Word of the Day: Kerygma

3rd Sunday of Easter

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Here’s a word you can use to impress your friends at parties. Are you ready? It’s kerygma. If you’ve never heard it before, don’t feel bad. Most people haven’t. But it’s a word every Catholic ought to know, because kerygma is essential to the Christian faith. It comes from the Greek word keryssein, meaning “to proclaim,” and it refers to the initial proclamation of the gospel. It’s what we see St. Peter doing in this Sunday’s reading from Acts.

The Acts of the Apostles is the earliest history of Christianity. If you’ve ever wondered how we got from Jesus’ death and resurrection to “the Church” then read the book of Acts. It’s our origin story. The third chapter begins with Peter and John going to the Temple to pray. They encounter a crippled beggar by the gate. Peter prays in the name of Jesus and heals the beggar. Many people witness this and are astonished. Peter has their attention. This is where our reading picks up.

Having the crowd’s attention, Peter directs it to where the glory actually belongs — to Jesus. He tells them, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).

He doesn’t say this to condemn them, but to testify to the truth of what happened. He tells them, “Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer” (Acts 3:17-18).

Peter makes the connection between what happened to Jesus and what the scripture foretold about the Messiah, all pointing to the reality that Jesus is the Christ. Then he tells them what to do about it: “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).

This is kerygma — a very simple and basic proclamation of the gospel to those who need to hear it. Peter and the other disciples do this frequently in the book of Acts as the Church grows and the faith spreads. It’s not fancy catechesis. It’s not high-brow apologetics. It’s not learned theology. It’s personal testimony, relating the basic truths of the Christian faith. Jesus was crucified and died. He rose from the dead. Repent and believe.

Every Catholic knows this. It should be as familiar to us as the air we breathe. We proclaim it at Mass whenever the priest announces, “The mystery of faith,” and we answer with, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again.” We profess it whenever we recite the Creed. We believe it. But do we proclaim it?

If you find the prospect of telling others about your faith in Jesus unsettling, you are not alone. Most of us find it awkward, if not downright intimidating. We aren’t St. Peter, after all. He was the first pope, and a saint!

But Peter was also a pretty regular man in many respects. He wasn’t a scribe or a pharisee. He wasn’t a rabbi. He was a fisherman. And according to the gospels, he wasn’t always the most astute when it came to understanding Jesus’ message. He fumbled a lot. He even denied Jesus three times during the crucifixion. But he repented, and eventually his love for Jesus overcame his human fears and anxieties. He became a great saint because of his love for Christ. You can do the same.

Take a look at exactly what Peter does when he proclaims his kerygma. It’s nothing magical. First of all, he and John are just doing what faithful Christians do — going to pray. When they meet someone in need, they help. And when they get people’s attention, they use it to glorify God. They don’t want praise for themselves. They know it rightfully belongs to Christ.

Peter’s preaching may seem a little forceful and direct, but consider who he’s talking to. The men and women there gathered would have been talking about the events that recently transpired; Jesus’ trial and execution, and the reports of his rising from the dead. It’s what all of Jerusalem was talking about! When Peter tells them that they put the author of life to death, but God raised him, he’s tapping into a buzz already going on. But he adds his personal testimony to it. When Peter says, “of this we are witnesses,” he is saying, “All that you’ve heard about Jesus’ resurrection — it’s true. I’ve seen it.”

Then he connects the dots between Jesus and the Messiah that the Jewish people were all waiting for. Remember, Peter is a Jew talking to Jewish people that were familiar with Jewish scriptures. Later, when Paul begins preaching to the Greeks in Athens, he uses a different approach. People need to be met where they are. It’s important to relate to them in a context they can understand. Peter’s audience understood the idea of a suffering Messiah from the Jewish prophets.

Finally, Peter gives them something to do. He tells them to repent and be converted. He lets them know what the proper response is to the message he has just preached to them. He gives them the next step.

In short, Peter’s kerygma is authentic to who he is, and who he is talking to. Considered in this light, there is no reason any professing Christian couldn’t offer a kerygma of their own. Just consider these questions: Whose attention do you have? What can you tell them about your personal experience with Jesus that they could relate to? And what can you invite them to do next?

Maybe it’s a suite-mate who is going through a hard time and could use some of the peace that you have found in God through your prayer life. Have you told her about how much Jesus is a source of strength and comfort in your life? Invite her to a Bible study, or just to pray with you. Maybe you have a study partner who is frustrated because he thinks life is meaningless and doesn’t think there is a purpose to it all. Have you told him about how your faith in a Creator gives you direction, and your life meaning? Invite him to come to Mass with you and offer to talk more with him about the faith.

