In our Christian scriptures (aka The New Testament), the Greek word “kerygma” (pronounced kuh·rig·muh) means the public dissemination of a truth received from God. It is a proclamation – a message – a sharing and revelation of God among us. The epoch of our Christian kerygma, the high point of this message and revelation of God in human history, is the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was and remains God’s self-communication to us; God telling us who he is…and who (and whose) we are in this extraordinary gift of creation in which we live.
In the early church there was a very clear distinction between “kerygma” and “didaché”, i.e. between “proclaiming” or “preaching” and “teaching.” It was widely understood then, as it is now, that teaching or catechesis can only happen after the key message – our central Christian kerygma – is communicated and believed.
Pope Francis describes the first proclamation with which everything begins, with the words: “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.” (Evangelii Gaudium 164) How WE, as the Body of Christ, proclaim the good news of Jesus with our words and our lives is one of the most important tasks of the church. Because as theologian Michael Himes observes “Christianity is not a series of conclusions that any one of us could have reached by simply sitting down and thinking about them very seriously and carefully for a long time. Christianity is a story about a particular person and set of events in a particular place and time in history. It is a report that requires that someone bring us the ‘good news.’ We need to hear it from someone else.”
Theology and knowledge of our faith tradition are of course very relevant, but its not where we start. We start with someone who loves us telling us the story of God’s great love for us. We must be told the story of our belovedness. Only after this seed of truth has reached a person and really taken root in her/him can we move into the work of catechesis. “Otherwise, it is like a discourse on swimming didactics without ever having been in the water.” (Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap).
The New Directory for Catechesis released in July 2020 stresses the vital role of accompaniment; humbly listening for God again and again with those we aim to serve so as to enter more deeply into our shared kerygma through encounter…the shared encounter of divine love. Rather than talking “at people” about Jesus or banging them over the head with one sledge hammer blow of the bible after another, the art of accompaniment encourages and facilitates a deep sharing of spiritual truths that connects us with one another, helps us connect the gospel with our own experience of life and to adopt a more sacramental view of self and the world.
Our fundamental work as human beings is to open ourselves in such a way that we are able to hear God say to you: `I love you!’ These words, addressed to each of us by God, are the most important words we will ever hear because, before we hear them, nothing is ever completely right with, but, after we hear them, something is right in our life at a very deep level.” (Robert Michel)
As rare and elusive as it might be at times, especially in our busy, noisy, device-laden world – each of us has heard that still small voice within, whereever it is that God speaks in us – and this encounter with the living God is an experience as difficult to describe and impossible to deny as love itself. When we fall in love with God and come to know Jesus as our intimate companion, then we truly commence our lives as true followers of Jesus – taking seriously the things that Jesus took seriously – namely inclusion, nonviolence, unconditional love and kindness, and compassion and acceptance. (Boyle)
We can know every little factoid there is about Jesus and our Catholic Tradition, but if we haven’t heard our name called in love by God nothing takes root – nothing grows. When we hear our Good Shepherd call us by name, call us “beloved” – that is when the seed that lasts and grows is truly planted. This is the love that transforms us, and we in turn will transform the world. This is God’s promise to us – the source of our hope.
“We have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal…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…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” (Evangelii Gaudium, #164–165). – Pope Francis