Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Being a Personal Witness for Christ

In my Master Catechist certification class a few months ago, we learned a new word -- "kerygma."

Actually, it really is not a new word, I've read it or heard it many times before, but it is one of those "big" words that I have struggled trying to remember the meaning of. For instance, I had to look up the definition of "hermeneutics" a couple dozen of times before it stuck in my brain. I am more of a plain speaker, who likes to use more common words. I am not against using "big" words when appropriate, but I do not much care for the use of jargon. And then there is the problem of some people wanting to appear more impressive by their use of jargon and technical language -- have you ever read a dissertation? I'm not suggesting that our instructor used this particular word inappropriately -- after all, it is a course about both substance and methodology of catechesis (the latter being "pedagogy," to use another big word) -- I am merely pointing out my difficulty in remembering such technical language (the Greek words especially are Greek to me).

But when I read the following, the thought popped into my head, oh, this is about kerygma. Looking up the word just in case -- the proclamation, from a personal perspective, of the Good News, especially the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ in forgiveness of sin, as distinct from teaching or instruction -- I think that I got it right.

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Second Vespers of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls
January 25, 2010

. . . Paul, although he kept an intense memory of his own past as a persecutor of Christians, did not hesitate to call himself an Apostle. The basis for such a title was, for him, his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, which became the start of tireless missionary activity, in which he would spend his every energy to announce to all peoples the Christ whom he had personally met. . . .

Paul's testimony would reach its peak in his martyrdom, when not far from here, he would prove his faith in Christ who conquers death.

The dynamic in the experience of Paul is the same that we find in the pages of the Gospel we just heard. The disciples of Emmaus, after having recognized the Risen Lord, went back to Jerusalem and found the Eleven gathered together with the others.

The Risen Christ appeared to them, comforted them, won over their fears and doubts, ate a meal with them and opened their hearts to the intelligence of the Scriptures, pointing out what should happen and what would become the nucleus of the Christian announcement.

Jesus affirmed: "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk 24,46-47).

These are the events that His disciples of the first hour, first of all, and then the followers of Christ in every time and every place, would bear witness to.

It is important, however, to underscore that this testimony, then as now, comes from an encounter with the Risen One, that it is nourished by a constant relation with Him, and inspired by profound love for Him.

Only he who has experienced Christ present and living - "Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself" (Lk 24,39) - sits at table with Him, listens to Him with ardent heart, can be His witness.

For this, Jesus promised His disciples and each of us powerful assistance from on high, a new presence, that of the Holy Spirit, a gift of the Risen Christ, who guides us to the whole truth: "And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you" (Lk 24,49), He tells the Eleven and us.

The Eleven would give their whole life to announce the good news of the death and resurrection of the Lord, and almost all of them would seal their testimony with the blood of martyrdom, the fertile seed that has produced such an abundant harvest. . . .

In teaching and preparing students for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, these remarks of Pope Benedict would seem to be especially apt. Whereas Baptism is about coming from the world into the Church, Confirmation is about being sent from the Church back into the world to be a witness for Christ. Confirmation is about being a complete Christian. Rather than being merely a member of the Church, the confirmed Catholic is joined to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News, both in words of truth and deeds of love.

As kerygma (?), this means giving witness by "testifying" about Jesus Christ. One can only "testify" to what one personally knows, about what he has personally seen and what he has personally experienced. And this is important, both for the catechist and for the person who is sent out to be a witness upon Confirmation.

Spreading the Gospel, teaching about the Faith, is more -- or at least it should be more -- than a mere academic exercise, a dry and purely intellectual provision of religious knowledge. The Christian Faith is more than a set of facts, ours is a living faith. It is more than inanimate words on the page, mere ink on paper, it is about the Living Word. Thus, in spreading the Gospel and teaching the Faith, it is essential that we include our own personal experience, we involve our own personal encounter with the Lord. We must let others see that we believe what it is that we proclaim -- that Jesus is the Christ and Lord who has reconciled man to God by the forgiveness of sins in His death, so that man might have eternal life in His Resurrection -- that it is true and that it is the way and the life, our life.

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