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December 5, 2003
 
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Incarnation and Inculturation
 
 

You might be thinking that inculturation is a strange topic for this time of year. Advent, Christmas, the Second Coming, sharing and caring are all excellent topics for December. But inculturation? What does this $50 word have to do with shepherds, wise men—or even Jesus, for that matter? Actually, when you put it together with the Incarnation, it is really quite appropriate.

The word "inculturation" isn't even in my Webster's dictionary, but it certainly has a prominent place in the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC). Basically, inculturation means "to bring the power of the Gospel into the very heart of a culture or cultures" (Catechesi Tradendae # 53, GDC #s 109, 202 ). It recognizes that every culture has its own values, codes and practices, often its own language, music, heroes and heroines, and sometimes even its own way of dressing.

Inculturation allows the Gospel message to speak through and in the language and music of the people. It allows the metaphors and proverbs of the culture to speak to the truths of our faith. It uses the stories, the code and practices of a particular culture to help the people of that culture understand Christian values and our story of salvation.

So what does this have to do with Christmas and the Incarnation? The General Directory is very clear: "The Word of God became man, a concrete man, in space and time and rooted in a specific culture: 'Christ by his incarnation committed himself to the particular social and cultural circumstances of the men among whom he lived'" (GDC # 109). Jesus was the original "inculturation" of the word of God.

Jesus, Son of God, was conditioned by the values, codes, practices and even the language of a particular culture because he was born Son of Mary in Judea, circa 6 B.C. If the people around him were going to understand his message he had to literally speak their language. He had to use what was familiar to them, staying within (although often stretching) the confines of their cultural understanding.

Jesus is our catechetical model for inculturation. He used the best in the culture to proclaim the Good News. He never manipulated the truth or the culture, but projected the truth from the very root of the Hebrew mores of the time. We are expected to do the same.

December, the beginning of a new liturgical year, is a great time to look at how we incarnate the word of God in our programs and in our parish. Are we mindful of the various cultures in our congregation? Are representatives of these cultures part of our planning and evaluating teams? Please remember that culture extends beyond ethnic groups. Almost every parish is made up of a variety of cultures, teens and elders to name just two. If you're interested in reading more about this sort of inculturation, read the short article, "A Holistic Approach to Catechesis," from the book Practical Catechesis.

To celebrate the various cultures and heritages in your parish, read the family column "Every Family" below. It suggests celebrating an international Christmas as a parish sometime after the 25th (during the Christmas season). Peace and joy to you and to all!

 
     
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An International Christmas
 
 

Christmas is an exhausting time of year. By the 26th, when the Christmas season really begins, many folks are ready to say, "Amen, Alleluia," and take down the tree. One of the things we can do as catechetical leaders is to witness to the congregation the true season of "the Reason."

This year consider planning an intergenerational/family gathering sometime after the 26th and before Epiphany Sunday. Make it a potluck, and ask folks to bring food representative of their family's country of origin. (If a meal is too much, try desserts.)

The book Together Time: Jesus Lives, Activities With Young Children from the "God Is Calling" series offers a group activity that would be fun for families and singles too. Begin by reading "The Birth of Jesus" from Luke (Chapter 2, verses 1-8 or longer).

When the reading is finished ask the discussion questions on page 5 with the whole group. After you listen to their response to the second question add the following: What if Jesus were born in Iraq today? What would Jesus look like? What language would he speak? (Add questions if you like.) Ask the same questions about other places: Nigeria, Beijing, Washington D.C., Homer, Alaska. Take some time to talk about the fact that Jesus could have been born anywhere, anytime, and how his ministry was affected by the place and time in which he was born. (Read the lead article about "inculturation.") Make sure they know that Jesus' message would have been the same wherever he was born. It just might have been presented differently. Ask participants the third question and have them share their responses.

Have participants fill out page 6. Break into small groups (families together) and share cards that were made and the gifts ideas they thought about. Have groups decide on one or two responses to share with the large group.

When the large group re-gathers, share your answers. Tape the cards to the wall or leave them at the tables. Invite folks to go around and look at the cards. Play Christmas music and invite them to sing along. Merry Advent and a Happy Christmas!

