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By James R. A. Merrick, Ph.D.,

James R. A. Merrick, Ph.D. is Director of Emmaus Academic at the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Lecturer in the theology department at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He also writes for Ascension Press, the National Catholic Register, and Angelus News.

They taught me to pursue a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. They said I had to avoid the use of lifeless objects like crucifixes, statues, and even the Eucharist. If these objects were not overtly idolatrous, to my Protestant parents and pastors they were problematically impersonal and phony. Such objects would make Jesus seem distant, strange, and mute and would prompt me to be unnecessarily formal and withdrawn in relation to Christ. My spiritual mentors said that the authentically personal was free from formality and formula. They said I needed to encounter Jesus within the privacy and intimacy of my own heart, talking to him casually anywhere, anytime, about anything.

As a kid who indulged several imaginary friends, this approach had a natural appeal. When I learned of people praying with a Rosary or statue or even in a church, I felt sad, regretting that they only ever heard the rattling of beads or empty silence and missed out on that great conversation of Christ with the soul. …

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