The Kerygma: Why Is this Odd Sounding Word so Important?
Kerygma (pronounced kuh-rig-muh) is a word with which you may be unfamiliar. That is because it is a word you will never hear outside the church. If it looks or sounds funny, it is because it is a Greek word. According to Merriam-Webster it is defined as “the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ” and it is the heart of the mission to which we as Catholics are all called.
What Exactly Is the Kerygma?
As the definition notes, the kerygma is the proclamation that Jesus is necessary for salvation. But how do we proclaim this in a way that the modern world will understand? Pope Benedict XVI summed it up in the following manner,
“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus Caritas Est)
For far too long, the modern world has reduced the faith to a set of moral principles against which it is now rebelling.
Responding with a moral defense is natural, but often not fruitful. Lives are rarely transformed via argument. However, relationships with other people have the power to radically influence us and cause our life to take on a “new horizon”. Anyone who is married or has had children knows the truth of this statement.
Hence, the kerygma centers on reintroducing our culture to a person who provides a solution to the ills we each carry. St. Peter states the kerygma like this,
“Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it… Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified. 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?” 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. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”” (Acts 2:22-24,36-39).
A close reading reveals 4 key points at the heart of the kerygma. First, sin is a reality. Second, deliverance from sin is possible. Third, Jesus is the only one with the power to deliver from sin and He has proved this power through mighty deeds and His triumph over death. Finally, He can give the power to live in freedom from sin.
The Message of the Kerygma in the Modern World?
So how does one proclaim the kerygma to a world that does not seem to care? I always begin with a simple question, “Are you happy?” If you ask most people this question, you will get a complex answer. Most will immediately respond “yes”, but if they pause and really think about it they will admit that they are not completely happy. So, the question arises, “why not?” The answer always lies in our inability to fully live out relationships of love. Perhaps we struggle with anger, greed, dishonesty, lust, or a multitude of other failings. When put in these terms, we all have a recognition of sin.
However, we need a solution and that is the kerygma of Jesus Christ. He came to die for our sins, but not only to die for sins. He also came that we might be able to triumph over them. That we might live differently. In other words, He gives us a new power, as Peter says He gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is what I call the “Gospel-Gospel” or good-good news.
This Gospel-Gospel is only possible through Jesus Christ. It is why moral arguments fail. They cannot provide us a new horizon because they do not provide the power to live differently. However, a living and loving relationship with Jesus Christ does just that.
How Do We Proclaim the Kerygma?
The best way to proclaim the kerygma is through witness. Peter notes that Jesus was commended by God through mighty works and deeds of which he was a witness. A simple way to identify the kerygma in our own lives is to ask ourselves the simple question, “Why do I believe in God.?” In response, each of us can likely point to an event or experience which is the cause of our belief. This is the point of encounter which provided our new horizon. So, I encourage you to reflect on this moment in your own life and share it with others so that they, like us, may meet Jesus Christ and be directed to a new horizon.