Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Culture cleansing

We had an interesting discussion in our Catechetics class last Tuesday as we took up that section on socio-cultural aspect of the General Directory of Catechesis.

I had hunches that culture is a kernel component of catechesis. Why? It’s simple. Catechists and the catechumens do not live in a vacuum, they move in a space that carries with it a specific culture. Hence, inasmuch as age and special situations are important factors in catechesis, it follows that an existing culture of a particular setting should be also considered in mapping out a catechetical program.  In fact, the GDC tells us that in order to make faith significant to the lives of the people, we ought “to know in depth the culture of persons and the extent of its penetration into their lives” (cf. 204).

My further curiosity in the culture-catechesis linkage led me to launch a miniscule research work on how the Catholic Church responds to this mandate of GDC. My quest to find out the answer led me to bump into a decade-old pastoral exhortation on Philippine Culture issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The crux of the letter of the bishops is phrased in a series of questions meant for deeper reflection:

How much of the Gospel has become part of our way of life?
How do we let it penetrate deeper into our culture, influence our values?
How do we make them “our values” more conformed to those of Christ 
in our interaction with one another?

 With all the accusations of being a cold-monolithic-institution, the Church does well her maternal role in grasping the ‘whatness’ of the Filipino culture. The statement of our bishops, carried out by this letter,  is a concrete proof that the Church continues to journey with the Filipino nation. The text—all 15 pages of it—is rich with a profound knowledge of one important aspect of our national life: our culture.  

The letter opens with a sizeable quote from the Plenary Council of the Philippines  as regards the latter’s reading of the Filipino culture.

Allow me to extract the most salient point of that quotation.

Ours is a pluralist society. And a prime factor of our pluralism is the diversity of our colonial heritage… the differences notwithstanding, we can speak of a generic Philippines culture... we can conclude [that] there is indeed a common culture and common social structure that we can truthfully call Filipino.

(Acts and Decrees, no. 18 and 19)

This exhortation is rather enriching. It led me into realizing that no less than our very own, Cardinal Sin and then Jesuit Superior, Fr.  Pedro Arrupe, coined the word inculturation as it surfaced publicly for the first time in the Synod of Bishops of 1979.

But more than tracing the origin of that ubiquitous word, the statement of the Filipino bishops  challenges the Philippine Church to “think of our evangelizing work in terms of putting faith an culture together, and indeed, of putting them together into an ever integrated whole.”

In a lay man’s term, the only Catholic nation in Asia should be seen by her neighbors as a faithful witness of keeping intrinsically united the faith and culture. It asks each of us not to contradict the values of the Gospel as we live our lives as Filipinos. There ought to be no distinction between our being Christians to our being Filipinos.

But then, I am well aware that we are still far from the ideal.

Just last month, I joined a symposium on corruption. The resource speaker, she’s from the office of the ombudsman, told us that corruption is one major problem which cannot only be found in the offices of our government since it has found its way to penetrate basic cultural block of our life as a nation. Hence, Filipino values like pakikisama, close family ties, generosity, etc., should be subjected to purification, since they could be an unwilling medium used to carry out corrupt practices.

As the Philippines celebrates more than 700 years of its Christianhood, it is far from being a real model of how a Christian nation evangelizes.

And this can only be carried out through a sound and sufficient catechesis.