 
     
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Video Updates on Incarnation and Cultural Diversity
 
 

In May 2002 Judith and I, along with 25 others, visited the Franciscan hermitage near Greccio, Italy. We were on a pilgrimage to learn about the lives and spiritualities of Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi. It was in a cave on this mountainside across from the town of Greccio that Francis celebrated a special Christmas Eve Mass in 1223. Francis wanted to bring the celebration to life so that those present would be moved to greater devotion. He arranged to have an ox and an ass standing beside a manger—the beginning of our popular custom of the Christmas crèche. Legend tells us that the Christ child appeared to some who were present that night.

Francis had a special love for Christmas. The Incarnation held rich meaning for him, as it should for all of us. Francis saw a connection between Jesus' humble beginnings and his own call to gospel poverty and service to the poor. Francis also looked for Christ in each person he encountered. He saw the world as so infused with God's grace that he saw not only the connection people have to each other through Christ but also our connection to all of creation.

As we celebrate the Incarnation each Christmas, we are called to open our hearts to what the Incarnation means in our Church and world today. This can mean opening our eyes, minds and hearts to finding Christ in people and cultures that differ from our own.

The InnerAction video series for adult faith formation includes a set of five programs called Cultural Blessings. Within this celebration of North American spiritualities, each session highlights a different face of racial, cultural and spiritual diversity. View these programs with other catechetical leaders or with your parish's pastoral team for ongoing leadership formation. Then offer them to small groups in your parish who are looking for resources to use in the new year. Click here to see a video clip about the spirituality of Hispanics from Cultural Blessings: Caring Communities (RealMedia | Windows Media). Click here to see a video clip about the spirituality of African Americans from Cultural Blessings: Liberating People (RealMedia | Windows Media).

 

Other videos on Cultural Diversity and Incarnation (click on the video title for more information):

• Cultural Blessings: Touching Earth helps viewers reflect on the gifts the spirituality of Native Americans offers us (40 min., adults, part of a series).
• Cultural Blessings: Creating Energies helps viewers reflect on the gifts the spirituality of the immigrants of Ellis Island offers us (40 min., adults, part of a series).
• Cultural Blessings: Living Reflections helps viewers reflect on the gifts the spirituality of Asians offers us (40 min., adults, part of a series).
• Charity: The Gospel With A Smile invites children to celebrate and appreciate the diversity of God's creation. Children learn what God has done for us and how we can reach out to others (18 minutes, Grades 3-6).
• The First Christmas Crib: A Story of St. Francis of Assisi can be used in classrooms or homes as the class or family sets up the manger scene (12 min., all ages).
 
     
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Christmas in the Parish
 
 

This time of year we often find ourselves looking for last-minute gift ideas. One thought-provoking suggestion would be a little book of daily prayers, meditations and anecdotes from the newly beatified Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Thirsting for God. This little book offers a unique and inspirational look at the heart and mind of this saintly missionary to "the poorest of the poor."

Another perennial favorite, The Blessing Cup, is a thoughtful gift for catechists as well as families who might appreciate the dozens of prayer ideas—a gift that repeats itself with every opening of the book. (See a sample from the book.)

During this season of celebrating Emmanuel, "God With Us", Catholics are often reminded of the beautiful gift of the Real Presence we celebrate in the Eucharist. Servant author David Pearson has compiled a marvelous collection of interviews with nine men and women—ordinary Catholics—who describe how their lives have been changed by the practice of regular Eucharistic adoration. No Wonder They Call It the Real Presence can help you remember what a truly special gift the Eucharist is to the Church. (Read an excerpt from his book.) And for those who want to enhance their experience of Eucharistic adoration, Servant author Paul Thigpen has compiled another helpful little book: Jesus, We Adore You: Prayers Before the Blessed Sacrament.

 
     
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"When our children were at home, we had an empty crib for the Christ child and for every good deed, one piece of straw was put in the crib. If everyone was very good, Jesus had a soft bed of straw to lay on." —from the Faith Formation Update board.

 

Share your ideas on celebrating Advent and Christmas at our online bulletin board. Our editors will screen and post your thoughts, and you can learn from others' ideas. Submit your ideas by clicking here.

 
     
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