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The ‘mission impossible’ of the apostles is ours still today

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

I have asked all of our priests and deacons to preach the “kerygma” during the four Sundays of Advent. “Kerygma” is a Greek word that means “to herald or to proclaim.” For Christians, “kerygma” is a code word that means preaching the fundamental message of the Gospel, the central truths of our Christian faith.

Jesus commissioned apostles to make disciples of all nations by proclaiming the Gospel. When you consider the mission that Our Lord gave to the original disciples, it certainly appeared to be a mission impossible. They had no buildings, no books, no magazines, no newspapers, no programs, no technology, no radio, no television and no internet with which to make disciples.

Yet, the apostles were remarkably successful in spreading the Gospel of Jesus through much of the known world to the east as far as India and to the west as far as Spain. All they had were their memories of their own personal encounters with Jesus, their recollections of his preaching and teaching and their witness of the amazing miracles Our Lord performed that healed so many physically and spiritually.

It was the testimony of the early disciples that captured the hearts and imaginations of both Jews and Gentiles. Of course, part of their success was that all of the apostles, except John, gave the ultimate witness of martyrdom. There was no doubt the apostles believed what they were proclaiming. They chose to die rather than deny what they knew to be true about Jesus.

This past June, Father John Riccardo — a diocesan priest from Detroit, who is the founder and executive director of ACTS XXIX (an apostolate that equips clergy and laity to lead the church amid the challenges of the 21st century) — gave a retreat for our priests.

During the retreat, Father Riccardo observed that in his experience, many, many Catholics do not know the “kerygma.” He mentioned that the Archdiocese of Denver, during Advent 2021, devoted the Sunday homilies to the proclamation of the key themes of the “kerygma.”

Father Riccardo authored the book, “Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel,” in which he divides the “kerygma” into four major themes: creation, captured, rescued and response.

After receiving a positive recommendation from our Presbyteral Council, I decided to ask our priests and deacons to preach the “kerygma” during Advent 2022. I encouraged them to follow the four major themes developed by Father Riccardo.

After the first two weeks, the reports that I have received from our priests and parishioners have been extremely positive. It is not that most parishioners were unfamiliar with the biblical themes, but for many, no one had connected all of the dots for the fullness of what we believe as Catholics.

We have a very different view of the cosmos and the meaning of life than the secular atheist or agnostic. It makes a big difference if you believe that the world and life are the result of pure chance or if they were created by a loving God.

Similarly, it makes a big difference if you believe that human beings were created in the divine image and have been empowered by a loving Creator to be stewards of the world, or if you believe that we are essentially just like any other animal inhabitant of the planet Earth, except for possessing a more highly developed intellectual aptitude.

It makes a big difference if you believe evil and suffering are just part of an irrational cosmos or evidence of a great spiritual battle that has been raging from the beginning of human life. It makes a big difference if you believe that the moral choices we make every day are meaningless or have real consequences during our life in this world as well as an impact upon our eternal destinies.

It makes a real difference if we believe in a God who desired for us to share in his eternal life so much that he immersed himself into our humanity. It makes a real difference if we believe in a God who humbled himself to be conceived as an embryo in the womb of Mary, who chose to be born in the austere circumstances of an animal shelter in Bethlehem, who grew up in the obscure town of Nazareth, who spent the majority of his adult life as a laborer and who ultimately gave his life on Calvary so that we would know the depth of God’s merciful love for us.

It makes a difference if we believe everything ends with death or that the Second Person of the Triune God allowed himself to be crucified as a common criminal on Calvary and rose triumphant from the dead so that we could share in his abundant and eternal life.

It makes a difference if we believe that Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to empower his apostles to lead his church and build up his kingdom on earth — a kingdom not built upon military strength and economic wealth, but rather a kingdom comprised of those who have given lordship of their hearts to Jesus and where peace, mercy, justice and joy are experienced despite the chaos of the world.

It makes a difference if we believe that suffering is to be avoided at all costs or that it has purpose, meaning and power for those who unite it with the sacrifice of the One crucified on Calvary.

It makes a difference if we believe Jesus empowered his church to make himself present throughout all time through the sacraments and particularly the Eucharist. It makes a difference if we believe Jesus empowered weak and sinful human beings to be the means in which Our Lord continues to make his ministry of mercy available through all time, liberating us from our enslavements to sin.

It makes a difference if we believe that the only appropriate response to a God — who loved us into existence, redeemed us from our sins by the blood of the cross, desires friendship and communion with us and has given us an eternal destiny to live with him and the saints forever — is thanksgiving and adoration.

If we believe in the God of love and mercy who ultimately revealed himself through Jesus — his Word made flesh — then how can we fail to share the truth, beauty, peace and joy of our Catholic faith? If we believe in the Christian “kerygma,” then we are called to be as passionate in our witness to its truth as were the first disciples.

We are called to transform our gloomy, glum, despairing secular culture with the joy of the Gospel of the child born in Bethlehem.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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