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The Kerygma and the Circuit Riding First Bishop of Canada

To God be the glory!

Lent is a perfect time to reinvigorate our understanding of the kerygma (κήρυγμα, lit. "proclamation"), the basic Gospel message. In the Church recently, there has been much talk about the kerygma. Pope Francis stresses its importance commonly, especially in Evangelii Gaudium, Chapter IV. He said, "Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma." (link, and link)

But, what is it? Perhaps many Catholics and Christians have not heard this simple message!

When asked what book he used to preach such beautiful and profound sermons, St. Vincent Ferrer used to simply point to the crucifix. That is the image of the kerygma: Jesus came and offered us salvation. "The the power of God unto salvation for them that believeth." (Rom. 1:16)

Before we discuss the circuit riding preacher of Quebec, let us discover more deeply what he preached: what every Christian should know (what, in fact, makes someone a Christian):

The Kerygma / the Gospel Message -God loves His creation, especially mankind -Man sinned and separated himself from God -Jesus came to us because we could not get to God. He died on the Cross for our sins -We have a choice of whether to receive Him as Lord, or not. If we do, we receive eternal life -Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask and wait for Him -By the Spirit, we are empowered to serve others

  • God loves His creation: us. He made man and woman in His image and likeness. (Gen. 1:27) "God so loved the world..." (Jn. 3:16)

  • Man sinned, separating us from God's love, because sin cannot stand in the presence of God, Who is holy. (Hab. 1:13) What is sin? It is rebellion against what God says to do, loving evil instead of loving good. Satan was cast out of Heaven for this; (Lk. 10:18, Rev. 12:7-10) Adam and Eve were thrown out of Paradise. (Gen. 3:23) Eating of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:17) brought original sin into the world, and "the wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23, cf. CCC 385-421) Living a life of sin brings fleeing pleasures, but ultimately leads to destruction (addictions, mental problems, broken relationships), and ultimately, Hell. Because mankind has placed itself under this death-curse through sin, people try to find "abundant life," through religion, good works, etc. to reach God, but ultimately fail. "But I'm a good person," doesn't reconcile us with God, or get us into Heaven, because "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23, emph. mine) "And you, whereas you were some time alienated and enemies in mind in evil works..." (Col. 1:21)

  • Jesus came to earth to save us; the Son of God became man. Sin entered the world through man, so it had to be defeated by a man, Who was also God: sinless and perfectly holy. Man couldn't reach God, so God came to man. Jesus died on the Cross and shed His innocent blood in a perfect sacrifice to God- He atoned, as God and man, for man's rebellion against God. "Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fullness should dwell; And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven." (Col. 1:19-20) The Blood of Jesus Christ washes away all sin, (1 Jn. 1:7) and brings us into a better place than the Paradise that was lost: they walked with God, now God can live inside of us. The victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which sin had taken from us: "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20). Christians believe that "the world has been established and kept in being by the Creator's love; has fallen into slavery to sin but has been set free by Christ, crucified and risen to break the power of the evil one. . . (CCC 420-421) Jesus is the only way (Jn. 14:6) to freedom, new life (Jn. 10:10) and eternal life in Heaven. Jesus said, "Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (Jn. 17:3)

  • But, in order to be forgiven and receive Jesus inside of us, we still have to choose to make Jesus our Lord and Saviour. God always honours free will- we can reject, or receive the Gospel message. "But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name." (Jn. 1:12, emph. mine) The kerygma is the message of salvation! Convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:8), people are asking, "what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30-31) Scripture tells us that Jesus is ready and waiting for our decision: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him." (Revelation 3:20) "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. 29Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. 30For my yoke is sweet and my burden light." (Matt. 11:28-30) Choose Jesus, and receive His love and salvation by faith: Repent (change your ways, turn back to God and ask His forgiveness. A change of life, not just praying a prayer) and believe the Gospel- "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."(Jn. 3:16) Receive Jesus into your heart as Saviour and Lord (Jn. 1:12) and confess this with your mouth (Rom. 10). This can be accomplished by praying the following:

Prayer of Salvation (for renewed faith in Jesus Christ) Lord Jesus Christ, come into my heart. I desire that You be the Lord of my life, so that I may be a Child of the Light. To know You as my personal Savior. For I know and believe that You died on the Cross for my sins. You rose again from the dead on the third day, and You are coming again in glory. I believe in Your forgiveness, and I desire that You help me to refrain from any temptations that would keep me separated from Your everlasting love. Amen.

Committing your life to Jesus Christ is the best possible choice you could ever make. By faith, we trust that He has saved us by His all-sufficient sacrifice on the Cross, now appropriated into my own heart and life. Living on the inside of you by the Holy Spirit, now He can help you walk like Him, away from darkness into light, into service. He is pleased to reveal His plan for your life (Eph. 1:9) if you seek Him with all your heart through daily prayer, Scripture reading (we recommend starting with the 4 'healing' Gospels) and receiving the sacraments. Peter proclaimed, "repent and be baptized..."(Acts 2:38) Baptism, Confirmation....all the 7 sacraments are important for growth in holiness. If you have not received the sacraments, please visit your parish priest.

Once we have received Jesus as Lord, we can walk with Him as a disciple. Daily Scripture reading and prayer is essential, as Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed." (Jn. 8:31) This empowers us to hear God's voice, and brings to life our sacramental experiences and other forms of prayer.

