With a second mega-interview with Pope Francis now appearing in La Repubblica and with a wide-ranging interview published September 19, our Holy Father Pope Francis has begun to lay out a significant pastoral perspective that has left at least a few Catholics trying diligently to see the Pope’s words in their proper light, while those same words leave the secular media befuddled. How are we to understand what the Pope is saying?
While there are certainly many “lenses” through which we might look at Pope Francis’ comments, I would like to suggest one view that may be of some help to the average Catholic reader looking for the context of the Holy Father’s remarks: I call it the “kepha” approach.
A few years ago I attended a week-long evangelization conference that proved very thought-provoking, as it emphasized the initial proclamation of the Gospel—what is referred to as “kerygmatic” preaching. The “kerygma” represents the very heart of the Gospel message: that Jesus Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose again to redeem us from our sins. It’s the kind of proclamation that the first Apostles offered their hearers after Pentecost.
And, it’s the kind of proclamation that I think Pope Francis beckons the Church to embrace today as a consistent “launchpad” for the work of the new evangelization.
“Kerygma” is the root and anchor of the Good News of Jesus Christ—and it’s the first step in the work of evangelization. But it’s not the only step in that work. What are the other steps in evangelization?
This is where the acronym “kepha” comes in, and this is the direction that I perceive the Holy Father is calling us to consider. “Kepha” is the Hebrew word for “rock,” most notably echoed in the new name—“Cephas”—Jesus Himself gives the first Pope, Simon the “Rock” (Simon Peter) In my proposed reflection on the process of evangelization and our own particular journeys of faith, “kepha” stands for “kerygma,” “encounter,” “parable,” “holiness,” and “apostolate.”
“Encounter” is what follows “kerygma” as mentioned above—we are called to encounter the person Who is Jesus Christ once we have heard the kerygmatic preaching of His saving love for us. We enter into relationship with Jesus Himself; and as Catholics we encounter Him in the Sacramental life of the Church.
The grace of “encounter” moves us to this notion of “parable”—of story. We are more deeply catechized and evangelized by the personal testimony of other believers, not only those stories of Jesus in the Gospels and the stories of the New Testament Church but also through the lives of the saints and through contemporary stories of conversion and healing, all moving us to deeper reflection on the story of faith that is our own.
Through “parable” we come to an essential moment—when we realize that the demands of the Gospel call us to personal “holiness.” Through kerygma, encounter, and parable, we come to realize that our personal sanctification—our pathway to Heaven and eternity—comprises the everyday moral and spiritual choices we make. We are called to more than this life—we are called to become saints. This is the unfolding of the spiritual life—letting the Holy Spirit transform us from the inside out—the essential fruit of kerygma, encounter, and parable.
Then the final step emerges: kerygma, encounter, parable, and holiness naturally and necessarily lead us to apostolate, the final piece of the “kepha” approach. In the pursuit of personal holiness, we reflect—and act—upon that call from Christ to be His “martyrs” (His witnesses) in a world that must be transformed into God’s coming Kingdom. Our apostolate gives concrete expression to the interior transformation that we have experienced through the entire process that began with “kerygma.” It effectively completes the circle that began with our own first hearing of Christ living, dying, rising, and loving me with all His Sacred Heart. Our own journey of faith allows us to give our unique and “apostolic” voice to the very kerygmatic message that the world around us so desperately needs to hear.
So there it is in a nutshell—the “kepha” approach to the Christian faith. A rock-solid way to embrace what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and a son or daughter of the Catholic Church.
And I think that reflecting on Pope Francis’ recent interview in light of the “kepha” approach helps us understand that the Holy Father is not trying to substitute the “kerygma” for any other element of our journey of faith. He’s just not. He knows that it’s not either “kerygma” or “holiness”. It’s both. It’s not “Jesus died for us” or “abortion is wrong” or “Sacraments are important” or “changing the culture.” It is simply all of these things, arising as they all do from the kerygmatic font of the Christian Gospel.
But at this moment in the life of the Catholic Church, we are truly blessed to have a pontiff who, like Peter himself, unswervingly is our “rock”—our “kepha”—who reminds us that the indispensible origin of apostolate, holiness, parable, and encounter is the kerygma—the proclamation of Christ crucified and victorious over death and sin. Let us pray that any souls now striving to understand the pontificate of our Holy Father Francis will ultimately see that it rests squarely on the kerygmatic bedrock of our Catholic faith.