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|March 5, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 213
Words that penetrate
by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large
For two Sundays in a row, I have been at liturgies where the Word read and the Word preached was a Word that penetrated because the community was enlivened by the welcome, and by the elements of the community's culture that were woven into the liturgy.
At each of these masses the celebrant was a native-born African. Each priest preached. And if for some the Anglo-African diction of some African priests strains American ears until they finally tune in, maybe itís not so bad the shoe is on the 21st century foot.
Think back to the 19th and 20th centuries. Imagine the Africans and South Americans and Chinese and Papua New Guineans struggling to understand Western missioners attempting to be heard in the local languages and dialects. And imagine how, despite it all, the Word got through.
On this business about other peopleís language, thereís a delightful tale told by a Maryknoll sister in a recent issue of Maryknoll Magazine. After 18 months of learning Mandarin she spoke to a group of children in her new language. And one of the seven year-olds told her, ďMy friends and I canít understand what youíre talking about.Ē
And yet itís quite likely that decades later, that seven year-old still remembers what she was told and what she was taught. And she may have carried through life what it was the nun was attempting to say.
I mention all this not to suggest that there was anything to fault in the two African priests Iíve just heard. But to stress the fact that to strain a little every now and then to understand whatís being said might not always be a bad thing. We might find ourselves actually listening a little more closely than would otherwise be the case.
The two homilies couldnít have been more different.
One expanded from the theme of blessing oneís children as a sign of recognition and encouragement into what a blessing actually conveys. The other was a homily against war, against violence, against taking revenge -- the widest range of issues under the umbrella of ďlove thy neighbor.Ē
The Word, at both, got through. Yes, the ďAmensĒ and other public assents endorsed the messages as they were being delivered.
But the significance was not in the individual responses. The significance came in the strength evident in a unified community as in both cases, the entire church and each person present endorsed -Ė through applause and acclamation -- that the message had been heard and was accepted by community as a Gospel call to act.
The leadership of the Roman Catholic church at its central office, especially its liturgists, plus its regional vice presidents in the local hierarchies, need to be recycled back into the real world. They need to get the message in their heads about what it truly takes to get the message out.
But thatís not going to happen. The agenda is control. But with the leadershipís moral authority rapidly waning, its credibility at zero, the schools and priests and nuns vanishing, all the leadership can attempt to exert control through now is the liturgy.
What a sorry mess.
Arthur Jones' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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