Proclaiming the truth of the Gospel is showing, not just telling.
In several passages of the Gospel, we read that Jesus taught and proclaimed the good news. I always wondered about the use of these two verbs. Why do we need two words for an activity that is seemingly the same? Praying about this, I came to realize that they truly refer to different things.
Teaching is used when a certain content of truth is conveyed, e.g. when one explains the meaning of a certain passage of the Bible, or explains the effects of Baptism, or teaches on the different commandments and how to fulfill them, and so on. Clearly, Jesus did this kind of teaching. We have, for example, the Sermon of the Mount (Mt 5-7), the teachings on the life of the disciples in the Church (Mt 18), or several teachings referred to laws of the spiritual life, as we can see in many of the Lord’s parables.
But then there is “proclamation,” which means to point, not so much to a fixed content, spiritual law or commandment, but rather to what God is doing here and now, or what He is about to do.
For instance, Jesus says: “Destroy this temple, and I will build it up in three days.” (Jn 2) This is a clear reference to Christ’s passion and resurrection. Jesus is not simply saying, “This is how the building of a temple works”. He is indicating: “God is about to give His Son for the life of the world; you will be celebrating the Son’s apparent destruction, but the Father will raise Him up.”
Or when Jesus says: “Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21) What Jesus does here is not simply provide an interpretation on the passage of Isaiah 61:1-2. He is rather pointing to something that God is doing: the Father is sending His messenger to free captive humanity. The phrase is bringing to light what the Lord is actually performing – an activity usually hidden to human eyes – and using the words of Scripture to describe it.
I find that this still happens in the context of the Church today.
Sometimes we simply teach. We impart an instruction on the sacraments, Christian life, the Creed, or the history of the Church. But many times we may also receive the gift of proclamation.
In that case, we are led to point to something that the Lord is doing or wants to do in a person’s life. In performing a work of mercy towards someone in need, we may come to realize that Christ wanted to extend his compassion towards that person through us. When inviting someone to a retreat, we later discover that it was the Holy Spirit working through our invitation. At times, the most common form of “proclamation” takes place after the fact, in the form of testimony, when we tell others: “Now I realize that this is something that God brought about in my life.”
But on other occasions we may be given also the gift of real-time proclamation, when we are given the knowledge of something that God is doing while we speak or act. At times, we can discern “patterns,” what the Lord has been doing or begun in a community, so that we may encourage the members of that community to be open to God’s guidance and may cooperate with it.
Let me give you an example of what I mean – it will be one of “after-the-fact” proclamation. Many priests of the Society Saint John in Argentina have shared that in recent years that many high school and college students who are part of our programs there have been profoundly impacted by the retreats and missions. This resulted in an unintended consequence: their parents were also drawn to reconsider the Catholic faith.
I remember in particular the story I was told of a woman who was a psychiatrist who specialized in teenagers. She considered herself an atheist. Her own daughter had been battling with depression for a long time, and she had lost hope of finding a solution for her daughter. But then her daughter was invited to a retreat by some friends at school, and her life changed dramatically. She was a new person. Her mother was stunned and said to herself: “I need to find out what this is about.”