Q: Every now and then I’ll hear someone use the word kerygma, but I’ve never really understood what it means. So, what is the kerygma?
A: Many Catholics are not familiar with the term kerygma, and so they can be perplexed when they see or hear it. Kerygma is a Greek term that basically means “preaching” and is used to describe the content of the apostolic message of Jesus. St. Paul reminds us in Romans 10:14 that preaching is essential for people to believe in Jesus and be saved.
When Paul referred to preaching the kerygma, he was referring to a very specific message, not just a general homily on any aspect of faith. Paul preached first and foremost the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection and their saving significance. Paul also preached on the response required of us in order to accept and live out this saving action of Jesus.
The content of Paul’s preaching may seem simple, but it should be understood as the foundation upon which everything else is based. All other Christian teaching depends on and flows from the truth of our Lord’s saving death and resurrection.
To understand the impact of Paul’s preaching, we have to place it in the context of the larger story of salvation.
It’s important to remember that God created the world good and intended humanity to live with him in a communion of peace and love.
This original state of grace was lost through disobedience which disrupted our communion with God and others and resulted in a state of alienation and disharmony. God’s original plan for our lives was obscured by the darkness of sin. Humanity was in a fallen state from which we could not save ourselves.
In the fullness of time, God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior from the forces of sin and death. Jesus restored our right relationship with God the Father through the reconciliation (peace) of his cross. He opened the gates of heaven to us through his resurrection and ascension. Jesus reigns eternally as Lord of heaven and earth with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we can be formed as his mystical body in the communion of the church where he continues to speak his word to us and to feed us with his very self (body and blood) in the Eucharist.
The forces of sin and death no longer have the last word for those who accept and respond to what Jesus has done for us in God’s plan of salvation. Rather, Christians who share fully in the life of grace are drawn deeply into an eternal communion of life and love with the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
That’s a very powerful message! And it is a message we must accept and respond to.
We accept and experience that message through the sacraments, especially baptism. We regularly accept that message through the profession of the creed and the reception of Communion at Mass. Saying “Yes” to the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection reorients our entire life in every possible way. This reorientation of life is called conversion.
Responding to the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection can be challenging because there are enormous implications for our lives, which Paul speaks well about in his letters to the early Christians.
Accepting and responding to a new life in the Risen Christ has moral implications as we are called to live as Children of God. Accepting and responding to the Lordship of Jesus means that we seek and follow God’s guidance in every decision. Living in the communion of the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ means that we are active members of the church who celebrate our Lord in word and sacrament and become his presence in the world as missionary disciples.
To learn more about how the death and resurrection of Jesus (kerygma) should be affecting our lives every day, I encourage you to read the letters of Paul in the New Testament. Everything in our Catholic faith is based upon this essential truth. Maybe the letters of Paul can speak to you in a new way and help you come to a renewed appreciation of what God has done for us in Jesus and of how we experience our Lord’s life in a uniquely intense way through active participation in the life of the church which leads to greater personal holiness.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - December 2017