again. What particularly strikes you about the passage? What draws your attention? Why are you drawn to it? Now get personal and ask the Lord: Jesus, what is it you are you saying to me personally here? Search your heart! Where is the Word “hitting” you? Is it “hitting” a hope, a longing, a relationship, a problem, a fear, a sinful attitude or addiction, an anger, a bitterness? Wherever it strikes your heart or your life, name it. Look over the passage. Now that you know where the Word “hits” you personally, What is the Lord trying to say to you about it? Pause and reflect on this a moment. COMMIT Yield to the Word. Give the Word of God permission to work its effect in you. Pray: Jesus, I give you permission to lay hold of this part of my life. I yield this part of myself to your Word and its power. I open this part of myself to change in accord with your Word. ACT Carry what the Word of God is saying to you into action… …even if it is only in some small way at first. Perhaps the Word spoke to you of God’s forgiving love for you. Accept it by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Perhaps the Word spoke to you of the need to forgive. Write a note to the person with whom you have been estranged. Perhaps the Word pointed to the sin of lust in your heart. Toss the lewd books or videos you have stashed away. WITNESS When someone asks you about your faith, give a clear witness. Let them know that you have a personal relationship with the Lord. Be ready and willing to explain to them how your relationship with the Word of God works in your life. “Venerate the Lord, that is Christ, in your hearts. Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully. 1 Peter 3:15 IV A Living Relationship with the Word of God during the Day The Word of God is written on the pages of the Bible. This Word is a “living” word and in the previous pages of this booklet you have been introduced to a way of making it “effective” within you (Hebrews 4:12-13). But ultimately the Word is more than just words, even “living words”. Ultimately, the Word of God is Jesus, a living Person (John 1:1,14). To have a living relationship with the Word of God, you have to bring Him into the situations of your every day life in a real and personal way. How do you do this? Simply begin to relate to Jesus as if he were alive and present in the situation. When dealing with anyone or entering into any situation hold your peace for a while. Identify within yourself what you are thinking, feeling, and what you are planning to say or do. Once you identify these, set them aside in your mind for just a moment. Address Jesus and speak to him as if he were real and present in your situation: Jesus, if there is something here that I am not seeing, show me. If there is something I am not hearing, let me hear it. If there is anything I am missing, make me aware of it. Now listen — really listen! — to the person with whom you are dealing or to what is going on in the situation. More times that not, the Lord will make you aware of something that you missed and did not take into account — something that will significantly change what you think, feel, say or do; something that will yield more love, joy, peace, patience, forbearance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, trust, and mutual respect. If The Lord gives you a new insight or awareness, bring it to your initial thoughts and feelings and allow it to change how you plan to respond. If nothing new comes to you, then move on your initial thoughts and feelings with new confidence. When you ask and are made aware of something, thank the Lord for it — I mean as if he were really present. You did not produce it. Jesus did! — and he did it precisely because you brought him into the situation and related to him as a living person, actually present in the situation. The Lord is real and will act as a personal way as Lord and Savior if we allow it to be so in our attitude. The person who allows this to be and to happen is like… “…a mustard seed which someone took and sowed in their field. It is the smallest seed of all, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes so big a shrub that the birds of the sky come and build their nests in its branches. Matthew 13:31-32 “…yeast which a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour. Eventually the whole mass of dough began rise.” Matthew 13:33 “The Word is living and effective…” When you live in Christian Faith you don’t try to change yourself by yourself. You don’t make yourself more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, trusting, mild or chaste. You “yield” to another, who “works” the change within you by a love and a power greater than your own. Only one person can do that — Jesus. Jesus can because He is divine, He is God. His love is Divine Love and there is no limit to the light of its truth, its forbearance, and its power to effect change. But this won’t happen until you stop relating to Jesus as an idea, or a set of values, or as a personage of ancient history; and begin relating to Him as a living person speaking immediately and directly to you. The powerful, beautiful right order of things that is the Kingdom of God “happens” in the hearts and lives of people who have a personal relationship with Jesus: who invite him into their lives, who relate to him as a real person, who allow him to “speak” to all that they are, who hear his Word as a applying directly and personally to themselves, and who are willing to yield wherever it takes hold. This is how a Christian changes and becomes different. This is also how a Christian makes a difference. It is Jesus, the incarnate Word, who personally does it by the action of his living Word — in us, with us, and through us. “Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is Yours, almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen!