An evangelical Catholic is a Catholic who organizes his or her life on the principles of the Gospel. Evangelical comes from the Greek Εὐαγγέλιον (Evangelion), meaning “Good News” and precisely “The Good News of a Victory.” The Gospel is the Good News of God’s Victory in Jesus Christ over the powers of sin and death.Unfortunately we Catholics tend to think of “the Gospel” as a text that is read to us at Mass from the gospels (note the plural) of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We see these gospels as “containing” the Gospel, but in fact the Gospel cannot be “contained.” There is, St Paul assures us, no chaining the Word of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:9). The Gospel is a dynamic force, not a static “thing” that in some way has some finite boundaries. Perhaps an image we can use to understand the relationship between the Gospel text and the Gospel is the ostensorium or monstance which is used to hold the consecrated Host for Eucharistic adoration. The monstrance can be said to contain the Host, but it certain does not contain Christ. It does not even contain the Eucharistic Christ. Christ cannot be contained. The gospels might be said to “hold” the Gospel, but not to contain it for the Gospel, like the Eucharist, is the Presence of the Living Christ. As that Presence is mediated through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, so too is that Presence mediated through the sacred text but the text can no more be said to exhaust the Gospel than the Eucharist can be said to exhaust the Real Presence of Christ.
Now, bear with me, as I am going someplace important. It is just taking me some time to get there. Foundations are built slowly and carefully.
In our Catholic Tradition (note the capital “T”) as opposed to the understanding held by most of our Protestant brothers and sisters, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) hold a unique priority over the other books of the Bible. All scripture is inspired of God (2 Timothy 3:16), but the Gospels hold the Teachings of Jesus, the Word Incarnate. Just as among the Jews of Jesus’ day—and the more Orthodox today—the Books of Moses (the Torah) take a priority over the other scriptural texts (Psalms, the Prophets, the historical books, etc.), so too for us Catholics, the Books of the New Moses, Jesus, take priority over the rest of the bible.
Now, finally, to the point: At the very heart of the Gospel is Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven. It is the centerpiece of Jesus’ Gospel, of his preaching. Everything else draws around this central theme of the Kingdom.
Unfortunately we Christians have grossly distorted the meaning of the Kingdom in our popular imagination. Whereas Mark (the first gospel written) and Luke have Jesus speak of the Kingdom of God, Matthew modifies this to “The Kingdom of Heaven.” Why?
Even today Orthodox Jews in their various publications and printings will write “G-d” for God, not wishing to weaken respect for the Deity by using the word. And of course Jews, even the most reformed, will never, ever, print or speak the Divine Name (Y H W H). It is all a matter of reverence. Whereas Mark and Luke were writing primarily for gentile audiences, Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience and rather speak of the “Kingdom of God,” he employed the euphemism “The Kingdom of Heaven.”
Why I think this has caused a certain misfortune is that it has in the popular imagination transferred Jesus’ message of the Kingdom to some after-life paradise when Jesus was, in fact, speaking of a here and now kingdom. Jesus taught us to Pray:
Our FatherWho art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth
As it is in heaven.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth….
The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of people who, on this earth, place themselves at making real the Will of God.
Yes, yes, I know the objection: my kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And that is precisely the point. In John’s Gospel there are those who belong to “this world,” and those who live in obedience to God while in this life, not the next. “The Kingdom of God is already in your midst.” (Luke 17:21)
All this leads to the point that for an evangelical Catholic, the organizing focus of her or his life is making that Kingdom a reality in the here and now.
Jesus makes it clear what that Kingdom is about. The entire Gospel is the message of the Kingdom. In the Kingdom the meek will blessed and inherit the earth; those who grieve will be comforted, those who seek holiness will have their fill. In the Kingdom of God we will leave our gifts at the altar, go and be reconciled to any from whom we are estranged, and only then return and offer our gifts. In the kingdom we will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, minister to the sick and imprisoned. In the Kingdom we will pray saying: “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” rather than pointing out how right we are and how wrong everybody else is. In the kingdom we will ask that the beam in our eye be removed so we can humbly help our brother remove the speck of dust in his. In the kingdom we will pray to our Father in secret rather than make a show of our piety in public. In the kingdom we will all wash feet—and wash the feet of all, not just the men. In the kingdom we will be peacemakers and those who are not yet in the kingdom will be drawn to it because they will see that we are the children of God.
If Christians only took Jesus seriously, what a different world this would be. Evangelical Catholicism—a Catholicism rooted in the Word of God and expressing itself through a full sacramental life—is the only hope for this sin-sick and war-torn world. But it is up to you and me to make it a reality by taking our faith seriously enough to be evangelical Catholics.