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 menor 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
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!