One of the issues that has arisen during the kafuffle over “Evangelical Catholicism” here at ID and over at Standing on My Head and several other blogs during the past week is exactly what is the content of initial proclamation of the gospel . If we proclaim Christ to the unchurched and unbelievers without simultaneously proclaiming the Church, are we somehow proclaiming a Protestant gospel of “me and Jesus” Christianity?
In the course of working on previous incarnations of Making Disciples, I set out to closely read and take meticulous notes on every significant mention of proclamation and evangelization in Church teaching in the Second Vatican Council and since. It took me ten - 12 hour days but I did it. I ended up with 59 pages of nothing but magisterial quotes on the topic, organized by subject. This I used to produce a one hour presentation on the subject for Making Disciples. (For those who are wondering, this is typically how we go about preparing our presentations. We are not at all casual about trying to teach with the Church.)
So this morning, I returned to this hard won document and simply bolded every mention of “proclamation”, “Christ”, and “Church” to highlight exactly how the magisterial teaching understands the content of the kerygma and its relationship to the Church.
First of all, we need to grasp that in the Church’s understanding, initial proclamation of the gospel is not catechesis. There are two critical stages that occur before “initiatory catechesis” but which Catholics hardly ever address in our pastoral practice: “pre-evangelization” and “initial announcement of the Gospel.”
We leap right into catechesis which is why we 1) tend to confuse catechesis and kerygma; 2) are not very successful in fostering intentional discipleship.
As Catechesis in Our Time, 19 puts it, many Catholics are “still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
According to the National Directory for Catechesis, p. 49, the stages are:
1. Pre-evangelization: Preparation for first proclamation of the Gospel - “non-believers, the indifferent”
2. Initial announcement of the Gospel
– “Non-believers, those who have chosen not to believe, those who follow other religions, children of Christians. those who may have been baptized but have little or no awareness of their Baptism and . . . live on the margins of Christian life.”
3. Initiatory Catechesis: introduce the life of faith, the Liturgy, and the charity
– “Catechumens, those who are coming to the Catholic faith from another Christian tradition, Catholics who needs to complete their initiation, children and the young.”
The question before us right now is not “What is the fullness of the teaching of the Church” but “what is the content of #2: “Initial announcement of the Gospel” which is directed to both the unbaptized and the baptized who are unchurched, unbelieving, lapsed, or weak and marginalized in the practice of the faith.
The short answer: Initial proclamation is always about Christ, not the Church.
Proclamation of Christ is the
of evangelization. (Mission of the Redeemer, 44)
Proclamation of Christ is the primary mission of the Church
Proclamation of Christ births the Church
Proclamation of Christ is the doorway into the Church
(Mission of the Redeemer, 44, Evangelization in Our Time, 27)
The Church does not proclaim herself, she proclaims her Lord which naturally leads the new believer to baptism and membership in the Church.
The universal catechism puts it this way: Salvation comes from God alone: but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother; “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.” (Faustus of Riez, De Spiritu Sancto, 1,2: PL 62,11.)
To whom do we proclaim Christ?
*Catholics with weak faith or who are badly catechized (including the “practicing”).
*Catholics who “need to know Jesus Christ in a light different from the instruction they received as children.”
*The baptized but non-practicing
. . .there is a very large number of baptized people who for the most part have not formally renounced their Baptism but who are entirely indifferent to it . . . The resistance . . . takes the form of inertia and the slightly hostile attitude of the person who feels that he is one of the family, who claims to know it all and to have tried it all and who no longer believes it.
– Evangelization in the Modern World 56
*All humanity (not just Catholics)
“invite all people in the United States . . .to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ so they may come to join us in the fullness of the Catholic faith.”
US Bishops, Go and Make Disciples:
We have got to stop confusing our internal culture wars with the mission of evangelization. Our situation is that many, many baptized adult Catholics, practicing or not, have never heard and personally embraced the proclamation of the kerygma about Christ. They were baptized as infants and that baptism was never followed up by the necessary, clear, initial proclamation of the gospel (which is different from catechesis, remember) when they reached the age of reason and responsibility.
Baptism without the response of personal faith in Christ is salvific for an infant because personal response is impossible at that age; it is not salvific for an adult.
Proclaiming Christ is not about "me and Jesus". It is taking seriously the Church's teaching that the preaching of the kerygma awakens initial faith and that without the response of personal faith and hope in Christ, of incipient love, and repentance for sin, adult membership in the Church alone does not save. Even a merely intellectual faith in the Church’s teaching alone does not save. (The Council of Trent called mere intellectual or dogmatic faith “fides informis” and clearly taught that it does not save.)