Recently I’ve been struck by a verse in chapter seventeen of John’s Gospel. Jesus is with his apostles during the last supper, offering a long prayer, and at one point he says to his Heavenly Father, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). Knowing God is eternal life.
The biblical definition of “know” means something far beyond an intellectual understanding. In the bible, knowing someone meant having a deeply personal and intimate relationship with them. The verb “know” was even used as a sexual euphemism. When the angel announced the conception of Jesus, Mary said, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).
Only recently have I come to truly know God. I’m a cradle Catholic raised by pretty devout parents. I could maybe count on one hand the times I remember missing a Sunday Mass growing up. I received all my sacraments. I did all the Catholic things. However, it wasn’t until the summer after I graduated high school that my family’s faith really became my own. Jesus showed up for me in a big way during Confession on a youth retreat. This event changed the trajectory of my life, and I ended up studying theology at a Catholic college so that I could help others experience God like I had.
However, as I moved into young adulthood and studied my Catholic faith in earnest, I confused knowing God with learning about him. I equated growing in my faith with studying theology and managing my sin. I was in Confession. A lot. I would regularly bug the local parish priest after weekday Mass to hear my Confession because I was sure my habitual sin was mortal. These two things, intellectual learning and managing sin, consumed so much of my relationship with God, that after he healed me of that habitual sin and I graduated college, I remember thinking to myself, “What next? How do I grow in my faith now?” Several years went by like that. I managed to remain Catholic. In fact, I was working in a parish as a lay minister. Life was pretty easy. Faith was pretty easy. There was nothing to wake me up to realize how much I really didn’t know God.