What we are talking about is basic evangelization. It’s something every Christian is called to do — not just priests and nuns. To do it doesn’t require a degree in theology or a clerical collar. You just have to love Jesus, and want to share his love with others.

If you’d like to learn more about how to best do that as a student on a college campus, the Diocese of Charlotte is hosting an Evangelization Training Camp for college students at the Catholic Conference Center in Hickory, NC, May 14-17. Grant funding is available to sponsor students wishing to attend. Contact us at ccm@wcucatholic.org for more details.


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Are You an Evangelist?

6th Sunday of Easter (A)

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Are you an evangelist? If you asked most Catholics that question, they’d probably hesitate before answering. Many would say “no.” It’s not a word most of us are comfortable with (perhaps because it has become associated in our minds with a certain sub-set of Protestantism). But that’s a shame. Because if you are a baptized Christian, you are supposed to be an evangelist. 
The word evangel comes from the Greek for “good news.” It’s the same word that we translate as “gospel.” So an evangelist is one who shares good news — specifically the good news of Jesus Christ. Who doesn’t like to share good news?
The task of spreading the good news of Christ is not reserved for the bishops and clergy, or for monks and nuns. It’s primarily the job of lay people. The Catechism reminds us that lay people have “the right and duty… to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth” (CCC 900). The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that for lay people, “evangelization… acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world” (Lumen Gentium 35). 
“Ordinary circumstances of the world” would included places where clergy and consecrated religious often cannot go: places like the workplace, the marketplace, neighborhoods, and in the case of college campuses, classrooms and dorms. In other words, in most places in the world, the task of sharing Jesus’ good news falls to lay Catholics. 
For you, maybe that doesn’t feel like good news. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking with others about your faith. Maybe you don’t feel smart enough. Maybe you don’t feel holy enough. That’s OK. You don’t have to be a theologian or a saint to share with someone why Jesus is important in your life. 
Our readings for this Sunday give us a “game plan” for how to evangelize. The first reading from Acts tells us about the deacon Philip traveling to Samaria and proclaiming Christ to the people who lived there. They are converted, but that’s not the end of the story. Peter and John come to them from Jerusalem to lay hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. We still do that today. We call it the sacrament of Confirmation.
What this episode tells us is important. Evangelization is about introducing someone to Jesus. So it’s not enough to just tell them about Jesus. You want them to actually meet Him. And you find Jesus in His Church. So the new Christians in Samaria were introduced to the person of Jesus through His Apostles, Peter and John. They had already been initiated into the Church by baptism, but the Apostles confirmed that initiation through the laying on of hands. When someone puts on Christ in baptism, they become members of His Body, the Church. Evangelization starts outside the Church, but it should always end inside the Church.
The second reading from 1 Peter reads like a check-list for evangelization! We can take it line by line.
1. Sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart. This has to come first. You can’t introduce someone to Jesus if you don’t know Him yourself. You can’t give someone a gift that you don’t have. 
2. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. There is something different about Christians. People can tell. We have peace. We have joy. We have hope. We can expect people to ask about it. Whether they are asking a question about the doctrines and practices of the faith, or just want to know why are you so happy? we should be ready to tell them about it. This doesn’t mean we have to have the Catechism memorized. But we should know the basics. We should know why we do what we do and believe what we believe. Most importantly, we should be comfortable just sharing honestly about how our relationship with Christ makes our lives better. 
3. But do it with gentleness and reverence. You can call this the “don’t be a jerk” principle. Evangelization is about winning souls, not winning arguments. This is all about having a loving and charitable attitude. We can be right in what we say, but wrong in how we say it. A combative attitude can close someone’e heart to the truths of the faith. We don’t want that. So when you “give a reason for your hope,” always be respectful of the other person. After all, you want them to be your brother or sister in Christ. So treat them lovingly.
4. Keeping your conscience clear. This means living an upright moral life, and striving for virtue. Why is this important? It ties into #1 above. If you haven’t made Christ Lord of your heart, you can’t ask others to do so. If you aren’t living virtuously, you offer at best a hypocritical witness. Your credibility is diminished. But most importantly, you won’t be ready for what comes next.
5. Expect to be persecuted. St. Peter says that we need to keep our conscience clear so that we’ll be ready when people malign us for the sake of the gospel — which they will do. They did it to Christ, and there has never been a better evangelizer than our Lord. We can expect no better for ourselves.
And finally, the best news of all about evangelization comes in our gospel passage. Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” By keeping the commandments of God, we keep a clear conscience, as St. Peter instructs us. But we also remain united with Christ, who promises to send us the Holy Spirit as our advocate and guide. This is essential, because it is not we who are the true agents of evangelization, but the Holy Spirit working through us. Neither you nor I can convert a single person’s heart to Christ, but the Holy Spirit can convert thousands through our witness, if we cooperate with Him by keeping Christ’s commands.
The Church received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we will soon celebrate once more at the end of the Easter Season. We as individuals receive the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation, like the Samaritans in our first reading from Acts. The sacrament of Confirmation is our personal Pentecost, where we receive the power to live lives of holiness, and the power to witness to world about the good news of Christ.