  • It does not stop here. Jesus said "And I send the promise of my Father upon you," (Lk. 24:49) the Holy Spirit. He brings all of this to completion, and empowers us to bring others to the "wellsprings of salvation." (Is. 12:3) How do we receive the Holy Spirit? Jesus said that anyone who asks the Father, will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11:13) We should pray, fast and cry out for the Holy Spirit. Jesus instructed the Apostles and disciples to "stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high." (Lk. 24:49) Those who did as He said, and continued in prayer with the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary, received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: "And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak." (Acts 2:1-4)

  • The power and gifts of the Holy Spirit are for our own sanctification, as well as for service of our fellow man. Jesus said His followers would do greater works than He did! (Jn. 14:12) The Great Commission (God's call to each Christian) cannot be fulfilled without the power of the Holy Spirit: "And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. But they going forth preached every where: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed." (Mark 16:15-20) The Acts of the Apostles and the lives of the saints show us how the Holy Spirit empowers us to serve the Lord in the way that He chooses for us. He has a plan for each person; it is our job to find out what it is. The Holy Spirit is given so that we can follow Jesus supernaturally, hear His voice and do His will. (Jn. 10:27)

St. Francis and the Kerygma

St. Francis of Assisi was a powerful man of God, used by the Lord to promote renewal and revival in the 1200s. He was gloriously converted to Christ, and made it his aim to model his life after His.

This, and because the Word was like a fire in him that could not be contained (Jer. 20:9), inspired him to preach. He "blazed abroad the Word" (Mk. 1:45) with great success:

"According to witnesses, Francis’ ability to preach was truly remarkable. It frequently happened that people who had no religious inclination whatsoever, experienced a sudden and total conversion, simply by listening to Francis proclaim the word of God. On one occasion, when he was preaching in Cannara, a village near Assisi, the people were so moved by his words that the entire congregation approached him and begged to be admitted to his Order." (link)

Once, according to a student who witnessed St. Francis preach in a marketplace in 1222:

"His sermon was titled, ‘Angels, Men, and Devils.’ He treated his theme so wisely that many learned men who were present, were filled with admiration when they heard such words from the lips of an untutored friar. The whole matter of his discourse was directed to the quenching of hatred and the establishment of peace... God inspired his words with such power that many noble families, torn apart by ancient blood feuds, were reconciled forever. And all felt such great devotion and reverence for him that men and women in crowds, prevailed upon him, and tried to tear off bits of his habit or even to touch the hem of his garment." (link)

He taught his brothers to preach simply, focusing on the Gospel message:

"Francis used to say to the Brothers of his order, 'Go, announce peace to all people; preach repentance for the remission of sins. Be patient in trials, watchful in prayer, and steadfast in weariness. Be modest in your speech, responsible in your actions, and grateful to your benefactors. And know that in return an eternal kingdom is being made ready for you.'" (link)

Canada's First Bishop, a Saint and a Preacher

"We must put our trust and our strength in God."

St. François de Laval was the first Bishop of Canada, which started in New France, or Québec. Like St. Francis, and like Jesus, he preached the basic Gospel kerygma, and because of this, his ministry flourished.

He was a true "circuit rider," like the Apostles before him, who traveled his vast diocese by snowshoe, and when the weather permitted, canoe with only one priest and two guides. He traveled like this all the way from Gaspésie to Outaouais, a distance of over 1000 km.

Not only did he travel long distances, preaching and dispensing the sacrament of Confirmation along the way "to the colonial settlers and to the local Indigenous population," he also "encouraged the faithful to establish pious societies." (link)

but he also "founded the Major Seminary of Québec," which was "destined to be the heart of the Church of Canada. The Seminary served as a place of formation for priests, a centre of affiliation for clerics, the diocesan chapter, a distribution centre for tithes, and a select place from which the bishop could “draw pious subjects […] to send them […] into parishes […] in order to exercise pastoral functions there.” (link)

He also "dedicated significant sums of money to help the poor and to educate children" and fought against the abuses of the alcohol trade. (link)

The Church was brought to abundant life through his apostolic ministry:

"During his 25 years in New France, the number of parishes went from 5 to 15, the number of priests from 25 to 102, and the number of women religious from 32 to 97; 13 priests and 50 women religious were natives of the diocese of Québec. Returning to Québec in 1688, Bishop de Laval retired at the Seminary. He devoted himself to prayer and caring for the poor. Despite his illness, he replaced his successor during his absences and died while exercising his functions on May 6, 1708. He was proclaimed Blessed by John Paul II on June 22, 1980 and was canonized by a decree of Pope Francis on April 3, 2014." (link)

Power of the Gospel

As we said in the beginning, "the gospel is the power of God unto them that believeth." (Rom. 1:16) From the Scriptures, the teaching of the Church, and the examples of the saints, we can see the power of God manifested through the anointed proclamation of the simple message that Jesus saves sinners who turn to Him, and receive the grace of salvation. Let us pray that the message of the Gospel be preached with power (Ps. 68:11) to all nations. May the hearts of the people be open to accepting Jesus. Through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Francois de Laval, the first Bishop and missionary to Canada, may all bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laypeople be filled with the fire of conversion, fervor and devotion. Let the new spiritual springtime come forth, as Pope Emer. Benedict XVI proclaimed, from the hearing and meditating on the Word of the Gospel. May many thousands of souls be saved and come to life in the sacraments, come home to the Catholic Church during this holy season of Lent. In Jesus' Name we pray, and place this petition under the mantle and intercession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,

Daniel Devine, M. Div.

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