Francis’s Interview and the Kerygma

Pope Francis Embraces Fr Antonio Spadora, SJ
Pope Francis Embraces Fr Antonio Spadora, SJ

I’ve decided I won’t read any more commentaries on Pope Francis’ big interview with Fr Antonio Spadaro, SJ. I read the interview and a few commentaries. Now people just try to use the interview to beat their ideological opponents with it or to critique whether his wording was most prudent here or there. I don’t have enough seconds before I die to worry about this. (I’ve read Francis’s 2nd interview with Eugenio Scalfari and it has other interesting points but I did find as much stuff to blog about here.)

Francis wants us all to say “YES” to Jesus and not just “no” to moral abominations.

This seems overlooked in most of what I’ve read (Card. Dolan and George Weigel being notable exceptions). Francis wants us Catholics to spread the Kerygma. Before I go any further, I know half of you are scratching your head with “Kerygma,” even Word auto-correct tells me it’s an error. Kerygma is the Greek word meaning proclamation and in Christianity it’s used to refer to the initial proclamation of the most fundamental truths of our faith as we can see in the Acts of the Apostles: Jesus was foretold, he is the messiah, he’s incarnate, he performed miracles, he suffered and died, and he is risen. That is the center of our faith.

Francis realizes that the central message (the Kerygma) is not getting through today so the rest of the message doesn’t really matter. If people don’t accept Jesus, the Church has little to teach. As the Pope emphatically put it: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

Several people have wondered out loud who Francis refers to when he states: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” Are their priests who only preach about that? I don’t know them. I think this is a general statement that has to do with 3 attitudes I find present in the Church and particularly in youth ministry. First, the only public voice the Church has seems to be on moral issues. The second is expressed on both sides: people judge groups or individuals on purely moral grounds and groups are set up for that.

Pope Francis shows the JOY of followign Christ
Pope Francis shows the JOY of following Christ

The mainstream media obviously blows out of proportion every statement a churchman makes on moral issues and ignores when he preaches about Jesus. I think the moral obsession in Catholicism often goes deeper: Just look at the Twitter and Facebook posts of active and engaged Catholics. I don’t know how to do a scientific study of them but being a regular on both, it seems a lot of Catholics spend a lot of their time posting on political and moral issues – abortion, ObamaCare, Communion for Nancy Pelosi, etc. – than on the fact that Jesus saved them and is their best friend. Unless we change that, the image of the Church we will present to teens is just that of rules and politics.

Extending this cultural attitude into individual lives, so many parents have only 2 desired results of youth ministry: no sex and no drugs. Many youth groups respond by being little more than drug-free, sex-free social clubs. I admit I even fell into this when I was a teen: I tried to start a youth group at my parish and brought up sexual issues right away. I know of a widely-promoted and widely-acclaimed youth ministry in a diocese I travel to (I travel to a bunch regularly) that is known to focus on “tough topics” almost every time. Or when I was a teen a travel youth group ministry came by and basically scared us away from sex – you don’t want to be pregnant or get an STD – to the applause of the adults.

Now what’s the problem with youth ministry focusing on no sex and no drugs? It is better if kids avoid those things, right? Obviously. But youth ministry is not a social service program; it’s ministry! Beyond that, if they don’t understand why, they will not have the internal strength to continue on. Nobody can say no for a long time unless they’ve said yes to something bigger. Youth ministry is first of all about proclaiming Jesus to teens. If teens don’t believe that Jesus died for them, that he loves them, and that he’s in the Eucharist, saying no becomes a matter of will-power. Saying no to evil should be an act of love of good.

The essential element Francis wants all Catholics to remember and the essential element of Catholic Youth Ministry is proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This is the Kerygma. We should never tire of proclaiming it. If Jesus really touches our lives, we’ll want him to touch others lives; we won’t be satisfied that they avoid sex and drugs.

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