HOMILY Week 34 04 – Year I
Feast of St Andrew: Kerygma and Didache
(Rm 10:9-18; Ps 19; Mt 4:18-22)
“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your hearts that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
This message of Paul to the Romans succinctly expresses the message of today’s feast of St. Andrew – we are to believe in who Jesus is and all he has done, witness to that faith by our lives of Christ-like love, and be ready to share the good news of Christ with others.
On a trip to India some years ago, I read an article on inter-religious dialogue while waiting at the airport. On the flight I was seated beside a young Hindu computer programmer and had an opportunity to practice what I had just been reading about inter-religious dialogue as we got into a long conversation about our respective belief systems.
I was curious to learn about his relationship with his Hindu gods. He told me it was quite simple – they basically go to the temple to pray, give some money to the priests there to offer sacrifice, and then go back home to business as usual. When I asked him if he had a personal relationship with these gods, he seemed taken aback by that idea. So, I shared with him my belief in and relationship with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as well as my love for Mary as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate. I have often wondered since then what difference if any our conversation made in his life. What I do recall is the feeling of joy I experienced in sharing my faith with him.
Paul is very clear in the first reading – salvation comes to us from believing in Jesus in our hearts and professing that faith with our mouths, all of that dependent on someone first being willing to share their faith in Jesus with others, so that they can believe.
In the gospel, Jesus calls four of those who would be his apostles to follow him, to leave their career and profession fishermen behind and become “fishers of people.” What is striking is they leave everything immediately and follow him. That is not the usual pattern – most of the time one has to discern prayerfully and carefully just what that quiet, inner stirring and voice of God is calling one to. That call will come to us in a variety of ways – it might be an intuition, a gut feeling, a few words spoken by a friend, a homily or talk we have heard – and it may become clear only after days or months of taking some steps to answering that call. One thing is certain – God is calling each of us to some special role or task that if we do not respond and do, will not get done.
Scholars teach that in the scriptures, details are important. Nothing is written by accident, especially when one is writing with a goose quill pen without white-out and without cut and paste, like one scribe we were able to witness on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land meticulously copying a text on parchment.
It is significant that Peter and Andrew were casting their nets when Jesus called them, while James and John were in the boat, mending their nets. These two postures symbolize two dynamics always present in spreading the good news of Jesus – Kerygma and Didache. Kerygma is a Greek word meaning “to proclaim or announce” and refers to the first announcement of the Good News to a person or population. St. Paul was exemplary in this, insisting on going where that Good News had not been proclaimed before. He was certainly a kerygmatic figure, bringing the gospel for the first time to many lands.
Didache is also a Koine Greek word (διδαχή), known as “The Teaching,” or, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” and is an enigmatic primitive Church document describing early Christian ethics, practices, and order. In general, it refers to a deepening of the kerygma, an ongoing growth in faith and the way one lives out one’s faith in Christ. It would include the need for on-going formation in and renewal of one’s faith, including catechesis and study. These two dynamics of faith life should always be active in the life of the church. Casting and mending, proclamation and renewal, make up the process of conversion which is a life-long process.
Some would say the promotion of missions and other popular programs in parishes and in the workplace can help the faithful to rediscover the gift of Baptismal faith and the task of giving witness, knowing that the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate. We are all called to be missionary by our baptism, and the Church is to be missionary by its very nature.
Aurora Living, a signature program offered by the Star of the North, is a great example of Didache. Designed to help people grow personally and develop spiritually, it brings together five points of light: Word of God, care for creation, forming community, contemplative living and justice as right relationships. We are now in the middle of our third year of three modules a year. Folks can still register for the second module that begins in January 2024.
Of course, some are called to a more radical following of Jesus as missionaries sent out to proclaim the Good News to other peoples and lands. Unfortunately, historically, that has been done with very mixed motives, leading to the whole mess of colonization of many parts of the world with terrible consequences to the very people who were “evangelized,” such as the Indigenous peoples in South, Central and North America.
The recent Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada has surfaced much of that negative impact which tends to overshadow much of the good that was done. During that time, we lacked an understanding of missiology and sociology such as has been articulated by someone like Vincent Donavan in his book Christianity Re-discovered: “A missionary is essentially a social martyr, cut off from his roots, his stock, his blood, his land, his background, his culture. He is destined to walk forever a stranger in a strange land. He must be stripped as naked as a human being can be, down to the very texture of his being, divesting himself of his culture, so that he can be a naked instrument of the gospel to the cultures of the world.” (pp. 193-4)
Our former superior general, Marcello Zago, gave his Oblates this definition of a missionary: “A missionary is someone who goes where he is not wanted, but is needed, and leaves when he is wanted, but not needed.” Cardinal Tagle in the Philippines shares the same spirit as Donavan with this statement, “Make me a missionary with a simple code, not to conquer the world, but simply to narrate my story so that those who hear of my experience may be drawn to do the same.”
It is notable that among the Oblates, there was one prophet, former Superior General Theodore Labouré who in a 1935 visit to Canada, correctly sensed what was happening, and told the Oblates they had “lost their way and the vision of their founder St. Eugene; they should leave the residential schools, go back to living with the people, and back to basics,” but they were too entrenched in the flawed colonial system to do so. Hopefully the present effort to carry out the Calls to Action of the TRC, will help us as a Church to be aligned with a more genuine Kerygma and Didache in our life as a church today.
The Eucharist is itself missionary at its heart. We listen to the proclamation of God’s word (Kerygma for some), listen to that word broken open in the homily (Didache for all), receive forgiveness and healing through communion with the body and blood of Jesus, and are sent out (ite missa est), an important part of the Eucharist, to share the unconditional love of God we have experienced with all we meet.