Inculturation and Evangelization

No matter our fears, inculturation is essential to evangelization.

If there ever was a self help group worth analyzing it may just be the one attended by Catholics who fear themselves. And not just their abilities, not their mutant powers or evolving humanity, but their own personalities.

You see, there is a fear which has grown up in our time that is currently stifling efforts at evangelization, and it is the fear of one’s culture, the culmination of human expression found at one point in time and place. But it isn’t just that we fear culture out there; strangely many fear the culture found in here; in the life and person God has called each of us to be.

This makes sense to a point.

After all, we who have been raised in a culture of death speak the same language, eat the same food and dress in surprisingly similar ways as our cultural opponents. We are one of them, and this frightens many a good Catholic.

In each time period suggested, the scandal, the immorality, the confusion and the challenges of my time are not present, and that sounds like something to celebrate.

This is why I suppose, many would prefer their Catholicism to look like 12th century Italy.

This is why I suppose, many more keep talking about the good old days of the early Church, or the holy Roman Empire, or the years before the Second Vatican Council.

In each time period suggested, the scandal, the immorality, the confusion and the challenges of my time are not present, and that sounds like something to celebrate.

And yet, every time the great missionaries of the past have traversed land and sea to bring the Gospel to the nations, we find a pattern emerging, a method almost lost on us today as we struggle to understand how to win back this age for Christ. For when these same missionaries went to the new world or the far east, to the northern hemisphere or to the southern, they learned to speak like those they encountered, they learned to dress like them, to eat like them and to live as they lived. In other words, they adapted everything that was good and Godly about the people in an effort to orient them back towards God.

That’s what inculturation is all about.

Inculturation is about preserving what is best about a culture while letting go of its destructive elements. In practical terms that means putting on the life of another so that others can see what it might look like for someone in their time and place to live the Faith. And that is what’s so strange about our current fear. For all the talk about evangelizing others, many Catholics intent on living better lives try to shed their culture, hoping that in some way this will bring others in the culture back.

But that’s not how it works.

The people of our time are looking for people just like themselves to show them a way decidedly unlike the ways they have known. They need to see their customs, their language, and their traditions being lived out in a radically different way than what they have experienced. Our fellow citizens and colleagues need to be able to look upon each of us and say, ‘there go I but with the grace of God.’ But if we’re just going to abandon our robes and accents for something we have read in a history book, then we will be waiting a long time for their conversion.

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