Protestants are all about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They instruct potential converts on the necessity of asking Jesus into their hearts in order to be saved, and they enthusiastically sing about this relationship that they have with the Living God: “You ask me how I know He lives – He lives within my heart!” Many Protestants feel that this is what is missing from the Catholic understanding of salvation: Catholics need to ask Jesus into their hearts.
Can a Catholic invite Jesus into his or her heart?
This has been something of a misunderstanding on both the Catholic and the Protestant side. Protestants believe that the process of salvation culminates in asking Jesus into one’s heart, since this creates a personal relationship with the Lord. When confronted with the Catholic insistence on baptism for the forgiveness of sins as well as the reception of other sacraments, Protestants assume that Catholics know nothing of a personal relationship with Christ. The misunderstanding stems from the fact that these options, (1) asking Jesus into one’s heart and (2) the reception of the Sacraments, are presented as an either/or dilemma: EITHER ask Jesus into your heart like a good Protestant, OR believe, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and receive the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist like a good Catholic. Sometimes Evangelicals present this contrast as the “simple Gospel” versus the rituals and dead liturgy of a false belief system.
It’s nothing like that at all. True to the teaching of Scripture, the Catholic Church proclaims that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” and “baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21). The Church insists that those who want to be saved avail themselves of the Sacraments. At the same time, a glance at the lives of the saints shows how personal their relationship with Jesus was. The saints have long been advocates of asking Jesus into one’s heart. Ironically, it is the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence which has prevented many people, Catholics as well as Protestants, from recognizing that fact….
You see, Catholics have always believed that Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist. It is the teaching of Jesus as well as of His apostles. Catholics take Jesus at His word when He says:
I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. …Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. John 6:51, 53-56
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body. And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. Mt 26:26-28
Catholics take St. Paul at his word when he comments on the celebration of the Eucharist:
Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is fore you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Cor 11:23-30
Every Church Father who wrote concerning the Eucharist affirmed that it is indeed the actual Body and Blood of Jesus. Understanding this, we Catholics read the words “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him,” and understand that in Holy Communion, Jesus Whom we consume actually comes into our bodies, and we take our place in His Sacred Heart. This is what real, literal “Communion” is meant to be. There is nothing more intimate to be experienced on this earth; no relationship could be more personal.
This understanding of the meaning of Holy Communion has led some Catholics to surmise that there is no place in the Catholic belief system for “asking Jesus into your heart.” After all, when you already receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, into your body at every Mass, isn’t this “asking Him into your heart” just some sort of paltry Protestant substitute for the Real Thing?
Not at all. We all know that there are times when a Catholic cannot receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Most of us attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, so oftentimes a week elapses between communions. Occasionally we are ill on Sunday and cannot receive Him even then, and should we fall into mortal sin, we must abstain from reception until we have confessed our sin and received Absolution. But whenever we cannot receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we can make a “spiritual communion,” asking Jesus to come into our hearts spiritually when He cannot enter our bodies physically. Many saints have recommended the practice of spiritual communion to us:
For he who believes in Jesus Christ, and conceives the ardent desire to receive Him therein [i.e., in the Holy Eucharist], spiritually eats Him, so far as He is veiled under the forms of this sacrament. St. Thomas Aquinas
I believe that You, O Jesus, are in the Most Holy Sacrament! I love You and desire You! Come into my heart. I embrace You. O, never leave me! I beseech You, O Lord Jesus, may the burning and most sweet power of Your love absorb my mind, that I may die through love of Your love, Who were graciously pleased to die through love of my love. St. Francis of Assisi
When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you. St. Teresa of Avila
“Come, Jesus, my Beloved, come within this my poor heart; come and satiate my desires; come and sanctify my soul; come, most sweet Jesus, come!” This said, be still; contemplate your good God within you, and, as if you really had communicated, adore Him, thank Him, and perform all those interior acts to which you are accustomed after sacramental Communion. St. Leonard of Port-Maurice
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori
After the reception of the Sacraments, when we feel the love God growing cold, let us instantly make a Spiritual Communion. When we cannot go to the church, let us turn towards the tabernacle; no wall can shut us out from the good God. St. Jean Vianney
O my Lord, what a delightful way this is to communicate, without giving my father-confessor any trouble, or depending on any one save Yourself, Who draw near to the solitude of my soul and speak to my heart. St. Angela of the Cross
In the course of the day, when it is not permitted to you to do otherwise, call Jesus, even in the midst of all your occupations, with a resigned sigh of the soul and He will come and will remain always united with your soul by means of His grace and His holy love. Make a spiritual flight before the Tabernacle, when you cannot go there with your body, and there pour out the ardent desires of your spirit and embrace the Beloved of souls. St. Pio of Pietrelcina
The Catholic Church, far from neglecting the practice of spiritual communion, warmly urges the faithful to ask Jesus into their hearts, frequently and fervently! To this end we have been provided with the Chaplet of the Blessed Sacrament, in which we recite:
“As I cannot now receive Thee, my Jesus, in Holy Communion, come spiritually into my heart, and make it Thine own forever.”
So, an emphatic “yes” to the question of whether Protestants and Catholics agree on the practice of asking Jesus into their hearts! A spiritual communion, as the saints assure us, is a valuable, valid experience, “a most beneficial practice,” even though it is not a sacramental Holy Communion. Catholics are urged to make a spiritual communion often (St. Francis de Sales performed an act of spiritual communion every 15 minutes!) to secure our ongoing intimacy with our Lord. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is what it’s all about, folks!
Thank goodness, that’s one issue on which Catholics and Protestants agree.
On the memorial of St. Polycarp
Deo omnis gloria!