Monday, 1 December 2008

Open territory 5

One of the most significant aspects of the 2001 Letter "Ecclesia in Oceania" is its treatment of evangelisation at the level of culture - how the Church should approach the indigenous culture of the people. John Paul II in paragraph 16 speaks first about "inculturation" - the idea of how Christian and indigenous culture come together: "The process of inculturation is the gradual way in which the Gospel is incarnated in the various cultures. On the one hand, certain cultural values must be transformed and purified, if they are to find a place in a genuinely Christian culture. On the other hand, in various cultures Christian values readily take root." Authentic inculturation, which is the incarnation of the Gospel within culture, has been the work of the Church since the Gospel was first preached and today lies at the very core of the New Evangelisation - planting the Gospel anew into culture such that "in each culture the Christian faith will be lived in a unique way." However, in the New Evangelisation there is a new awareness of culture, not simply a sensitivity to it but discernment and appreciation of the culture for the sake of evangelisation, for the sake of Christ. "The Gospel is not opposed to any culture, as if engaging a culture the Gospel would seek to strip it of its native riches and force it to adopt forms which are alien to it. It is vital that the Church insert herself fully into culture and from within bring about the process of purification and transformation."
"The process of inculturation engages the Gospel and culture in a dialogue which includes identifying what is and what is not of Christ. Every culture needs to be purified and transformed by the values which are revealed in the Paschal Mystery."
"The Gospel is a genuine liberation from all the disorders caused by sin and is, at the same time, a call to the fullness of truth. Cultures are not only not diminished by this encounter; rather they are prompted to open themselves to the newness of the Gospel's truth and to be stirred by this truth to develop in new ways. Transformed by the Spirit of Christ, these cultures attain the fullness of life to which their deepest values had always looked and for which their people had always hoped. Indeed, without Christ, no human culture can become what it truly is."
This teaching shows the richness of the New Evangelisation, of its understanding and concern for humanity, and also how it differs from last era of Evangelisation. The New Evangelisation is not seeking to implement or impose a new and foreign culture upon indigenous culture; even so the Church is aware that the cultural expression of the last era of evangelisation is still at work in many Christian communities today. But rather, that indigenous culture should - if possible - become a basis for the expression of the Gospel. The New Evangelisation then, while seeking to employ new methods, is nonetheless conscious of presenting the whole Gospel, the whole Faith, the whole Truth. The New Evangelisation is seeking a new encounter with culture, that by respecting culture, the Gospel become implanted within it. I remember John Paul II once saying that if the Gospel doesn't reach culture, the Gospel itself falls silent. This is a strong call to all Catholics not to live according to our own cultural models from the past - which today require discerment themselves so that they too can contribute to evangelisation - we are being called to take the Gospel to today's culture. This is our focus and our priority.

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