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Making Disciples of “All Nations” (Part 2)

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

What is evangelization, who is called to be part of it, and what wisdom does Saint Augustine offer us? This series reflects on the New Evangelization and Augustinian Spirituality.

In Part I we discussed how there are multiple modern “boundaries” we must cross to make disciples of “all nations” today. The first of these boundaries is cultural, a continuation of the cultural boundary the Church began to cross with the Gentiles and continued during the Second Vatican Council.  How will the Church consider the many local norms and customs of the people she evangelizes today? Are there norms and customs of populations of people within the boundaries of our parish or ministry site that are not incorporated into the life of the parish life that may cause someone to feel unwelcome?

One of the most obvious thoughts that come to mind when parishes consider this boundary is language.  Many parishes have adopted bi-lingual liturgies to meet the needs of parishioners whose first language is other than English (bi-lingual liturgies are discussed further towards the end of this section).  However, I posit that exploration of crossing cultural boundaries goes much deeper than whether or not to offer English/Spanish liturgies.  What about Millenial or Gen Z culture?  How is the Church adopting its liturgies and activities to accommodate the culture and unique needs of millennials who are passionate about social issues?  How is the Church adopting its liturgies and activities to accommodate the culture and unique needs of Gen Z who are tech savvy?

What about those of other socioeconomic cultures? In the book Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities, Ruby K. Payne, Philip E. DeVol, and Terie Dreussi Smith discuss differences between what they call “hidden rules” among various socioeconomic classes and their cultures. As an example, when it comes to the primary life focus of people in each of these socioeconomic classes, the authors state that people in poverty tend to focus on survival, relationships, and entertainment; the middle class tends to focus on work and achievement; people of the upper class tend to focus on financial, political, and social connections.

When it comes to someone’s “worldview,” those in poverty tend to focus on the local community; people in the middle class tend to see the world from a national perspective; those of the upper class tend to see the world from an international viewpoint.

In terms of how one views destiny, those in poverty tend to believe more in fate; whereas those in the middle class are more likely to emphasize personal choice leading to one’s fate; those of wealth are more likely to see it from the perspective of “noblesse oblige.”

Even from something as simple as food preferences, there are differences. According to the authors, those in poverty are more likely to value quantity in food; someone in the middle class is more likely to look for quality. Someone in the upper class is more likely to focus on how food is presented. The authors go on to discuss similar differences in perspectives across other categories such as possessions, personality, clothing, time, education, family structure, world view, love, and humor.

Not one of these categories would fully encompass any one parishioner or any one person the Church is attempting to reach. However, I present the perspective of these authors to state that crossing cultural boundaries as it relates to evangelization likely entails more than just accommodation of language and even what food may be prepared for a social. There are a host of worldviews and perspectives that might shape how the Church is to reach others; impacting everything from the choice of music in liturgy, to the message of the homily/reflection, to how we organize food and entertainment for hospitality events.

How might someone’s socioeconomic background impact how they view the literature, the liturgy, the environment, the advertising, etc. of your parish or ministry site?  Does it account for the various socioeconomic groups that it is trying to reach? How might the hospitality practices of your parish or ministry site cause someone of a particular socioeconomic class feel unwelcome based on how it structures its language, decorum, discussion topics, food, etc. in its liturgies and events?  Are there laypeople in our parish whose life experience may help the parish cross the next cultural barrier?

Saint Augustine encountered diversity across his various experiences as a preacher and leader in the Church and local community. He frequently emphasized a special concern for the poor and the neglected. Further, while recognizing the challenges inherent in building unity and harmony across diversity, Saint Augustine emphasized building unity and harmony across lines of distinction between groups of people:

“We may never reject the friendship of anyone who wishes to be our friend. Certainly, we are not obliged to accept everyone immediately in friendship, but it should be our wish to accept everybody as our friend. Our attitude towards others should be such that the possibility of taking them into our friendship remains open.”

Saint Augustine (On Diverse Questions 83, 71)

Saint Augustine even anticipated socioeconomic diversity in the communities that would be founded through his example. He therefore built provisions into the Rule to encourage unity and harmony across those who would enter the community with different levels of material means and social status. He did so by pointing us to the common good of all.

Those who owned something in the world should be careful in wanting to share it in common once they have entered the monastery. But they who owned nothing should not look for those things in the monastery that they were unable to have in the world. Nevertheless, they are to be given all that their health requires even if, during their time in the world, poverty made it impossible for them to find the very necessities of life. And those should not consider themselves fortunate because they have found the kind of food and clothing which they were unable to find in the world. And let them not hold their heads high, because they associate with people whom they did not dare to approach in the world, but let them rather lift up their hearts and not seek after what is vain and earthly. Otherwise, monasteries will come to serve a useful purpose for the rich and not the poor, if the rich are made humble there and the poor are puffed up with pride. The rich, for their part, who seemed important in the world, must not look down upon their brothers who have come into this holy brotherhood from a condition of poverty. They should seek to glory in the fellowship of poor brothers rather than in the reputation of rich relatives. They should neither be elated if they have contributed a part of their wealth to the common life, nor take more pride in sharing their riches with the monastery than if they were to enjoy them in the world. Indeed, every other kind of sin has to do with the commission of evil deeds, whereas pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them. And what good is it to scatter one’s wealth abroad by giving to the poor, even to become poor oneself, when the unhappy soul is thereby more given to pride in despising riches than it had been in possessing them?

Saint Augustine (The Rule I, 5-8)
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