I just read an article on the Internet by a Rev. Thomas Berg entitled “Why Are Catholics Afraid to Talk About Jesus?” In the Catholic culture of the United States, we don’t talk about our relationship with Jesus very much. As Rev. Berg says, the common attitude of American Catholics is, “We’re Catholics: we don’t do that; that’s a Protestant thing – you know, to talk about ‘Jesus’.”
Maybe our unease in talking about Jesus is connected to the fact that so many people have left the Catholic Church and that so many who still identify as Catholics are lukewarm or less about their faith.
One of the founders of the Alpha program, an international program promoting Christian evangelization, observed that if people don’t have a basic understanding and appreciation for the importance of Jesus in their personal lives, additional information about Christianity has virtually no impact. It’s just information. This might explain why so many who have had many years of formal Catholic education leave the Catholic Church. They had lots of information given to them, but they never had a core, foundational relationship with Jesus Christ.
There are lots of surveys out about what types, what denominations, of Christians go to church, why they don’t go to church, and so on. An example is “Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them,” by George Barna and David Kinnaman. A helpful blog posting is “How Great We Aren’t – The Catholic Church in America Today,” by Eric Sammons, which concludes, as we might expect, that there is a small number of people who find a compelling reason to live as Catholics.
A really great resource is “The Catholic Church at the End of an Age,” by Ralph Martin. Mr. Martin, a well-known Catholic evangelist, surveyed virtually every part of the world to examine the state of the Catholic Church, why people stayed and why people left. It’s fair to say, as Ralph Martin states in his book, that from all the information available many people leave the Catholic Church because they felt they were not “spiritually nourished” as Catholics.
After analyzing why people left the Catholic Church, what they are looking for and why in some circumstances Catholic churches are flourishing, Ralph Martin ends his analysis with this statement: “What is the Spirit saying? Jesus.” What does Martin mean by this? He says elsewhere in his book:
‘When Jesus is proclaimed clearly and confidently, in the power of the Holy Spirit, many more people come to faith and there is much more growth to the Church than when he is not.”
As I mentioned in a recent podcast, many of our Protestant brothers and sisters believe that they are saved based upon Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Based upon this belief, these Christians are “saved” when they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Now the Bible has a great many statements, besides the passage above from Romans 10, about who is saved, and as Catholics we have a more comprehensive understanding of salvation, which I won’t go into here. What I do want to close with is that we Catholics can learn from our Protestant brethren by making a heartfelt commitment of belief in Jesus Christ. We did this, or someone did it for us, when we were baptized, and we might even have repeated our Baptismal vows in Church, at Easter and other times of the year.
My suggestion, though, is that we express our commitment to Jesus by using a version of the “Sinners’ Prayer,” which is used by many Protestants when they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It’s more personal and less theological. So I encourage you to say this prayer, say it out loud, and speak from the heart:
"Heavenly Father, have mercy on me, a sinner. I believe in you and that your word is true. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he died on the cross so that I may now have forgiveness for my sins and eternal life. I know that without you in my heart my life is meaningless.
I believe in my heart that you, Lord God, raised Him from the dead. Please, Jesus, forgive me, for every sin I have ever committed or done in my heart; please, Lord Jesus, forgive me and come into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior today. I need you to be my Lord and my friend.
I give you my life and ask you to take full control from this moment on; I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ."