What is the gospel? Entire Christian communities have been divided over this question. It would be impossible to adequately express an answer in one blog post; possibly a series of long, scholarly works, like St Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae or Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, would ultimately fall short. However, the question of the gospel’s inner identity is important enough to attempt to answer. In this spirit, I submit my contribution to the concept of preaching the gospel to oneself everyday.
A Catholic approach to the gospel is, by definition, rooted in history. Why? Because Christ founded a real community — a community of flesh and blood, artifacts and relics, literature and tradition. If Christ really founded a Church (“ekklesia”), then we should be able to trace its historical development. Without that historical development, the Church as such does not really exist. Without a historical, flesh and blood, cross and resurrection concept of the Church, various autonomous and otherwise unrelated Christian communities simply argue about the content of the gospel indefinitely. The result is, logically speaking, that great and ancient “mother of all heresies” (Jacques Maritain), Gnosticism, which posits that salvation exists not in the realm of history, flesh, and blood (the realm of Christ and the Church He actually founded in time and space), but in the ideal realm of secret knowledge (“gnosis”) known only to those elect few who can crack the code. To address the gospel is to commit to a historical task, a task of remembrance.
An important realization about the gospel for me is that I do not have the authority to define what the gospel is. Rather, in humility, I must accept what it is that “my Lord and my God”, Jesus Christ, calls “gospel”. Anyone other than the Jesus of history does not have the authority to define that term.
Because Jesus alone can define the gospel, I depend on the Church. The Church that Jesus founded in space and time is the Church that is also mystically the Body of Jesus. (A Body cannot fail to be rooted in space and time.) What do the Saints say that the gospel is? What does tradition (history) say that the gospel is? Where are there ruptures from this definition? What have the consequences of ruptures been? Have ruptures helped or harmed the cause of Christ in the world? How do the doctrines of those who abandon major aspects of tradition stand up to long term scrutiny? These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked when addressing the gospel.
When I humbly appear before God in prayer, Scripture, tradition, Liturgy, and the seven sacraments of the Church, I acknowledge my inability to understand the gospel without that precious gift of faith, a faith that seeks to understand (St Anselm), that believes in order to see (St Augustine). It is only when we acknowledge our poverty before God that He is able through Jesus to make us rich. As St Paul said, “when I am weak, then I am strong”, and as Jesus said, “my power is perfected in weakness”.
This is my exhortation to the one who would preach the gospel to oneself: seek the face of Jesus in prayer and in the Scriptures, tradition, Liturgy, and sacraments of the Church Christ founded in history. If one is not comfortable with going “the whole nine yards” yet, then begin at least with prayer and an interest in the Jesus and the Church of history. Grace exalts the humble and strengthens the weak. It was promised by Jesus that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. Let us embrace our poverty, for by it we become citizens of the kingdom of Heaven, adopted children of the God of Light and Love.