If you have the Holy Spirit, then you have this power. What you don’t have are excuses.
So I ask again: are you an evangelist?
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Shining the Light

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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Yesterday I had to traveled Hickory for a meeting at the Catholic Conference Center. I had to be on the road early, so it was still dark when I went to put some packages in my mailbox. The sun had not come up yet, and there was heavy cloud cover, blocking out what little light the moon would have given. My front yard was nearly pitch black. As I cautiously walked forward, I could see the outline of a tree in front of me. Assuming it to be the tree that stands at the base of the steps leading up to our mailbox, I stepped up. I stumbled, however, discovering the ground was flat. This was not the tree by our mailbox. It was a different tree growing in the middle of our yard. I wasn’t anywhere near where I thought I was. The near perfect darkness had left me disoriented even in a place as familiar as my front yard.

Later that same day I found myself again disoriented by darkness. It was after sunset as I left the Catholic Conference Center to come home. It is a drive I have made hundreds of times before, but I soon found myself in unfamiliar territory. I had missed my turn. It is a mistake I never would have made in the daylight, but which was all too easy to make at night on those poorly-lit rural roads.

Darkness is oppressive. It prevents us from seeing the world around us. It limits our knowledge of reality. It makes it much harder for us to know where we are supposed to go, and how we are to get there. In our scripture readings this week, the people of Israel are described as “a people who walked in darkness” (Is 9:1). Isaiah is not talking about literal darkness. The sun still rose over Israel. He is talking about a spiritual darkness. Before the coming of Christ, we had a very limited knowledge of God and therefore of reality. We didn’t know where we were supposed to go, and we certainly didn’t know how to get there.

Christ is often spoken about in terms of light. We speak of Him as the New Dawn. We speak of Him as the Day Star. When we light the Paschal candle at Easter, we proclaim “the light of Christ” that has risen in the world.

Like light, Jesus Christ is revelatory. He reveals God to us. By His light, we have a clearer picture of reality, and our place in it. We can see our sins more clearly (which is not always pleasant, but necessary for spiritual healing). But more importantly, we can see by His light the path we are to take for forgiveness of those sins. Jesus calls Himself the “Way” because by His light we see the way to God.

The nature of light is that it wants to spread out. Light does not want to be contained. When we turn on a lamp, it does not just light up one corner of a room, but the whole room. The sun does not just shine over one town or city, but over the whole world. Even light from distant stars and galaxies streams toward us from millions of light years away.

So, too, the light of Christ wants to be spread. During the Easter Vigil, the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgical celebration, we light first the Pascal candle and then each Christian believer lights his or her own small candle from that single flame. The Exultet chant then proclaims the praises of the Pascal candle as being “a fire into many flames divided,yet never dimmed by sharing of its light.” This is a beautiful and fitting symbol for the light of Christ, which is never diminished by being spread.

Many today still live in spiritual darkness. The light of Christ wants to be spread, and the way it is spread is through you and me. In our gospel reading after we hear Christ proclaimed as the light that shines on the people in darkness, the very next thing we read is Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him and be witnesses to His light. This is how the light is spread, by the witness of Christ’s followers.

We mustn’t think that the duty to spread the faith falls only on ordained ministers in the Church, or to monks and nuns (or campus ministers). The task of evangelization belongs to all the faithful, and in a special way to the laity, who live and work in the world. The Second Vatican Council points out that for lay people evangelization “acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world” (Lumen Gentium 35).

This is especially true on our college campuses. The best evangelizers on campus are college students. Christian students are in classes, in the dorms, studying, working, living and playing with other college students. It is here that natural relationships are formed. It is here that the witness of a student living a Christian life will be seen and felt. It is here that students will have opportunities to speak about the importance of their faith with their friends, who will be open to receiving that word because they are friends. A priest, a nun, a campus minister cannot do that. Only you can.

Let the light of Christ shine in your life, in your words, and in your witness. Let it burn in you brightly, illuminating the path before you. Follow that path toward holiness, toward peace, and toward God. And lead others down that path by Christ’s light shining through you.

