Thursday, December 19, 2013

Inculturating the Gospel

One of the lectures, recently given by the Catholic University department of spirituality, and written up in the Peace Weekly, considered the culture at the time of Jesus and the way we should look upon any culture.  When the priest-lecturer talked about culture, it was not the intellectual or the literary culture of any one time, but the reality that most people were living, which is always in a period of flux; the culture we are living in today, for instance, is  decidedly not that of 10 or 20 years ago, he says.

When we speak of Jesus, we have to speak of the Gospels. And when we speak of the culture of the Gospel, we need to see it as a challenge to the prevalent culture, and as harboring a desire to change it.

Though Jesus lived 2000 years ago, the meaning he has always had for all of us is our response in faith, present now and real, and requires that we understand the culture in which Jesus lived. It was a time when the Roman polytheistic religions were entering the Semitic culture of Israel, which led to a clash of cultures. Polytheistic religions were also part of the Greek culture at that time. The Gods of the Romans and Greeks were thought, by the wisest men of those times, to be the most reasonable explanation for the existence of humans and the world. For the Jews, knowledge of the supernatural was revealed truth, something received as grace. This was the big difference between the alien religions and  the Jewish religion.

The Peace Weekly article explains that the Jews at the time of Jesus believed in the law but were divided into different factions: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and the like. The Temple was a place that united them and after its destruction, the Scriptures became their guide. St. Paul had to contend with the challenges presented by this Semitic culture and by the polytheistic cultures of the neighboring countries by relying on the culture of the Gospels.

The religious desire is to please God and the usual way was by means of ritual. Christians, according to the priest, have  the same desire. We have ceremonies, including the liturgy. But with the Christian, it doesn't begin with us but with God. God gave us everything; we give thanks for what we have received, and the liturgy is the way we do it.  The means are the same but the ways they are used are different. The Gospel that Jesus proclaimed is intended to change the established culture, when that is necessary for us to find a more abundant life.

The Gospel is an absolute value. It can't be compromised and seeks to challenge the prevailing culture, showing where it is wrong, what and how to change it.  This is the work of a Christian. We have to know what can't be negotiated and what can. We try to foster this Christian culture in what we do and say, always asking, what is it that we believe? When we live the Gospel, we are not only fostering our religious culture but at the same time inculturating our Gospel values into our present culture providing it with a more humanly fulfilling alternative. 

In order to do this, we have to meet Christ in our own lives; without this encounter we will not  succeed in building up an attractive alternative to the surrounding culture. This goal has to be at the core of our efforts, as we continually seek to live it. When this becomes our personal culture, we will be living and   transmitting the  Gospel at the same time. Shouldn't this be the goal of all of us during this time of preparation for Christmas?

No comments:

Post a Comment