“the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3)
While assisting in a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, I watched as a catechist read this passage from the Gospel of John to a group of preschool aged children. One boy immediately responded with a combination of curiosity, disbelief, and delight, “He knows my name?”
And when we allow it to sink in–that Jesus the Good Shepherd calls us by name–it should provoke a reaction. Why would God bother to specifically call me? To care for someone like me, who is doing okay on my own? Do I even know what that voice might sound like, or how to listen for it? Yet so often, our proclamations of the Gospel aren’t so bold, they don’t get personal, they don’t provoke a response.
Moving from faith in the cultural, civic, or abstract sense to personal relationship with Jesus is at the heart of the New Evangelization. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes:
“On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must right out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you’” (§164).
Pope Francis doesn’t let us forget that each individual, a unique you, is the object of each of Jesus’ saving actions. And he warns us not to skip over this or to stop repeating it, explaining:
“We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more ‘solid formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation” (§165).
This applies to evangelization quite broadly. At the individual level, it means that when God gives me the opportunity to share the Gospel kerygma I must be bold enough to make it personal, and not merely the recitation of some abstract faith. My message should have the potential to evoke the same curiosity demonstrated by the preschooler upon hearing that Jesus knows his name.
In parish communities, it means not shying away from asking and allowing people to share and speak openly about when they have heard the voice of Jesus calling their name, so that others might wonder, “have I heard that voice?”
In catechesis and preaching it means repeating the kerygma again and again—since for many, it will take many messages to even begin to believe that God really would draw near to them, and respond to this proposition with curiosity.
As evangelists, we can all be reminded that our message is not one of facts, apologetics, or even the history of the Church, but that Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you. When we proclaim this boldly, never tiring of the simple, yet provocative message, curiosity will follow.
Copyright 2014, Colleen Vermeulen