BACK TO JESUS AND THE KERYGMA

We started this series with some basic questions about our relationship with Jesus. As Catholics, we should all know the kerygma, a Greek word meaning proclamation. The kerygma is a basic statement about why Jesus is the center of our lives.

Here is the content of the kerygma: God created all of humanity out of love, so that every human being would know Him and experience His great love. Our sinfulness caused separation from God. God sent Jesus, His Son, to atone for and save us from the consequences of our sins. Our response is to repent, believe in Jesus and live the life Jesus makes available to us through His grace. We are all called to be disciples, faithful followers of Jesus, and to make disciples of others.

The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into the world, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 Our sinfulness makes us responsible for the torments inflicted upon Jesus (Catechism Sec. 598). However, we are redeemed through the blood of Jesus’ cross. We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:5-10

No matter how good a life any of us lives, there is no one on earth who deserves, as a matter of justice, to live in a state of indescribable bliss forever in heaven with Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is only through the sufferings and death of Jesus that this life in heaven becomes available to us. He is the bridge that takes us from a life of sin to a life filled with the ecstasy of God’s presence and love.

As Catholic Christians, then, it is imperative that we embrace our belief in and love for Jesus and accept Him as our personal Lord and Savior. We have to see Him as the center of our lives, the one who gives our lives meaning and purpose.

The retired bishop of Tulsa, Bishop Edward Slattery, used to encourage Catholics to stare at the crucifix and meditate on the sufferings and death of Jesus with a deep understanding that Jesus suffered and died for each of us. Reflecting on what Jesus has done for us should lead us to love Jesus and surrender our lives to Him. This can be done by reciting the Sinners’ Prayer, in the form below or using our own words.

SINNERS’ PRAYER

"Heavenly Father, have mercy on me, a sinner. I believe in you and that your word is true. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he died on the cross so that I may now have forgiveness for my sins and eternal life. I know that without you in my heart my life is meaningless. I believe in my heart that you, Lord God, raised Him from the dead.

Please, Jesus, forgive me, for every sin I have ever committed or done in my heart. Please, Lord Jesus,
forgive me and come into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior today. I need you to be my Lord and my friend. I give you my life and ask you to take full control from this moment on; I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ."

In our next post, we’ll address the difference that our faith in Jesus can make in our life on earth.

CATHOLIC BOOT CAMP 3: What Our Expectations Should Be

In our last post, we introduced the issue of the low expectations many Catholics have for their faith. Sherry Weddell, who has worked with thousands of Catholics and parishes all over the United States, says that “The majority of adult Catholics are not even sure that a personal relationship with God is possible.”

This issue of a personal relationship is at the heart of explaining why so many Catholics leave the Church and why many of those who stay have a passive approach to being Catholic. It’s not unusual for people who identify as Catholics think that “going to Mass” fulfills their obligations as Catholics. The Mass is, of course, vitally important, but the whole point of the Mass is to unite us in a powerful way with Jesus. It’s not clear at all that the majority of Catholics who attend Mass are convinced that the Mass brings them closer to Jesus and brings them graces that change their lives.

In Sherry Weddell’s book, Forming Intentional Disciples, and an authoritative book written by Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church At the End of an Age, both authors conclude that what one hears from former Catholics who left the Church is some version of the statement, “I never met Jesus in a living way in the Catholic Church.”

So what should our expectations be? I provided some guidance in the last post, but in this post I’m simply going to quote the process and goal of conversion as described by Pope Saint John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio in 1990:

The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people's hearts so that they can believe in Christ and "confess him'' (cf. 1 Cor 12:3); of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn 6:44).

From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God's gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from "life according to the flesh" to "life according to the Spirit" (cf. Rom 8:3-13). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.

The Church calls all people to this conversion, following the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ by "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mk 1:4), as well as the example of Christ himself, who "after John was arrested,...came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'" (Mk 1:14-15).

Conversion begins with what is called the kerygma, a Greek term for the basic statement of belief in Jesus Christ. We’ll rely again on Pope Saint John Paul II, who described the kerygma as “the initial ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith.” Catechesi Tradendae, 25.

