Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 2, 2015

The Kerygma

The Church began on the day of Pentecost after Jesus ascended, with a Spirit-filled sermon by Peter to a crowd in Jerusalem. The crowd listened to Peter, and heard something that pierced their hearts! What they heard drove them to repentance, to conversion, to transformation – to faith! What they heard changed their lives, and for many of them – about 3000 – it began in them a new heart and mind, a new beginning. The close of his sermon called the hearers to repentance and to a new life in Christ:

Acts 2:36 “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?”
38 Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”
40 He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.

What Peter preached that day is known today as “the kerygma” – often meaning the beginning and foundational message of the Gospel. If and when heard – such that the heart is pierced – a foundation is laid in the heart upon which the new life in Christ can be built. That foundation is rock-solid: it is faith in Christ; it endures, it weathers the storms of life, it perseveres through the years and decades and lifetime of a disciple, and is the seal of entry into eternal life in beatitude.

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington wrote a concise description of the kerygma on their Archdiocesan Blog (1):

“The basic content of the kerygma emphasizes that Jesus is the chosen Messiah of God, the one who was promised. And though he was crucified, He rose gloriously from the dead, appearing to his disciples, and having been exulted at the right hand of the Father through his ascension, now summons all to him, through the ministry of the Church. This proclamation (kerygma) requires a response from us, that we should repent of our sins, accept baptism, and live in the new life which Christ is offering. This alone will prepare us for the coming judgment that is to come upon all humanity. There is an urgent need to conform ourselves to Christ and be prepared by him for the coming judgment.”

Does this sound familiar? It describes many sermons I have heard, from street-preachers in New York City, to downtown Smalltown, Bible-Belt USA, from TV evangelists, great and not-so-great, from pastors in community bible churches across the expanse of Christian denominations. The kerygma, when preached with power, can be heard with powerful effect in the human heart – with eternal consequences, bringing joy to the angels and saints in heaven, when souls are awakened to saving life in Jesus Christ.

I almost never hear the kerygma in a Catholic Church. Not in a homily, not in a parish mission, not from a pastor, not from an itinerant Catholic evangelist, not in an adult Bible Study, not on a Catholic retreat or Day of Prayer. I say “almost” because I have heard it, on precious but rare occasions, within the Catholic Church. I think it is more often presumed, than proclaimed. Just as the foundation in Catholics of living faith in Christ is presumed, as solid formation in that faith is presumed, as knowledge of Catholic moral teachings is presumed – and thus there is no need to preach or teach what might be offensive or contentious or – heaven forbid – divisive. If the foundation of the house is weak or absent, then the fear of actually building upon it is reasonable! No one wants to stir up the air, around a house of cards. If the foundation of living faith in Christ is weak or absent, then what, exactly, is ground-level in the hearts of the assembly for Sunday morning Mass?

The kerygma is essential, because it is foundational. Faith in Christ as Lord and Savior is essential! But if the 90-90 saying is correct (“90 percent of Catholics receive 90 percent of their information and inspiration from Sunday Mass” – (2)), then 90% of Catholic adults may never – never – have heard the life-changing truth, preached with power, that the first 3000 members of the Church heard from Peter, our first Pope.

Foundational weakness or absence may explain the fact that most Catholics do not have the time or inclination for the life of discipleship in the faith, that followed in the lives of those first 3000:

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;
45 they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart,
47 praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

The symptoms beg the question, Why? Why are the foundations so weak or non-existent? Why is the basic, foundational kerygma so rarely preached in Catholic parishes, or retreats, or even “missions”? Why have so many Catholics never been presented – or confronted – with the most important decision of a human life? In the end, there is eternal life, or eternal death. It makes a very big difference, the road taken at the very foundation of the human heart. What – or Who – is the explanation for your life? Who are you? Whose are you?

notes:

(1) http://blog.adw.org/2012/10/what-do-we-mean-by-the-term-kerygma/

(2) Anecdotal – not given as a precise statistic! Quoted in “Laying the Foundation for Forming Disciples in Our Parishes”, Fr. Matthew J. Albright, HPR: http://www.hprweb.com/2015/01/laying-the-foundation-for-forming-disciples-in-our-parishes/


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for your insights as well as those of Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington on the “the kerygma”. Your concluding words in this blog need to be heard deeply in the heart:

    “What – or Who – is the explanation for your life? Who are you? Whose are you?”

    How very important it is to listen to God’s Word, asking His Holy Spirit to grant us His Truth for the answers! I was reminded of Pope Francis’ stirring homily on the power of God’s Word in which he said:

    “Always remember that the Gospel has the power to change life! Do not forget this! That is the good news that transforms us only when we allow ourselves to be transformed by it,” he said.

    Concluding his address, the Holy Father reminded the pilgrims gathered to carry a pocket sized Gospel with them and read a passage daily, in order to nourish themselves every day “from this inexhaustible source of salvation.

    “Do not forget, read a passage from the Gospel every day. It is the power that changes us, that transforms us, it changes life and it changes the heart,” he said.

    On this beautiful Feast of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple, may Our Lady, Mother of The Word, intercede for us, and bring her Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the temple of our hearts.


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