By Corey Close
At the end of the school year we here at the North American College in Rome have a banquet that holds special significance for us.
For at this banquet we call the names of all the deacons and priests who won’t be returning to the college the following academic year and give them special recognition for the work they are about to begin.
One of the priests here on faculty goes up to the podium and solemnly reads their names in this manner: “Father John Smith, sent to preach the Gospel in the Diocese of Davenport.” This moment, for me, can be very moving, especially as I advance through the years of seminary and become more familiar with the men whose names are called. These ordinary men — who have studied, worked and prayed so hard for so many years — have now reached that moment in their lives they have been preparing for: preaching the Gospel in whichever diocese they come from.
This is the seminal reason we are here — why we study, why we pray and why we preach. For we do not proclaim a message which is our own, rather “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
But what does it mean to “preach Christ crucified?” Yes, it surely means to preach the truths of our Catholic faith, but it’s more than that. I believe that, above all, we proclaim how the Lord has touched us in our own lives, how his redeeming love has manifested itself in our own stories.
The Greek word from which “Gospel” is derived mean something like “glad tidings,” or a “joyful declaration.” In ancient usage, it referred to the message a courier delivered concerning a military victory. In other words, “Good News!” For these men, though ordinary, have been called to an extraordinary vocation by God: to proclaim his saving message of love to all.
For those deacons and priests who have studied here these past four or five years, their time of witness and proclamation has begun; it is their time to witness to the “Good News.” And witness, in the ancient Greek, is the word ‘martyros,’ which is where we get our word for martyr. These men will not only witness to the Gospel by their preaching in the pulpit, but by the preaching of their lives, by the daily sacrifice of themselves for the sake of their people, by becoming living “martyrs.”
It is an extraordinary calling that can’t be achieved on one’s own, but God can grant this grace to one who is open to it. The need for authentic preachers is great, and certainly no less in our time than in any other, for God wants all to know the Good News.
“But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)
(Corey Close is a third-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)