I have been slow in reading Pope Francis\’ Letter Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) on the New Evangelization. Thankfully, there are movements in the Catholic Church who are not. And this warms my priestly and fatherly heart to hear and see the Church\’s teachings in action.
Since December, two movements of the lay faithful have evangelized me on the truths of the Gospel: The Neo-Catechumenal Way and The Evangelical Catholic. They both proclaimed to me the \”Kerygma\”, or the announcement of God\’s continuous love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Neo-Catechumenal Way
The first was the Neo-Catechumenal Way, which has been doing the work of renewing the faith in those who have fallen away from the Church, or have never personally known Jesus. They have been at it for decades now throughout Europe and the world. Daniel Lopez, a missionary working in Minnesota, and two seminarians met with me at the Panera Bread in Conway to explain two paragraphs in Evangelii Gaudium that were refreshing:
164. In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment. For this reason too, “the priest – like every other member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized”.
165. We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.
“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This is the Kerygma in Pope Francis\’ terms. Just before receiving this announcement from the Neo-Cats, I had been working with a group of young adults in Danville to write out the Kerygma in their own words. It was a great confirmation to hear that Pope Francis is reiterating the Kerygma, and emphasizing its importance in reaching those who do not presently go to the Catholic Church. I was grateful to Daniel for showing me these paragraphs, and in a way practicing them. No priest is beyond being evanglized. I need to remember the Kerygma and to recommit myself to God. Daily.
The Evangelical Catholic
The second group that has basically opened Evangelii Gaudium was the Evangelical Catholic out of Madison Wisconsin. I took 10 young adults to Orlando Florida for their first \”Winter Evangelical Training Camp\”. Here I heard again the call to keep Kerygma central in evangelical efforts. Evangelical Catholic, founded by Jason Simon, seeks to connect Catholics, especially ones on college campuses, with Christ in the context of a community of disciples. In the camp, we spent a lot of time going over points of prayer, Lectio Divina, daily Mass, adoration to form the crucial foundation for our Evangelization. If the New Evangelization or Evangelii Gaudium ever sounds too work-oriented, then we are missing the point. The emphasis on prayer and connection with Christ was unmistakable throughout our whole week. Later, we worked out the practical matters of small groups, and One-on-One Discipleship to make our work more effective. After all, it was a retreat designed to plan our church\’s new year. We are training to win disciples for Christ, not just to run aimlessly. We are fighting to win, not just beating the air (1 Cor 9:24-27). But the interior life was always primary.
Back to the Kerygma, one of the most touching moments of the week was when one of my own parishioners, Fátima, came running out of her class on \”Outreach\” with an urgency to tell me something. After several weeks prior of telling them about the Kerygma, about the need to put it into their own words, the staff at Evangelical Catholic inspired her to preach the Kerygma to me. The disciple had become the master. My fatherly heart quietly rejoiced. Beyond mere practicing the Kerygma on me, she truly announced the Great Story of Jesus, and asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus and his plans for me today. Of course I said yes. There is a power in rededicating ourselves to Jesus and his saving mystery. And a great joy of receiving this message and then in turn giving it to others.
The Word of God goes out through all the earth (Psalm 19). Pope Francis inspires the Church, especially the youth, to be \”callejeros de fe,\” (Street Preachers) ones who bring the Good News to every corner, every town, every street of the earth.
When I read Evangelii Gaudium, I can\’t help but think that Pope Francis wrote it for these two movements. But then again, there\’s nothing explicitly new about making disciples and preaching the Kerygma and other truths of Jesus Christ (Mt 28:19). Yet it helps me refocus on the mission and to remind myself that priests have a job of preaching the Kerygma in and out of season. And so does the laity.
© 2014 Fr. James Melnick. All rights reserved.