Does one have to experience strong emotion to be a real Christian?

by Steve Ray on June 5, 2019

I received a few e-mails from a gentleman and his wife, obviously both good and excited Catholics who had recently had a real encounter with Jesus that had revived their faith and filled them with joy and emotion. Brian and his wife were disturbed that I talked so much about the Catholic Church when the important things was a personal relationship with Jesus that sets our heart on fire.  So I responded to him to demonstrate that Jesus is not divided from his Church.
DEAR BRO STEVE,
I SENT SR. BRIEGE’S TESTIMONY FOR YOU TO HEAR FOR THE SIMPLE REASON THAT SHE TOO, LIKE THE MUSLIMS WHO ARE FINDING CHRIST, AND MANY OTHERS AND IF I CAN HUMBLY INCLUDE MYSELF HAVE TASTED THE LORD AND HE IS GOOD. AND I BELIEVE THAT THIS EXPERIENCE OF KNOWING JESUS CHRIST IS NOT FOR A FEW BUT FOR ALL MANKIND.
     [His wife had written earlier with a very strong sense that Catholics did not follow Christ like they should and she could hardly stand being in parishes with them because she knew Jesus and it was obvious to her that the others did not. They expected all Catholics to be like them and felt that they were almost, it seemed to me in earlier e-mails, not real Christians.]
       BUT YOU I AM NOT ABLE TO UNDERSTAND. YOU SEEM TO SAY THAT ALL CATHOLICS ARE IN CHRIST. MY UNDERSTANDING IS IF CHRIST IS IN YOU THE HOPE OF GLORY THEN U JUST NOT ONLY KNOW IT BUT WILL WANT TO GO AND SHARE HIM FOR OTHERS TO ALSO TASTE HIM AND DO WHAT IS HIS PLAN FOR THEM.
      SO I HEARD A FEW OF YOUR TALKS ON YOUTUBE AND ITS ALL MOSTLY ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A CATHOLIC AND I HEARD SISTER BRIEGE WHO SAYS THAT ITS JESUS CHRIST FIRST. ONE MUST ENCOUNTER CHRIST AND THEN THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A CATHOLIC.
     THANKS ALOT.  LOVE U IN JESUS,  BRIAN
So I wrote a short response to maybe help Brian and his wife understand things in a more balanced position. Maybe the dialog will be of help to a few others as well.
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Dear Brian and Marlene:

It is not Jesus OR the Catholic Church. It is Jesus AND the Catholic Church. Not everyone has emotional or super-spiritual feelings. Some people like Mother Teresa was devoid of such did not FEEL Jesus all the time but she was in Christ—she was closer to Christ than many who have lots of spiritual feelings.

It seems to me that it is a somewhat Protestant, Pentecostal idea that you expect yourself and others to have all these feelings. The Christian life is by faith, not by feelings. Feelings, emotions, the sense of the presence of God, the sense of the filling of the Holy Spirit are all great things. If they accompany our daily life, we are blessed. But the Christian life is primarily by faith and obedience to Christ.
It is important not to go around judging people, thinking since you have this experience with the Holy Spirit that you are more spiritual or close to God than a person who is close to God in other ways — through the Eucharist, prayer, devotion. To set yourself apart as more spiritual sounds to me much like the Pharisees.
Be happy for your experience of the Holy Spirit. All Christians have received the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. Not all have understood or appropriated this great gift, but not Catholics or other Christians have learned their blessing and many experience him in different ways. You cannot put the Holy Spirit in a box and think he has to work the same with every person. Just because you have one experience does not mean that to be spiritual and close to God and filled with the Spirit that I have to be just like you.
Anyway, God bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you. I cannot write about this any more since I am in Israel and a large group of people are arriving today and I will be guiding them through the Holy Land — including the Upper Room where the Holy Spirit first fell on the day of Pentecost. God bless and it has been nice talking with you.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan E. Daigle June 5, 2019 at 1:39 PM

What a well reasoned and complete answer. I especially liked the example of Mother Theresa who was definitely IN Christ and OF the Church.

Joe June 7, 2019 at 11:02 AM

Steve, thanks so much for addressing this topic as I think it is crucial to contemporary Christianity. I agree wholeheartedly with your correspondents that my relationship with Jesus Christ is the bedrock of my Catholic faith. I disagree that my feelings are the essential part of that relationship. Your example of Mother Theresa is spot on—her discipline of many hours daily in Adoration as the basis of her life allowed her to accomplish her remarkable work in Calcutta and, clearly, it was not from a source of emotionality but from a source of trust in Jesus. I like to say that I am Pentacostal but I don’t play the guitar, meaning that I am Charismatic but not out of sentimentality. I think it is misleading others to demand a show of sentimentality as proof of their relationship with the Holy Spirit. I do understand that we must communicate with the feelings-based secular culture in our evangelization of the Gospel and I think it is helpful to express the joy that can accompany my relationship with Jesus. That said, I believe that my daily life of Jesus is more based on perseverance (pistis), on putting one foot in front of the other in following the Way. Often this is hard and requires simply willing to trust in the Lord. In these times the bright fire of sentimentality must give way to the difficulty of discerning and following God’s will, which can bring suffering as I give up my own desires for His. This is the path San Juan De La Cruz speaks of so well, leading us from the bright fires of consolation to the mystical ecstasies of the ever closer relationship with Jesus, a path that travels through the Valley of Desolations. My dependence upon my feelings alone will never get me far along that path!

Peter Aiello June 19, 2019 at 6:02 AM

How do any of us definitely know who is in Christ and who isn’t? Is the pope in Christ? It sounds like Mother Teresa wasn’t sure of herself. “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2Timothy 2:19). I prefer to leave it at that.
John does say “And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1John 3:24). The fruit of the Spirit is something tangible, but it doesn’t sound like an emotion that comes and goes (Galatians 5:22-23).
Do Baptism and Confirmation guarantee that we have appropriated or received Christ; or do we have to put on Christ? Galatians 3:26-27 says: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
1Peter 5:5-7 tells us to cast all of our care on the Lord in order to be exalted in due time and receive grace. I found this to be the easiest and best way to open up to God.

Kathryn M Menzia June 20, 2019 at 2:46 AM

When I was in college I was taught how to "talk to God" in a personal way or how to develop a personal relationship with God. I was not taught this through any Catholic organization, although I was Catholic and attemded Mass weekly. I also started reading the Bible at age 16 and continue to do so today. What I am trying to say is that, I've been where the couple above are. I've experienced the emotional state or charisma of the Holy Spirit, I, too, have wondered why Catholics don't always seem to see the necessity of a personal walk with the Lord. I have gone through periods of thinking myself better than other Catholics because of such….I think we all must realize we are God's special gift and he takes us right where we are and, if we allow Him, He will take us on a journey that is unique for us, whether it is an emtoional or non-emotional connection, religious Catholic experiences, or through the beaury of the setting sun's ray's on a field of wheat….Let's pray for each other's growth where God has planted Himslef in our lives.

STEVE RAY HERE: Beautifuly stated. Thanks!

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