Sacramental Evangelism: What is the Gospel?
I love preaching the Gospel, especially to those preparing to enter the Catholic Church. You get to see responses of joy, of tears, of repentance, love and healing. But for many Catholics, when they hear “the Gospel” they think I'm talking about one of the four gospels instead of the gift of salvation given to humanity through Christ’s death and resurrection. So let us start at the beginning.
The word Gospel means Good News. In the days of the Roman Empire an evangelist was a herald of the conquests of Caesar. When a people would be conquered by the Roman Legions, these heralds would proclaim in towns and villages the good news that they now belong to Rome. The New Testament, as an act of cultural subversion, reinterpreted these terms to mean the Good News of what Jesus Christ did for all humanity by his cross and resurrection, also known as the Paschal Mystery. Christian evangelists went throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming the victory of Christ: “You belong to Christ, if only you repent, believe and get baptized!”
Let’s clarify a few things. The Good News is news, that is, it is not about what is happening now, but about what happened back then. The Good News is the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ and that Christ has conquered sin, death and the devil. It is His accomplishment 2,000 years ago. That is what we proclaim. That is the kerygma. That alone is what stirs up the response of faith.
I like to look at it through these three questions: Who is Jesus Christ? What did He do? Why did He do it? By putting the content entirely on the person of Christ you get out of your own way and let God be the Savior. This Christocentric content really does change the form and function of our ministry, as it moves to a place of discipleship and not membership. Being a member is fine if you are a part of a club. My wife and I love Costco, but I am not a disciple of Costco’s CEO. That would be bizarre.
But with Jesus, everything changes. When we focus on discipleship, as Sherry Weddell’s phenomenal book Forming Intentional Disciples illustrates, it connects personal faith in Jesus with the Sacraments of Initiation and active participation in the life of the Catholic Church. These three things must never be divorced, and yet in so many places they are.
When we detach one from the other, we end up distorting the life of faith and robbing it of its beauty and power, those very things that draw people to Christ and His Church in the first place. Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the context of sacramental preparation gives a far deeper meaning to the Sacraments and invites a deeper response of faith to them.
This goes beyond Catholic Identity. This is the very heart of discipleship.
God love you!