I have had many discussions with my parents about religion. They are very strong Catholics and say that I have no religion because I don’t go to any church. I’ve told them over and over that my religion is something private. They answer that “private” religion is just a cover for no religion. I feel I have a personal relationship with Christ and that’s it. Why is that so wrong?
“Private” religion is not wrong, it is just not enough for the Christian. Clearly, Christ calls each one of us to a personal relationship. But that relationship demands a lifestyle that is anything but private.
Among the first to experience this dynamic were members of the Christian community of Corinth. Some of them, while having a personal relationship with Christ, ignored the needs of the poor around them. Saint Paul wrote to them and made it clear that it could not be that way. He went on to teach them about the body of Christ, where each member is important to every other member.
Our own experiences are also helpful here. What happens when a person falls in love? Eventually, that relationship becomes something we want to share with others. There is such a need to share the joy of that personal relationship because it is important to us and a significant part of our lives. One of the next things that occurs is a desire to meet the other person’s friends and family. We really want to get to know the people who are important to them. Meaningful personal relationships seldom remain private.
It is that way with Christ. The more we develop the personal relationship with Christ, the more Christ impels us to form deeper relationships with those who are also loved by Christ.
While admittedly we encounter such people in everyday life, we do so in a unique way in the celebration of the Eucharist. In doing so, we not only respond to our natural desire to gather but also respond to the directive of Christ to “do this in memory of me.” It is there that we are most one with Christ and with one another.
In addition, it is through the Eucharist that we ourselves are strengthened. Even the deepest personal relationship at times need strengthened. When we feel a love relationship weakening, or regret mistakes we have made, don’t we often talk over our feelings with friends who know us and the one we love? It is often their counsel and advice that enables us to see our own weakness and failure. It is their support that assists us in fostering the personal relationship that means so much to us.
It is much the same with our relationship with Christ. Our personal relationship with Christ may at times not be as strong as it should be. It is often the support of a Christian community that can foster growth in that relationship.
Jesus seems to have understood that when he told us “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). A personal relationship with Christ which is so private and isolated from others seems to speak against everything that Jesus taught. “Going to church” is meeting the family (Body) of Christ, the one whom we say we love.
Photo by Dena Koenig Photography