SATURDAY HOMILY: Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?
Nathanial knew the Scriptures. The Messiah will come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth. Hence, his sardonic reply to Philip: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" He would soon gladly eat those words.
Nathanial did not have the full picture. What he knew was correct enough. But his information was incomplete. The amazing thing is that the gaps in his knowledge would be closed in an explosion of grace ignited by a personal encounter with Jesus Himself.
This is why Philip's simple response to Nathanial's doubt was so ingenious: "Come and see." Nathanial did. And in that face to face encounter with the Lord his doubts evaporated. He came to faith.
Knowing that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem is helpful and necessary. But knowing that Jesus, personally, is indispensable.
Pope Benedict XVI puts it this way:
"Our knowledge of Jesus needs above all a first-hand experience: someone else's testimony is of course important, for normally the whole of our Christian life begins with the proclamation handed down to us by one or more witnesses. However, we ourselves must then be personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus ." (General Audience, October 4, 2006).
Bingo! There it is! The Pope has said it (and actually this is a constant theme in the preaching and teaching of this pope and of his predecessor). We must have a personal relationship with Jesus! We must allow ourselves to become intimate friends of the Lord.
The other day while I was standing in front of my parish church in my cassock I was asked by a sincere, Bible toting Evangelical Christian who happened to be passing by: "Sir, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"
I wasn't offended by the question. I understand. I'm a big target. I just smiled at the man reassuringly and said, without hesitation, "Yes!" I don't think he was convinced but that's not the point.
Evangelical Christians did not invent this language. It is and has always been the language of the Saints beginning with Jesus' first followers, the apostles. It is lamentable that for many Catholics this talk of a "personal relationship with Christ" sounds foreign and strangely "Protestant." But it should not. It is Catholic through and through.
In today's Gospel Nathanial becomes, to borrow from the words of the Holy Father, "personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus." During those three exhilarating years that he spent living with Jesus and learning from Him, Nathanial, who appears as Bartholomew in the Biblical lists of apostles, obviously grew in his friendship with the Lord.
And after the Lord's Ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit, Bartholomew's intimacy with the Crucified and Risen Christ undoubtedly deepened as he ardently offered the Eucharistic Sacrifice and reverently partook of Jesus' Sacred Body and Blood. Let us not forget how thoroughly and repeatedly he must have meditated on the many enthralling and unforgettable episodes of Jesus' life of which he was himself an eye witness.
It was this intimate bond of friendship with the Lord that motivated and sustained St. Bartholomew throughout his life as an apostle and kept him faithful to the end. He died a martyr's death and his relics are venerated in Rome, in the Church of St. Bartholomew-on-the-Tiber.
This Year of Faith offers us the invitation to discover anew the personal dimension of faith in Christ.
This is not to minimize in the least the urgency of learning well the content of the faith. In spite of the millions of dollars that are spent each year on catechetical materials and religious education congresses, ignorance of the most fundamental doctrines of the faith has spread like a plague.
There is a crying need for a great catechesis!
This is why Pope Benedict is urging Catholics to study the Catechism of the Catholic Church which for twenty years has served as a reliable and accessible summary of the wealth of Catholic teaching. But even as he promotes the Catechism, the Holy Father states: "On page after page, we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church" (Porta Fidei, 11).
Are you still looking for a New Year's resolution to make? Here's a good one: resolve to deepen your friendship with Jesus.
How is this done? It's not complicated.
Make room for Him in your busy life. Put Him in your daily planner or smart phone. And don't stand him up. Arrive punctually to your times of prayer. Spend time with Him near the Tabernacle. If possible, go to Mass daily and receive Him in Holy Communion with a clean soul. Be persevering. And then watch what the Lord will do. "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
Fr. G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Pastor of Holy Innocents Church in Long Beach, California.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Fr. G. Peter Irving III, Holy Innocents Long Beach, St. Bartholomew, Nathanial, personal friendship with Jesus
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