Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation is out and he has a brief discussion of social and spiritual inculturation:
75. Given the situation of poverty and neglect experienced by so many inhabitants of the Amazon region, inculturation will necessarily have a markedly social cast, accompanied by a resolute defence of human rights; in this way it will reveal the face of Christ, who “wished with special tenderness to be identified with the weak and the poor”.[Puebla Document 196]
Some object to the insertion of social justice (inevitably viewed from the left-right political lens) into liturgy and other aspects of the kerygma. The Puebla document, by the way, was from the 1979 meeting of Latin American bishops. It preceded Santo Domingo (1992) and Aparecida (2007).
Indeed, “from the heart of the Gospel we see the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement”.[Evangelii Gaudium 178] For Christian communities, this entails a clear commitment to the justice of God’s kingdom through work for the advancement of those who have been “discarded”. It follows that a suitable training of pastoral workers in the Church’s social doctrine is most important.
One first step in accompanying people for evangelization is just being with them. For curious people, the question is eventually raised: What do you believe in? Why are you here?
If we can answer without guilt or obligation, but that a Christian walks with another person to imitate Christ and expand his relationships, then things can progress in a healthy way from there. One problem cited by a friend who serves as a missionary is that privileged people commit “vacations” to mission communities not from an entirely selfless vantage point, and the “programs” are not always designed to be self-sustaining when the First Worlders depart. This is the essence of my complaint about the poor missionary impulse of the Tridentine vector in Catholicism. It’s not that saints haven’t been raised up from Europe or North America to lead and serve. It’s that so few have been encouraged among the ordinary folk of the Third World.
76. At the same time, the inculturation of the Gospel in the Amazon region must better integrate the social and the spiritual, so that the poor do not have to look outside the Church for a spirituality that responds to their deepest yearnings.
This does not mean an alienating and individualistic religiosity that would silence social demands for a more dignified life, but neither does it mean ignoring the transcendent and spiritual dimension, as if material development alone were sufficient for human beings. We are thus called not merely to join those two things, but to connect them at a deeper level. In this way, we will reveal the true beauty of the Gospel, which fully humanizes, integrally dignifies persons and peoples, and brings fulfilment to every heart and the whole of life.
The Church teaches that every religion has aspects of good, elements that aspire to God, explicitly or otherwise. It is good to listen for these, respect when they surface, and look for the connections.
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