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home : bishop : columns

8/6/2015 9:00:00 AM
Proclaiming the Gospel means living in Jesus

Each and every disciple of Jesus is tasked both to live the Gospel and to proclaim the Gospel. Like the title of the newspaper in which this column is published, every disciple of Jesus -- or Christian -- is called to be an evangelist.

"Eu-angelion" (Latinized as "evangelium") is the combination of two common Greek words: "éu" (good) and "ángelos" (messenger). The core content of the Christian faith is proclaimed or announced in ancient formulae called "kerygma" -- like the one used by Jesus when He first entered the temple, announcing that His very presence and ministry were a new and decisive era of good news ("Gospel" means "good news") for the poor, the blind and the captives (cf. Lk 4:17-21).

At its very heart, the gospel is not an "it," but a "who." It is Jesus Christ Himself: who He is and what He does. The Gospel is "accomplished" in the life, death and resurrection of the incarnate Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, conceived, born and, from the moment of His incarnation, forever united as one in His divine and human nature.

All of whom and what Jesus is becomes the subject of Christian doctrine (or teaching) about Him. Traditionally, we refer to instruction in the doctrine of the faith as "catechesis" -- a more or less methodical and programmatic immersion in the main teachings of the Catholic faith, continuing throughout our lives, and typically intensified with (proximate) preparation for the first sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist.

The faith itself, however, is not a program, and evangelization is not primarily about creating or maintaining an office of professional evangelizers, though dynamic preachers, expert catechists and media-savvy programs are valuable resources.

Proclaiming, teaching and spreading the faith are naturally associated with the process of evangelizing -- or "Gospel-izing," to coin a word. But, since the Gospel is essentially the presence and work of Jesus Christ Himself, it is fundamentally an ongoing experience of living in and for Christ publicly, in a world that needs to know Jesus Christ as its one and only Savior. And the mission of evangelizing is given to every disciple of Jesus Christ.

This goes right to the "great commission" (Mt 28:16-20) that the risen Jesus gave His disciples before He ascended into heaven, when He said to them, "Go into the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15).

One of the earliest forms of Gospel kerygma is, "Jesus is Lord!" Although this is repeated constantly throughout the New Testament and continues to be announced throughout the world, it is never just about saying it. The one who proclaims the Good News will only be able do it effectively -- with honesty and integrity -- if he or she is really living it.

Even then, it is the power of the Holy Spirit working within and among witnesses and hearers of the Word that brings the Gospel home to the heart (cf. I Cor 13:1-13). To proclaim Jesus as one's Lord and Savior implies that one affirms and confesses Jesus Christ as the Lord and seeks a knowledge and experience of Him as one's personal Lord and Savior. This cannot happen without an intentional and continual "hanging onto" Jesus Christ as the center of one's life.

Jesus, of course, is Lord and Savior, regardless of whether I believe He is who and what the Gospel proclaims Him to be. But all efforts at evangelization -- programmatic, methodological, liturgical or promotional (e.g., advertising, retreats, concerts, etc.) -- will fall short if the evangelizer is just going through the motions.

No matter how emotionally or passionately the ads, the retreats, the concerts or the videos in the evangelizer's store are delivered, the evangelizer (or evangelist) must not only tell the good news, but live it personally, day in and day out, and be transformed by it.

When we think of evangelists of the past, famous missionaries often come to mind. All of the Apostles traveled about to spread the Gospel, but they clearly lived it, often to the point of physical martyrdom. We think of those who took ships to countries where they had to learn different languages and to adapt to unfamiliar customs of food, dress and social organization in order to have a truly personal encounter, like the North American martyrs who came to our own region.

Today, we speak of the "new evangelization" of which Pope St. John Paul II and other recent popes have written so eloquently. This "new" evangelization is characterized by, among other things, the involvement of every Christian -- not just the "professional" missionaries. Each and every believer, transformed by grace of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, has an ongoing story to tell.

Have you been inviting Jesus into your life every day? He knocks gently at our hearts, like in those paintings where Jesus, the Good Shepherd, stands in the garden at a door -- which represents the human heart.

You will notice something strange about that door, however: no handle; no doorknob. The believer, prompted by the Holy Spirit, must open the door. Do this every day, and your life will change dramatically. You will become the evangelist Jesus is calling you to be!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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