let’s get personal

Aug 24, 2020

Some readers will recall the question/answer form of catechism that was popular in Catholic school religious education classes until the mid 1960’s. The first of this style of catechism was published in the early 17th century, the initiative of (Cardinal) Robert Bellarmine following the Council of Trent in the 16th century, and the form that was familiar in NZ was the Baltimore (Penny) Catechism first published following the Church Councils of Baltimore in the 1850’s.

The result of this rote-learning religious education is that most Catholics aged over 65 can still recite word-for-word catechism answers they learnt at school. However the tragic down-side is that too many of these people are unable to speak of a personal, lived, relationship with Jesus Christ who is God with us, and relatively few of these very well-trained Catholics live their faith within the church today.

I pondered this when praying with yesterday’s gospel reading: Jesus speaks directly to his disciples asking: ‘Who do people say I am?’

The disciples answer with what they had learned from others: “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus is not satisfied with their response. His reply suggests that he knows that if they stay with their learnt-from-others-catechism-style answer they will soon reduce the beauty of life as a disciple of Jesus to ritualism and moralism.

I imagine Jesus then looking at these guys directly, even pointing at each of them with an impatient finger and asking: “But you… who do you say I am?”

This segues seamlessly into today’s gospel reading for the feast of one of those first disciples. Philip takes Nathaniel (Bartholemew) to “come and see” for himself by meeting Jesus:  “we have found the one.” and Nathaniel was surprised that Jesus recognised him: “Before Philip came to call you I saw you under the fig tree.”

Today Jesus asks each of us the question directly. Imagine him gazing at you directly, pointing you out from the crowd, and asking you: who do YOU say that I am?”

Peter gave an answer that pleased Jesus, not because it was a learnt-by-rote-catechism response, but because it was Peter’s own personal and heart-felt response. His response was from his own experience of what he had come to know in his own personal relationship with Jesus: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”   

Notice what Jesus then says to Peter: “…you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.”

If you are a bit unsure about how to answer Jesus when he speaks directly to you, don’t be too concerned. Peter’s answer was not a sentence of his own creation but instead was revealed to him by God and welled up from the depth of his heart.

So speak directly to Jesus as often as you think of it during the day asking Jesus directly: “Tell me who you are and who you want to be for me.”   What do you want to do for me?


  • Click this image below for a simple morning and evening reflection. It might be ideal on waking in the morning before getting out of bed, or last thing at night after turning out the light.

  • Email john@fff.org.nz with your initials to join those taking these few days as a simple retreat-in-daily-life, and to invite others to keep you in prayer. Click the image to enlarge.



  1. This is such an very important message. If older Catholics are still hugging the sign posts, they have missed an exciting journey with Jesus. Canon law is not law. It is guidance, an important map for early journey. As we grow in faith, we make our own notes on the maps because God creates us as individuals.

  2. Thank you Fr John: you certainly know how to drill deep!
    I’m starting to look at myself in a new, more critical light- trying to bring ‘body / mind / spirit’ into a closer alignment.
    Sometimes when going to Mass I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Once inside the church, I look at a painting of the Crucifixion and say to myself, “Thank you for doing that dear Lord. For us you suffered; for us you died.” I don’t really understand why You did it, but I know that there is something much bigger than I will ever be able to understand.
    That someone was willing to do that for me is mind blowing. All I can do in return is to try to do what You asked of me: Love God; love your neighbour.

  3. I too, look at Jesus on the cross, and think what extreme suffering he did for us and me personally.
    To think the beautiful life that awaits us in eternal life.
    You can see the little miracles that Jesus does in your own life when you keep praying and ask for his help.

  4. Coincident with the Penny Catechism was the environment of guilt that was used to scare us a way from sin – in those old days possibly the one time we met Jesus personally was in Reconciliation when we heard a voice say we were forgiven. As well as your encouragement to pray personally John, for me I meet Jesus in the kindness of others. God Bless you

