Evangelization sends all of us out into the world to meet, engage, care for, and share our faith in Jesus Christ with all. And that can mean questions. Some that come with a lot of baggage and background.
On a few occasions people have asked me if Catholics believe that Jesus is their personal Lord and Savior. Other times faithful Catholics have expressed discomfort or surprise at hearing this phrase used in a Catholic setting.
What then do we make of the phrase, “my personal Lord and savior?” Is it okay to say, “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior?”
The Thomas Take on “My”
Every year on the Sunday after Easter, we hear the glorious account of the disciple Thomas declaring his faith in Jesus Christ with the acclamation, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). So it seems that speaking any of the many titles of Jesus with the descriptor (possessive pronoun, if you want to go all grammar-fan on this) my is appropriate and in continuity with Christian spirituality going back to the first century.
Church Teaching on the “Personal”
“My” and “personal” aren’t the exact same thing. And, Thomas says “my Lord and my God”–he doesn’t mention this whole “personal Lord” business. So, we turn to the passing on of the faith in the Church — Church teaching — as a source for better understanding of when “personal” is used to describe the divine.
The term “personal God” appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (i.e. § 35-37). “Personal” is also used to describe true relationship with God. The CCC explains that we are to live from the mystery of faith in a “vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” and speaks of “personal salvation” (§ 2558, 1534).
In 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI preached, “only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians.” Again in 2010, he explained, “Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Using the words “my” and “personal” to describe God (or other names — Lord, Savior, etc.) is part of Catholic tradition. But, to do full justice to the question, I still need to ask, is it okay to combine them into “my personal Lord” or “my personal Savior”?
I suppose there’s the grammatical angle. And from that perspective, combining my and personal seems a bit redundant (I admit, a totally a non-theological issue). But testing out an internet search engine’s predictive autocomplete suggestions revealed just how common using “my personal…” is in our language! After typing in “my personal,” the search engine gave me the autocomplete suggestions of:
- My Personal Credit Union
- My Personal Testimony
- My Personal Friend
- My Personal Hero
- My Personal Experience
- My Personal Opinion, and
- My Personal Favorite.
Whoa. “My personal…” was more common that I’d thought. I suppose there’s no reason to toss the phrase out for purely grammatical reasons.
But more importantly, in the end “my personal God/Lord/Savior” does not communicate any beliefs that are outside of orthodox Catholic faith. My personal Lord and Savior affirms what we believe–that “faith is first of all a personal adherence of man [and woman] to God”–it’s a “personal act” (CCC, §150, 166). And affirming this in no way negates the complementary truth that, at the same time:
Faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith. (CCC, §166).
So go ahead, name and claim Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Make it a “Catholic” thing to do. And if it invites questions — great! Use this as an opportunity to share the depth of what these titles mean to you. Demonstrate that it’s not just a cultural catchphrase or bumper sticker line, but a real experience that guides your life and fundamentally changes how you act and view the world. And share how God graciously extends an invitation to personal relationship with Him to all. You never know how the Holy Spirit might work through an inquisitive (or even slightly awkward) question.\
This post also appeared at NewEvangelizers.Com.