Verbum Domini: the value of culture for the life of the community

Column Kieran Fenn fms#109-113 ‘The Word became flesh’ reveals the inseparable bond between God’s word and the human words by which God communicates with us. God is not revealed in…


Kieran Fenn fms

Verbum Domini: the value of culture for the life of the community Archdiocese of Wellington‘The Word became flesh’ reveals the inseparable bond between God’s word and the human words by which God communicates with us. God is not revealed in the abstract but by using languages, imagery and expressions that are bound to different cultures. Today a new phase is being entered due to the spread of the gospel and its taking root in different cultures. There is nothing to fear from openness to God’s word which never destroys true culture but is a constant stimulus to seek ever more appropriate and humane forms of expression.

A suitable knowledge of the bible is to be promoted among those engaged in the area of culture, also in secularised contexts and among non-believers. Its anthropological and philosophical values have had a positive influence on humanity as a whole. Scripture is a great code for cultures, something that needs to be fully recovered. Schools and universities are an area where this encounter is to be encouraged. Religion teachers should be given careful training and knowledge of scripture should be emphasised as a means of overcoming old and new prejudices and enabling its truths to be better known.

The arts are an area where the relationship between the word of God and culture find expression. Icons from the East are one means by which the Church has expressed appreciation, esteem and admiration for artists who ‘enamoured of beauty’ have contributed to decoration of churches and enrichment of liturgy.

Linked to the relationship between the word of God and culture is the need for a careful and intelligent use of the communications media, both old and new. A particular area of the new media is the internet, a new forum for making the gospel heard. Discovering new methods of transmitting the gospel message is part of the continuing evangelising outreach of those who believe. Yet it remains indispensable that the virtual world is a means for creating meaningful relationships that must lead to personal contact in the real world.

Personal reflection
Much of my own work is at tertiary level and with teachers in Catholic schools. Schools are an indispensable means of transmission of culture. No teacher of a subject at any level would go into a class without years of preparation in education at teachers’ college or university. Does similar emphasis hold not only in the content of the religious education programme but in contemporary means of transmission, media, and internet resources? Much good work does go on but there is always room for improvement and encouragement.

Inculturation #114-116 
The word can and must be passed on in different cultures, transforming them from within through the evangelisation of cultures. This inculturation of God’s word is an integral part of the Church’s mission in the world. A number of local Churches still lack a complete translation of the bible in their own language. The Catholic Bible Federation is one group working in this area, hopefully in cooperation with the different bible societies.

Personal reflection
The work of our own New Zealand Bible Society, aided by the generosity of contributors, is part of a worldwide effort to address the lack mentioned above. A worldwide scripture engagement, including with the emerging generation, has been underway. This worldwide movement began when a 15-year-old girl walked 28 miles across the side of a mountain to buy a Welsh bible from a Methodist minister. Impressed by her enthusiasm, the minister made the case in London for a special society to provide affordable bibles. Thus began a Society that strives to make bibles accessible in all languages throughout the world.

Interreligious dialogue #117-120 
An essential part of the proclamation of the word is encounter, dialogue and cooperation with all people of good will, particularly with the followers of the different religious traditions of humanity. Authentic religion fosters relationships of universal fraternity, particularly among those who have a relationship with God and the ethics of love for everyone. Among these the Church looks to Islam, for they too adore the one God.

Conclusion #121-124
A closing encouragement is given to all the People of God, pastors, consecrated and laity, to become increasingly familiar with the scriptures on which all authentic spirituality is based. Our own time is marked by a new hearing of God’s word and a new evangelisation. A reminder is given to us all that our personal and communal relationship with God depends on our growing familiarity with the word of God. Let us be silent in order to hear the Lord’s word and to meditate upon it, so that by the working of the Holy Spirit it may remain in our hearts and speak to us all the days of our lives.

A last thought
We live in a fragmented Church and in times of great change. Two issues and responsibilities lie at the centre of our Christian existence: to tell the Jesus story (the scriptures – not forgetting the Old Testament that was Jesus’ Sacred Scripture) and celebrate the Jesus presence (Sacraments). All else is development from these central aspects of our identity. We seem to have an uncanny ability to make what is secondary into a divisive priority, to place what is derivative, ahead of scripture and sacrament, our path to relationship with Jesus and one other.

I will leave this series at the beginning of the scriptures, the Alpha point, a challenge to hear how they relate to our own day:

‘We understand God against an Old Testament background. The neglect of the Old Testament and of the essential “Jewishness” of Christianity and spirituality has led to the most appalling distortions of the gospel. The contempt for the material world and relapse into pagan approaches to matter, nature and history, the “privatising” of God and the false interiority which reduces spiritual life to an inner experience of the individual; the loss of the link which joins social justice to spiritual insight: these and many other evils are connected with the neglect of the Old Testament roots of Christian faith. The Christian God is first of all a Jewish God.’

[Leech Experiencing God p.66].