To accept that we have been liberated by Christ is to accept and bring fullness also to the different traditions of each people.
As the Church grew from Jerusalem to “all the world,” as Christ had commanded, it faced the challenge of planting the Gospel in the wide variety of cultures it found.
Some of the chapters of that history are dark; others are championed by great saints.
At the general audience of October 13, continuing with his reflections on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, Pope Francis considered how the freedom preached by Paul applies especially to the challenges of evangelizing in concrete cultures.
Here is his reflection (excerpted from the full catechesis):
To welcome faith for [Paul] involves renouncing not the heart of cultures and traditions, but only that which may hinder the newness and purity of the Gospel. Because the freedom obtained through the death and resurrection of the Lord does not enter into conflict with cultures or with the traditions we have received, but rather introduces into them a new freedom, a liberating novelty, that of the Gospel. Indeed, the liberation obtained through baptism enables us to acquire the full dignity of children of God, so that, while we remain firmly anchored in our cultural roots, at the same time we open ourselves to the universalism of faith that enters into every culture, recognises the kernels of truth present, and develops them, bringing to fullness the good contained in them. To accept that we have been liberated by Christ – his passion, his death, his resurrection – is to accept and bring fullness also to the different traditions of each people. The true fullness.
In the call to freedom we discover the true meaning of the inculturation of the Gospel. What is this true meaning? Being able to announce the Good News of Christ the Saviour respecting the good and the true that exist in cultures. It is not easy! There are many temptations to seek to impose one’s own model of life as though it were the most evolved and the most appealing. How many errors have been made in the history of evangelisation by seeking to impose a single cultural model! Uniformity as a rule of life is not Christian! Unity yes, uniformity no! At times, even violence was not spared in order to make a single point of view prevail. Think of wars. In this way, the Church has been deprived of the richness of many local expressions that the cultural traditions of entire peoples bring with them. But this is the exact opposite of Christian freedom!
For example, I am reminded of the approach to the apostolate established in China with Father Ricci, or in India with Father De Nobili… [Some said] “No, this is not Christian!” Yes, it is Christian, it is in the culture of the people.
In short, Paul’s vision of freedom is entirely enlightened and rendered fruitful by the mystery of Christ, who in his incarnation – as the Second Vatican Council recalls – united himself in a certain way with every person (cf. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 22). And this means there is not uniformity, instead there is variety, but variety united. Hence the duty to respect the cultural origin of every person, placing them in a space of freedom that is not restricted by any imposition dictated by a single predominant culture. This is the meaning of calling ourselves Catholics, of speaking of the Catholic Church. It is not a sociological denomination to distinguish us from other Christians; Catholic is an adjective that means universal: catholicity, universality. The universal, that is Catholic, Church, means that the Church contains in herself, in her very nature, an openness to all peoples and cultures of all times, because Christ was born, died and rose again for everyone.
Besides, culture is by its very nature in continual transformation. If one thinks of how we are called to proclaim the Gospel in this historical moment of great cultural change, where an ever more advanced technology seems to have the upper hand. If we were to speak of faith as we did in previous centuries, we would run the risk of no longer being understood by the new generations. The freedom of Christian faith – Christian freedom – does not indicate a static vision of life and culture, but rather a dynamic vision, and vision that is dynamic even in tradition. Tradition grows, but always with the same nature. Let us not claim, therefore, to possess freedom. We have received a gift to take care of. Rather, it is freedom that asks each one of us to be constantly on the move, oriented towards its fullness. It is the condition of pilgrims; it is the state of wayfarers, in continual exodus: liberated from slavery so as to walk towards the fullness of freedom. And this is the great gift that Jesus Christ gave us. The Lord has liberated us from slavery freely, and has set us on the path to walk in full freedom.