  5. My father introduced me to prayer. He taught me how to say the Our Father. He’d sit by my bed before I went to sleep, and say it with me. He was a farmer who’d come to NZ as a child when his family migrated from Ireland when it was on the brink of civil war. His father’s family came from Presbyterian / Moravian background; his mother was Church of Ireland, who joined her husband’s church when she married. She reverted to the Church of England when her husband died.
    I began going to a small nearby public school, run on the Montessori approach when I turned six (a polio epidemic had been raging the previous year). A local priest told my parents they had to send me to a convent school a few miles away. It was a shock! Wearing a uniform; having the Catechism drummed into me in an almost militaristic way by a cold elderly nun in my first year there. Fortunately the following four years were spent with a warm, intelligent nun who loved music and literature, as well as being a great teacher. She began each day with us kneeling on a board floor reciting five decades of the Rosary, followed by a reading from a book of saints. We checked the Columban calendar each morning, and the past world of Catholicism was opened up to us. We also read stories from the “Far East” magazine.
    For my secondary years I boarded for nearly five years at the mother house of the Josephite order in Wanganui. We attended Mass each morning, rising at 6 and reciting the Morning Offering. I learnt Latin and could partly translate the Epistle and Gospel as they were being read a Mass each morning. While there I learnt hymn singing in Latin as well as Gregorian chant for High Masses. The old nun who taught us Religion had grown up in Nelson with Archbishop Redwood (she used to say ‘of happy memory’ when speaking about him). She introduced us about Rerum Novarum. We had access to the very broad-minded Catholic paper published in Otago. I remember reading about Jean Varnier and contemporary Catholicism. They were happy years.
    I spent the following twelve months as an exchange student in New York, living on Long Island with a modern Jewish family – an amazing experience.
    When I returned toNew Zealand I attended Victoria University for three years, and studied at Auckland for my fourth year. While in Wellington, my boyfriend (later husband) and I used to go to the High Mass each Sunday morning at St Mary of the Angels: it was like attending a symphonic concert each week – for free.

    My father once told me that an elderly Presbyterian man told him that he’d have to become a Catholic if he was going to marry the Catholic girl next door.
    I’ve always remembered his response: ‘Do they believe in God?’ When told that they did, he replied, ‘Well, I think that we’ll be all right then’.
    That basic broad-mindedness has under-pinned my personal religious belief, and sometimes surfaced, almost in revolt, when I’ve heard religion being discussed in narrow sectarian (almost political) terms. To me it has seemed as though the battles of the past are being kept alive today in a form of religious ‘one-upmanship’.

    I’ve often likened my brain to a stagnant swamp, a repository of all that’s happened to me during my life. Occasionally, for some unknown reason, a methane bubble escapes and rises to the surface where it pops. I feel as though your post this morning Fr John has stimulated a rather large bubble to come to the surface this morning.

    • Thank you Paddy for your beautiful testimony of faith in your life!

  6. I am over 65 years of age and I can recite, word-for-word, the Catechism answers. I am also very proud that I can still recite the responses to the Latin Mass and recite the Latin Hymns we duly sang at Holy Masses and during Benediction and Adoration.

    When I was 18 years of age I was searching for a deeper meaning and purpose in my life – providentially, I sighted in Bennetts Bookshop a paper-back book entitled, ‘The Phenomenon of Man’, by an extraordinarily gifted man, a French Jesuit Catholic Priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He nurtured my soul, and along with many other incredible Spiritual

    Writers, including Henri Nouwen, Thomas Moore, Deepak Chopra, Scott Peck, Brene Brown, Eckhart Tolle …

    I believe the modern-day Prophets are attuned to the Spirit of Life, Light & Love and helped me to ferment my deeper thoughts and to evolve my spiritual, emotional, social and academic potential. They matured my theology regarding my life and death perceptions so that I could reinterpret my paper-back Catechism and personal experiences in a new light, likened to the miracle of metamorphosis.

    Jesus is my ‘protective shell’, He is my deep-hearted love, the sacred centre of creation and opens into my infinite union with my Creator, God. +


  7. It is an amazing experience when I am able to talk and relate personally with Jesus through life experiences/ situations. The lived experiences reveals the hidden power of Gods Presence, and His voice . I am to be disciplined. Thank you for this reflection.

  8. What I would love to know is what was Nathanael doing under the fig tree that brought him to Our Lords attention?
    It reminds me that Jesus is with me every moment of the day, however I get so busy “doing”, I forget this. Yet He knows me through and through, so hopefully my busyness is doing His work!

  9. Lord,your love is so abundant,
    The beautifull gifts apon the earth are a sign,for those
    That dont know,or havent met
    Your Holy”Spirit”wanting us
    To hunger,and followin that journeyTowards our Heavenly home,to be with thy Holy presence. YOU JUST WANT US”ALL” TO HAVE
    THIS GIFT. -through Love.


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