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Gospel for Today: 6th Sunday of Easter


Jesus said to His disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15).  This is a fairly simple statement, but it describes an essential aspect of the Christian life.  A Christian is one who loves Jesus.  But this love ought to be more than a general affinity.  It is not enough for us to simply have fond feelings toward Jesus and not do too much else about it.  Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In other words, if we love Jesus, we need to listen to Him, and do what He tells us to do.  A Christian is more than just someone who has a general affinity for Jesus.  A Christian is one who believes that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and who loves Him with all his heart, all his soul, and all his mind (Mt 22:37).  And that person seeks sincerely to put the teachings of Jesus into practice in his own life.  

This should be obvious to us.  After all, how sincere would we think someone was if they said they loved their mother dearly and were greatly devoted to her, but then never did anything she asked of them?  How sincere would we think a student who said she greatly respected a professor but never completed any assignment he gave her?  How sincere would we think a husband who claimed to honor his wife, but who never did any of the things she asked him to do around the house?
We know it is not enough to give lip service to one’s love.  Love has to be put into action, or it is not love at all.  Keeping the commandments of God is how we put our love of Him into action.  And this refers to the entirety of Christ’s teachings as preserved by the Church, in both written (Sacred Scripture) and unwritten form (Sacred Tradition).  This includes the Ten Commandments and the whole moral tradition of the Church.  This includes the teachings that sound easy, but are sometimes hard (love your neighbor as yourself), as well as those that sound hard, but should be easy (making disciples of all nations).  
We will soon celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord.  Immediately before His Ascension, Jesus gave the Church a final command:  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19).  Our readings in recent weeks from the book of Acts have recounted how the early Church did just that.  Last week, for example, our reading from Acts told how seven deacons were ordained to minister to the Greek speaking members of the community.  This week we read how one of those men, Philip, brought the faith to Samaria, and how the Samaritans were later confirmed in the faith by the Apostles Peter and John.  The whole book of Acts is the story of how the Apostles spread the faith “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  The Church continues to live out this commandment to this very day.  It is an ongoing story, and it is an ongoing responsibility of each and every baptized Christian to help the Church fulfill this mission.  
In our second reading today, St. Peter gives us an important lesson in how to go about obeying this command of Christ to spread the gospel.  “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt. 3:15).  This instruction from our first Pope reminds us that truth must always be accompanied by love.  After all, as St. Paul puts it, even if we speak with the tongues of angels, if there is no love in our hearts we are like clanging cymbals or a noisy gong (1 Cor 13:1).
Several years ago there was a group of neo-pagans wanting to establish a pagan temple in our area.  As they did not have a permanent meeting site, they were holding their meetings at a public park, and they advertised those meetings in the local paper.  Members from one of the area Protestant churches decided to “spread the gospel” to these neo-pagans by crashing their meetings and shouting Bible verses at them through a bull-horn.  I sincerely doubt a single one of them converted to Christ through this tactic.
Even though I wanted to be sympathetic toward my Christian brethren, I just could not in this case, because there was neither gentleness nor reverence in their approach.  There was no love.  Was there excitement and enthusiasm about the gospel?  Certainly.  Was there great energy and devotion for what they were doing?  I am sure of it.  But ultimately their zealousness did more harm than good, because they did not heed the words of Peter.  There was no gentleness there.  I sincerely doubt that when Philip brought the faith to the Samaritans, a people with centuries of hatred and distrust toward the Jewish people, he won them over by yelling at them.  I rather think he introduced Christ to them with a spirit of gentleness and reverence, loving them because Jesus loves them, and inviting them to love Jesus in return.  
Each of us is called to evangelize, but that does not mean megaphones or browbeating someone with the Bible.  I think all too often we shy away from this command of Christ to spread the good news because we think it means being “in your face” or “confrontational.”  It need not be that way, and I would say it ought not to be that way.  Evangelization is one of those commands of Christ that sound hard, but shouldn’t be.  It should come naturally to us.  After all, if you really do believe that your relationship with Christ is good news (which is what “gospel” means), then you’ll want to tell others about it.  When you fall in love with someone, you desire to introduce that person to others in your life.  This is where evangelization starts.  It becomes more than something you do.  It becomes part of who you are.
There is a saying attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times: when necessary use words.”  I like this saying, but too often I fear people use it as an excuse to not talk about their faith.  It is not that. It certainly was not to St. Francis who founded an order of mendicant friars help spread the gospel.  But it is a reminder that our words are ineffective if they are not reflected in our lives.  Why should someone listen to you talk about your faith if they don’t see you putting your faith into action?  What message does it send when you talk about your love for Jesus, while at the same time ignoring His teachings?
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” says the Lord.  Live a life of Christian integrity.  Put your faith into action.  You say you love Christ?  Then follow through.  It’s worth the effort.  “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.  And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him” (Jn 14:21).

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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