Other Eric, I both agree and disagree with you.
I agree with you for the following reason. What exactly IS a personal relationship with Jesus? Ask a Protestant. Each answer will be different because as humans, we all have a different perception of what a “personal relationship” is.
Some are raised in loving, affectionate families with a lot of hugging, pet names, and chatter. For these people, a relationship with Jesus is very emotional and physical (hand-raising, singing, dancing, being slain in the Spirit, etc.). They have an easy time praising and expressing love to Jesus, and they are very “event” centered–just like their families had “dinners” and “picnics” and “camp outs,” they enjoy “worship experiences” with Jesus and His family.
Others (me) are raised in very staid families, where hugs and kisses are given sparingly if at all, and conversation is about issues and events, not personal matters. Our “relationship with Jesus” looks extremely different than the emotional relationship of others. We talk with Jesus, but only about important things. We are interested in study and learning. And we have a hard time with the concept of “praise” because when we were growing up, we didn’t get praised very often. As for physical displays of affection in public–no way! We feel extremely uncomfortable with this kind of thing!
Still others are raised in a atmosphere of suspicion, conflict, and even hate. Parents and other relatives are abusive and even absent. For these people, a “relationship with Jesus” is characterized by lack of trust and communication. These people struggle with “falling away” and “returning to repentance” and then beginning the cycle again. Many end up leaving Christianity entirely because they just can’t manage to find that “personal relationship” with Jesus like the “affectionate” group of Christians! They never received love from their families, so they have a hard time receiving love from God.
I realize that the above descriptions are gross simplifications. But the fact remains, humans impose our own expectations and norms upon a “personal relationship” with Jesus. I believe–and I say this with fear and trembling–that many “personal relationships with Jesus” are human-driven rather than Christ-driven.
The main reason I disagree with you is that the Catholic Church Itself teaches the importance of a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our Holy Father has spoken of this; in fact, I have used some of his writing about “personal relationship with Jesus” to speak with Protestants about Catholic Christianity.
As a convert to Catholicism from evangelical Protestantism, I find that my “personal relationship with Jesus” has become “Jesus-driven.” I don’t have to conjure up “feelings” of affection and love for the Lord. I obey Him and His Church, and in return, He gives graces to me that are helping me to conquer sin and do good in this world.
To me, it’s been like the consummation of a marriage. My husband and I dated for six years before we got married, and we were virgins on our wedding night.
Before we consummated the marriage, we definitely had a “personal relationship.” But it was when we entered into marriage that we really became “one.”
It’s the same way, for me anyway, with Catholicism. As a Protestant, I knew Jesus. But as a Catholic, I am joined with Jesus in Holy Communion. For me, it’s like…hope no one is offended…the union of a husband and wife, only different of course because it’s Eucharist, not Matrimony.