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Michael E. Steier, D.Min
With all the noise and distractions that characterize life today, it is a challenge to capture people's attention. This is true even when the intent is to introduce them to Jesus Christ and proclaim the life-changing message of the Gospel. A question of trust seems often to lurk at the edges of our discourse, calling into question every statement and requiring that each speaker demonstrate why he or she should be believed. In the face of such cynicism, nothing cuts through this culture of doubt more effectively than encounters with authentic first-hand witnesses.
As the apostles began their proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world (in Greek, the Kerygma), their witness revolved around a simple and direct message that focused on the person of Jesus, his powerful witness and message, the miraculous deeds he worked, and the transformation of lives as they believed in him and became his witnesses to the world. Saints Peter and Paul provide a number of examples of kerygmatic preaching in the Acts of the Apostles.
"What we have heard, what
we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon, and touched with our own
hands… What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you!" (1 John 1-3)
They were deemed credible witnesses because they had met and knew the person of Jesus Christ, and had formed a personal relationship with him. They were able to speak from their experience of their encounters with Jesus. In the words of St. John the evangelist: "What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon, and touched with our own hands… What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you!" (1 John 1-3) They were also able to help their listeners understand the reasonableness of believing in Jesus by referring to the Old Testament passages announcing the coming of the Messiah.
Their experience of salvation in Jesus Christ urged them to proclaim and share God's good news to all whom they met. They took to heart St. Peter's admonition that "we should always be ready to render an account for the hope that is within us." (1 Peter 3:15) As history demonstrates, their preaching bore tremendous fruit in the hearts of those who came to believe because of them. Today's evangelizers likewise need to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that will shine through and inform their witness to him before others.
It may be quite instructive to examine the kerygmatic template provided by Peter in Acts 2:1-36.
"The ecstatic prayer described in Acts 2:16-21 is due to the influence of the Spirit, which the prophet Joel foretold would be especially active in messianic times (Acts 2:16-21);
The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, a man publicly known in Jerusalem because of his miracle-working, was an integral part of God's saving plan as God has indicated by raising him from the dead (Acts 2:22f);
The prophetic understanding of the Old Testament reveals that the resurrection and ascension of the Messiah was God's actual saving plan, (Acts 2:25-35);
The true meaning of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is that he is the divinely enthroned messianic King of Israel (Acts 2:36), bestowing the gift of the Spirit upon all who accept him as Savior" (Acts 2:38)
Jesus' proclamation requires a response from his listeners - repent of your sins, accept baptism, and live in the new life which Christ is offering (Acts 2:37-41).
There is no replacement for authentic first-hand witnesses. As Christ's witnesses, you are encouraged to:
Cultivate an intimate communion with Jesus by regular Confession and worthy reception of the Eucharist at Mass;
Invest the time for study, Scripture reading, and prayer to come to know Jesus Christ and form a personal relationship with him;
Stay united to, and pray for the Church and for all those whom Jesus may send you for your witness;
Make sure that your life is a worthy witness to Christ so that you can repeat St. Paul's words to the Corinthians: "I beg you, be imitators of me" (1 Cor 4:16) as I am of Christ.
When the opportunity arises to give witness to your hope in Christ:
Be respectful, patient and understanding with all;
Take your cue from them about the pace of each conversation, and their readiness to explore a relationship with Jesus Christ;
Make sure that your kerygmatic witness is rooted in a deep experience of Christ and his Church;
Become familiar with and use the kerygmatic template to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior;
Don't be afraid to help your listeners understand the reasonableness of believing in Jesus by referring to natural law and all the Old and New Testament passages announcing his future coming and role as Messiah.
Take courage from Jesus' words to the Apostles before sending them out, even in times of persecution, "do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say." (Mt 10:19)
 See Acts 2:14-36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 14:15-17; 17:22-31. The first 5 were by Peter, the last 3 were by Paul.
 For other kerygmatic templates, see the blog by Msgr. Charles Pope, "What do the "Kerygmatic" Sermons of Acts have to teach us about the New Evangelization?" [http://blog.adw.org/2012/10/what-do-the-kerygmatic-sermons-of-acts-have-to-teach-us-about-the new-evangelization]; and Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples-The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2012, chapter 10.
 New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011, Acts 2:14-36fn.
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