Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: "missionary disciples", "inculturation" and "popular piety"

In Chapter 3 of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis turns his attention to "The Proclamation of the Gospel". In a section headed "We are all missionary disciples" (n.119 ff) Pope Francis writes (n.120):
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients.
Though he acknowledges the desire for a training or formation for evangelising (cf n.121), Pope Francis is clear that all are called to evangelise and that the answering of that call should not be put off on the grounds that training is needed. The genius of a number of movements or organisations in the Church lies precisely in their ability to empower for evangelising activity Catholics who would otherwise not engage in such activity. I know, for example, of the impression that my own mother made on her contemporaries in her teens/twenties - inspired by their engagement in a Young Christian Worker section in a Lancashire cotton town. (It also prompted her to become an active trade unionist.) The Legion of Mary likewise, and perhaps notably in this context because of its espousal of a "master and apprentice" system of formation (cf p.66 of the Legion Handbook):
The notion is general that the formation of apostles is mainly a matter of listening to lectures and studying textbooks. But the Legion believes that such formation cannot be effective at all without the accompaniment of the work itself; and indeed that talk about the apostolate, divorced from the actual work, can have the opposite effect to that intended.
The system of the "Generazione nuova" (Gen) within the Focolare is similar, with members of the older age groups acting as animators for the younger participants.

In these first pages of Chapter 3, Pope Francis also addresses the question of culture in the context of evangelisation. It is interesting to read how, treating first of the notion of culture, Pope Francis then goes onto speak of the Christian faith being received within the culture of a person (nn.115-117):
The human person is always situated in a culture: “nature and culture are intimately linked”. Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it.
Rather than the culture changing the Gospel, it is the Gospel that permeates the culture. Inculturation is less an adaptation of the Gospel and more an insertion of the Gospel in the culture.

It is also interesting to note what one can be forgiven for thinking is Pope Francis prime model of a practice of a Christian faith that is truly inculturated: the practice of popular piety (cf Evangelii Gaudium nn.122-126). This is, of course, a very different understanding of inculturation than that which is sometimes proposed.
Once the Gospel has been inculturated in a people, in their process of transmitting their culture they also transmit the faith in ever new forms; hence the importance of understanding evangelization as inculturation. Each portion of the people of God, by translating the gift of God into its own life and in accordance with its own genius, bears witness to the faith it has received and enriches it with new and eloquent expressions. ... Herein lies the importance of popular piety, a true expression of the spontaneous missionary activity of the people of God...
Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on. 
Pope Francis argues strongly, in three sentences, each of considerable significance, that the practices of popular piety - perhaps more lively in his home continent than in Europe - are an expression of a substantive theological insight:
Only from the affective connaturality born of love can we appreciate the theological life present in the piety of Christian peoples, especially among their poor....No one who loves God’s holy people will view these actions as the expression of a purely human search for the divine. They are the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). 
Pope Francis' final thought on inculturation comes at the end of this section of Chapter 3, where he considers the need to proclaim the Gospel to different cultures (nn.132-134), and suggests an evangelising import of the work of theologians:
Proclaiming the Gospel message to different cultures also involves proclaiming it to professional, scientific and academic circles. This means an encounter between faith, reason and the sciences with a view to developing new approaches and arguments on the issue of credibility, a creative apologetics...
A theology – and not simply a pastoral theology – which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences is most important for our discernment on how best to bring the Gospel message to different cultural contexts and groups.The Church, in her commitment to evangelization, appreciates and encourages the charism of theologians and their scholarly efforts to advance dialogue with the world of cultures and sciences. I call on theologians to carry out this service as part of the Church’s saving mission. In doing so, however, they must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology.  

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