In our next post, we’ll look at the elements of this kergyma, this proclamation, which serves as the foundation of our Catholic faith.

CATHOLIC BOOT CAMP 2: The Problem of Low Expectations

As I mentioned in the first post, we all know that many, many people have abandoned the Catholic Church and have begun attending services at Protestant churches or are not attending church at all. At the heart of the reason people leave the Church is the fact that they obviously do not believe that they will miss anything important to their lives by leaving the Church. In particular, the sacramental life of the Church does not hold enough attraction for them to remain Catholic.

The reality is that many, if not most Catholics, participate in the sacraments of the Church with a very passive disposition, with low understanding and low expectations. Our priests and deacons believe that distributing the sacraments is their primary responsibility. The problem is that very little attention is given to the disposition of those who present themselves for reception of our sacraments.

As stated by Sherry Weddell in Forming Intentional Disciples, “The grace we receive is directly related to the personal faith, spiritual expectancy, and hunger with which we approach the sacrament.” She cites Catechism section 2111. The teaching of the Church is that, for adults, a sacrament is valid but produces no fruit or grace when the one receiving the sacrament lacks sufficient faith and a positive, expectant disposition.

A phrase in the Bible that almost haunts me is found in the story of Jesus and the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4. Early in the encounter, Jesus says to the woman: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Do we all know “the gift of God” to which Jesus refers? Do we really know in a deep, personal way the love of God, the depth of His mercy, His grace and His truth? Do we trust Him to the point that we are willing to completely surrender our lives to Him?

Saint Paul often has a passage in each of his letters which describes the full potential of the Christian life. One of my favorites is Ephesians 1:16-23, which reads as follows:

Therefore, I, too, hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus and of your love for all the holy ones, do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens…and he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”

I encourage every reader of this post to read the above passage slowly. As we read it, we should ask ourselves: “Am I receiving a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of God? Have I experienced the riches of glory and the surpassing greatness of power referred to by St. Paul? Do I expect or want this experience? Do I think of the Church as making available to me the fullness of Christ, His divine presence, power and love?

The fundamental goal of this Catholic Boot Camp is not to just pass on more information about the Catholic faith. It is to help us understand, believe and incorporate into our lives the wisdom, revelation, knowledge and surpassing power of the experience of God available to us in the Catholic Church.

Catholic Boot Camp

Deacon Tim Sullivan presented a live series of presentations from February 19th to April 9th, 2019, on the essentials for living a full Catholic life. The presentations were entitled 1. Why Jesus? His Mission and Purpose, 2. The Church: Its Mission and Power, 3. The Person: Our Individual Identity, Mission and Purpose, 4. The Bible: The Essentials Every Catholic Should Know, 5. The Call To Be Disciples and 6. Evangelization Catholic Style.

Deacon Tim will now offer summaries of the presentations on this website. To communicate questions or comments, email Deacon Tim at tsullivan@stbernardstulsa.org.

Session 1. The Jesus Question. Background.

Most of us know that millions of people have left the Catholic Church in recent times. It is believed that 80% of young people raised Catholic leave the Church after they leave their parents’ home. Under the category of religion, the largest group in the United States is Catholics. The second largest group is former Catholics.

What’s the problem? The majority of Catholics don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. They don’t see how their Catholic faith enriches that relationship.

Experts such as Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples, say that in the Catholic Church we emphasize religious education but without establishing a core relationship between Catholics and Jesus. Without each Catholic embracing a personal relationship with Jesus and seeing how that relationship is important to their lives, religious education simply becomes a process of getting information. Students can pass a test but the material they are given has no impact on their lives. The instruction becomes just an academic exercise that does not influence how Catholics actually live.

So let’s start with some basic questions:

  1. How important is Jesus in your life? How would you express your relationship with Jesus?

  2. If Jesus looked you right in the eye, as He did Saint Peter, and asked you, “Do you love me?,” what would you say?

  3. If you died, knocked on the door to heaven, and Saint Peter asked you, “Why should I let you in,”, how would you answer him?

  4. Why are you Catholic? How would you describe how your Catholic faith brings you close to Jesus?