Why do we celebrate two Greek brothers from the 9th Century as patrons of Christian Europe? Because they pushed the gospel where it hadn’t been before and because they weren’t above trying something completely new to get it there. Even abandoning the language of faith. They wanted to speak the word of God in a language people could understand—in their case Slavonic rather than Latin. To let God speak, in a familiar tongue, new words to a new people. And they translated liturgy and bible to do so—against enormous opposition. But God must have liked the idea because their words bore fruit despite all the power plays that pursued them… A great example of inculturation.
Inculturation. I want to mention another example and let it pose the possibility of a third …
Why is this month called February? … In the pagan past this day, the 14th February, was celebrated in Rome as a feast in honour of the goddess Juno, Juno Februata in particular—hence February. Februata means fevered but the fever of this feast wasn’t illness but the fever of love. Juno Februata was a fertility goddess and the celebration a fertility rite in which men and women paired off by drawing lots for a wild night of revelry, debauchery and lust. Sounds much better than our version. And of course that’s because, when Rome became Christian, you couldn’t have a pagan fertility rite going on once a year without comment. The Church tidied the whole thing up, hiding Juno under St Valentine’s toga as it were. Gone was the revelry and the lusty drawing of lots was transformed into the sending of chaste love notes. Another example of inculturation, though a damp one.
The gospel we hear today has detailed instructions for how to bring the good news to a waiting world. The harvest is rich. But the instructions need inculturating. How do we honour the language of our contemporaries as Cyril and Methodius did and speak to them words of good news and hope?
One thing should be obvious on a day like this. Our culture is obsessed with romance, with love at first sight, love lost, love regained. Half the songs we hear are about love and all but a fraction of the rest are about sex. Is this a language completely beyond us? Have we to abandon Valentine to the pagan gods? Or can we learn that language, recognise its riches, and speak in it words of freedom and joy, sing in it the many songs of our God?
1 comment February 14th, 2004