Initial Proclamation of the Gospel: A Non-Negotiable

How do you share the Gospel with someone?

I’m not talking about context–like how or where you meet them, or what your relationship with them is like–but the words. The content. What do you say?

If someone was to ask, “I’ve been thinking about God a lot recently. You’re Catholic and go to church a lot, right? What do you believe?” Where would you start? How would other people from your parish begin to answer? What topics would come up?

When I ask this theoretical question to participants in classes or faith formation settings, I get a wide range of answers. A really wide range. Some people start with Jesus Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. Sacraments and God’s love rank high in initial answers. Living morally, and occasionally, even “belief in the Pope” (whatever that means) are mentioned too.

These answers reveal that generally speaking, as Catholics in the U.S., we need to heed Pope Francis’ warning in Evangelii Gaudium not to forget, neglect, or fail to emphasize the initial proclamation or first announcement of the Gospel–the keryma. He’s talking to us. We don’t make the first proclamation enough. We don’t proclaim it clearly, and instead bury it inside of all sorts of other (good!) catechetical teachings, but bury it nonetheless, in a way that those in need of hearing the first proclamation–young children, the unchurched, and many self-identified Catholics–miss it, even when we think we’re proclaiming it.

Pope Francis writes, “on the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over” (§164). This applies to all of the baptized, not just those in “formal” roles as catechists. When a co-worker or acquaintance asks us about our faith, Catholicism, Jesus, or God, this first proclamation must really come first. Before we move deeper into the riches of our faith and share solid catechesis, our first obligation is to proclaim the Gospel. I love Pope Francis’ “ring out over and over” ideal–yeah, it sounds a bit boring. But the Gospel proclamation is the most important thing, it’s so important that we can’t think by saying it once a year (say, at a kick-off meeting with Confirmation parents each September) we’re done–no, it must truly ring out. It must be impossible to miss in parish life.

Pope Francis offers a simple outline for initial proclamation, “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’” (§164). In our setting, we often have to start with God’s relationship to Jesus Christ, since we can’t take belief in God for granted. But this doesn’t have to become overly complicated. Every Catholic can do it, and there are great resources out there to help you find the words.

St. Paul Street Evangelization has this great looking step-by-step presentation of initial proclamation and suggestions of how to respond. Every person in our parishes must hear this proclamation, and by hearing it over and over, be able to share it, to become an evangelist–since a person is not truly an evangelist if he or she cannot make the initial proclamation and simply prefers, out of habit or comfort, to talk about, say moral teachings or Mass (both good things, but not the initial proclamation).

If you’re a teacher, leader, or volunteer in a school, parish, or organization, I challenge you to stop and honestly assess–can most people in our community share the Gospel easily? Make a clear initial proclamation? If not, then stop what you’re doing and attend to this. No, some might think…we’re more advanced than that, we have lots of devout people….but listen to what Pope Francis says, he explains, “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” (§165). Words to ponder for each of us, in our ongoing individual and communal faith formation.

a version of this essay originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.com

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