Written by Michael Fones
Friday, 11 May 2007 08:02
In preparation for our new seminar, "Making Disciples," Sherry and I have been studying the kerygma - the basic Gospel message preached by Jesus, and then by the apostles. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God (and is that Kingdom in flesh and blood) and that the apostles preached Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen and ascended. With all the reports about signs and wonders becoming more and more a part of the expectations of Latin American Christians (both Protestant and Catholic), I found the beginning of the description of the kerygma in the New Catholic Encyclopedia quite challenging.
The article on Kerygma begins, "the solemn and public proclamation of salvation in Christ made in the name of God to non-Christians; it was accompanied by an appeal to signs and wonders to dispose the hearers to faith, conversion, and a return to God."
What's interesting to me, is that the sentence is in the past tense! Perhaps it is an unspoken expectation on the part of many Catholics that God does not work through signs and wonders anymore. Until recently I would say I fit in that category. And some might reasonably say it is "a faithless generation that asks for a sign." (Mt 12:39; 16:4)
Yet as I study the charisms of the Holy Spirit given to the baptized, I realize that it is ordinary for God to work through us so that his power and providential care reaches them, and that extraordinary - really supernatural - things happen. A lonely person receives the hospitality of a Christian and is no longer lonely. Someone suffering in a hospital bed receives mercy from a nurse or physician and not only is their suffering reduced, but they experience their human dignity restored. A young child is encouraged by a one-on-one interaction with their teacher and suddenly have confidence in their ability to learn and succeed in the classroom. Moments like these won't make the headlines of our newspapers, and may even escape our attention unless we begin to look for them. Because some of them may be opportunities to share our faith, particularly if the person asks us, "why are you doing this?"
The work of Mother Teresa and her sisters continues to be a sign and a wonder. So, too, the pro-bono work of a Catholic lawyer for a poor defendant, or the willingness of a pro-life family to open their home to one or more orphans or foster children.
In the Gospel of Luke (11:32), when Jesus is asked for a sign, he says no sign will be given but the sign of Jonah, and goes on to speak about the sign of Jonah as the repentance of the entire wicked city of Ninevah. I would not doubt that one of the greatest signs and sources of wonder for non-Christians is a life transformed by grace. Seeing someone radically change; move from darkness to light, from death to life may be one of the most powerful ways in which God opens up the hearts and minds of non-believers.
In fact, it is in witnessing just such a conversion that has opened me to the effectiveness of "signs and wonders" in the proclamation of the Gospel.
It may be an act of faithlessness to demand a sign as a prerequisite for my belief.
It may also be an act of faithfullness to expect God to use a sign to generate curiosity in and openness to the Gospel.