Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and John and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him, Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.—
—Mark 6: 1-6
Unlike the people who observed the Sabbath in the synagogue who undermined Jesus and did not accept him, my experiences these days were overwhelming and so inspiring. I joined the annual gathering of the major religious superiors of men from the different religious orders and congregations of the country in the scenic and beautiful place called Teng-Ab Retreat House (http://www.teng-ab.com/) in Bontoc, Mountain Province in the Cordilleras.
Our theme was, “Challenges of Inculturation in the Spirit of Vatican II: Has the Wind Really Blown?” For a couple of days, we celebrated our fellowship as brothers in the service of the Church in the context of the local church of Bontoc.
Teng-Ab became our sacred space where we listened, reflected, exchanged ideas, and made our realizations on the theme. During our stay, we witnessed the Bontoc people’s Christian faith as very much grounded, lived out, and expressed according to their their cultural identity and distinction as an indigenous community.
Their faith is so alive! The prayers, rituals, songs, dances, language, exchanges and sharing, meals and friendship were “God experiences” for me. They have recognized and accepted Jesus so well that their trust in Him is full.
We were also witness to this Bontoc community’s Eucharistic celebration of thanksgiving for the successful renovation of St. Rita de Cascia parish church. From the start till end of the Holy Mass, I felt the Spirit of God flowing. The parishioners celebrated the moment with gratitude, sincerity, and humility. It is a Church truly indigenous and inculturated, where Jesus is very much recognized, accepted, and followed. Inculturation of the Christian faith means the process of becoming—it is when faith continues to grow and mature alongside a culture that never ceases to be so alive, distinct, and colorful.
Core of our faith
In the gospel account, Jesus was not recognized and accepted in his own place. Instead, his own identity and credentials were questioned. Where did he get his ideas and opinions? Who gave him knowledge and wisdom? He is only a carpenter. (Joseph his father was also a skilled and well known carpenter.) Jesus did not go through any formal study of the Torah, he did not study in the temple with a mentor or teacher. This was why he was considered a “learned man.” It was strange for the people in the synagogue to listen to him, so they questioned, “Where did he get such wisdom?” The offense was really meant for him.
Though already popular as a carpenter, the son of Mary, and a brother to his disciples, Jesus still had difficulties with the powers that be (the authorities from the synagogue and, later, the people in the temple). Despite that fact that he was doing good things like preaching, teaching, and healing the sick, they still looked at him as just a carpenter and the son of Mary. (During this time, Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, had already passed away.) These people lacked the faith even though Jesus had shown that his intentions and messages were for their own good.
Recognizing Jesus, the Christ in our lives, is the first step before we can follow Him. Since time immemorial, Jesus is at the core of our faith.
In 2013, the Catholic Church is set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic and graceful Second Ecumenical Council at the Vatican (or Vatican II). Vatican II called for “renewal” in all aspects of Church’s life. So going back to our gathering’s theme: has the wind really blown? The wind is an image and representation of Vatican II’s call for ‘aggiornamento” or renewal.
In our gathering in Teng-Ab, I have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt the continuing spirit of openness and newness in the Christian life of the Catholic Bontocs. I witnessed how filled they were by the Spirit and I was very fortunate to have experienced it with them, too.
As we continue in our reflection and questioning, let us then ask ourselves honestly:
Do we recognize Jesus as our God? Or is he just a historical person or character to us with no significance and relevance?
Do we look at a person because of his/ her credentials, qualifications, capacities, capabilities, cities, skills, etc? Or do we look at his/ her values, principles, messages, and work ethics?
Do we listen to the Word of God, try to discern, and take to heart the messages of Jesus?
Prayer: Lord God, may we recognize you in our encounters with our indigenous brothers and sisters—especially in our sharing of our Christian Filipino faith and life experiences with others. Help us see you in every moment of our lives as Filipinos and in relation to the colorful, distinct, and varied cultures, traditions and faiths in our society so that we are able to see you in each of our fellow brothers and sisters. May you bless us as we follow you heartily and do your will in the present context of our times. Amen.