Dear Friends in Christ,
The First Principle of Evangelical Catholicism states that “The Lord Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind, and no human person can fully understand his life or find his dignity and destiny apart from a personal friendship with the Lord Jesus. It is not enough to know who Jesus is; we must know Jesus.”
The first claim made here is absolute and uncompromising: that Jesus of Nazareth is the only savior of the entire human race and that his identity as the Messiah is finally and fully revealed in his crucifixion and resurrection. In an age that prizes individual choice above all else, this claim is often rejected as offensive, but in every age Christ is a stumbling block: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1.22-24) The Lord Jesus is either the Son of God, or he is not. He either was conceived without a human father, or he was not. He is either the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, or he is not. And on the answers to these questions turns the entire Christian religion, because Jesus of Nazareth is (in C.S. Lewis’s famous formulation) one of only three things: he is either liar, lunatic, or Lord.
Next, if Jesus is Lord (meaning the eternal Word by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were made) then the next part of the first principle follows: our lives are unintelligible until we know the Lord Jesus and live as his students and his friends. To Catholics of a certain age, this claim will sound strange because at times in our recent history there was insufficient emphasis in catechesis on the necessity of a personal friendship with the Lord Jesus, and for this reason the very language sounds Protestant and decidedly un-Catholic. But the best of Catholic tradition, taught by the Church and lived by the saints, always puts a true human relationship with Jesus in first place, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger explained in his homily to the College of Cardinals on the day before he was elected Benedict XVI: “Our redemption is brought about in this communion of wills: being friends of Jesus, to become friends of God. The more we love Jesus, the more we know him, the more our true freedom develops and our joy in being redeemed flourishes. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship!”
This is why it is not enough to know who Jesus is; rather, we must know Jesus. And we come to know Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, in the Sacraments of the Church, in prayer both alone and with other Christians, in service to the least of his brethren, and – above all – in the “breaking of the bread,” the Most Holy Eucharist. Becoming Evangelical Catholics means that we must seek to know Christ in all of these ways on a regular basis and open our hearts and minds to him as he reveals himself for our salvation and the salvation of the world.