I’m slowly making my way through Fr. Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast. Not his newest one, mind you—I’ve just passed the halfway mark for last year’s podcast. Sometimes I go weeks without listening, but I keep coming back because gosh darn it, at some point I need to get through the whole Bible. Right? I want to be able to check that off.
In a world of information overload, though, I wonder sometimes about the preponderance of Christian content available at our fingertips. It’s an immense blessing, don’t get me wrong. Want more information on the saints? Check out this book. Need a primer on apologetics? Check out these blogs. Want to add more prayers to your day? Try this app.
And yet, more and more I think what we—certainly what I—need is a different kind of knowledge.
In English, we use the word “know” very broadly. One can know the multiplication table, the quickest route to the library, the history of the Spanish Civil War, a good defense attorney, a best friend, a spouse. “You know Darth Vader?” a child once asked me, and I paused, unsure how I wanted to answer.
In other languages, there’s an inherent distinction, separating knowledge into two kinds: a grasping of information and an intimate familiarity. With the former, one can know facts about a person, place, or thing. With the latter, one is more intimately acquainted with the person, place, or thing.
Informational knowledge is crucial, certainly. Relationships require both information and familiarity. Relationships, especially at first, involve an exchange of information: Where do you come from? What do you do for fun? What’s your family like? But as the relationship progresses, acquiring specific pieces of information becomes less important. Knowing a person becomes less about learning their history, their pastimes, their likes and dislikes—and it becomes more about receiving and loving who they are.
So, I think, in our relationship with Christ. And this is good news, at least for those of us who feel overwhelmed and at times unable to take in one more iota of information.
“When we face the sun we get a tan… but when we stand before Jesus in the Eucharist we become saints.” This quote, attributed to Blessed Carlo Acutis, is a good reminder that God is the one who makes us into saints. We don’t need a theology degree (or even to have read the entire Bible) before we can begin to know Jesus simply by spending time with Him.
To know Christ means to learn about Him—and yes, to continue this learning throughout our lives. This continual learning is especially important in a world that so often misunderstands and distorts the truth of the Gospel. But if we want to truly know Jesus intimately—or as our Protestant brethren often say: to have a personal relationship with Him—we also need to make time to be present with and to Him. We need to be willing to “waste time” with Jesus, and to come away from prayer with nothing learned, nothing gained, nothing checked off.
There is always more to learn about Jesus Christ, and striving to learn more about Him is good. But knowledge of Christ—knowing Him as an intimate friend—is ultimately not something we achieve, but something that we receive. And because humans are finite beings, we can only receive if we are not already filled to the brim.