Tag Archives: language

6 November: reasonable to refuse?

Fisherman and child, Mallaig, Scotland.

When Doctor Johnson travelled to Scotland in 1773, the 1745 campaign of Bonnie Prince Charlie to regain the throne and the subsequent reprisals from George II were still remembered by those who had been affected. Here is some of what Johnson found.

There was perhaps never any change of national manners so quick, so great, and so general, as that which has operated in the Highlands, by the last conquest, and the subsequent laws.  We came thither too late to see what we expected, a people of peculiar appearance, and a system of antiquated life.  The clans retain little now of their original character, their ferocity of temper is softened, their military ardour is extinguished, their dignity of independence is depressed, their contempt of government subdued, and the reverence for their chiefs abated.  Of what they had before the late conquest of their country, there remain only their language and their poverty. 

Their language is attacked on every side.  Schools are erected, in which English only is taught, and there were lately some who thought it reasonable to refuse them a version of the holy scriptures, that they might have no monument of their mother-tongue. That their poverty is gradually abated, cannot be mentioned among the unpleasing consequences of subjection. 

Johnson had given his support to those working for a full Scots Gaelic translation of Scripture; the Gospels and Psalms had come first, used in public and private worship every day.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century foreign missionaries made sure to translate the Bible as soon as they could, but imagine learning to render Latin, Hebrew and Greek into a language not previously written down! It is not just word for word, but idea for idea, a different way of thinking. Not respecting those differences would have been unacceptable bullying. The same is even more true of trying to attack a mother-tongue and deprive people of the Bible in their own language. Whatever mistakes those early missionaries made, they were made in good faith and in service of the local people, to whom they were happy to hand over responsibility as soon as possible.

from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson)

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24 July: Teach us how to pray

Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. A moment of prayer with the Lord.

Jesus did not confine his mission to his own Jewish people. The woman at the well is just one example that we know about; she spoke to him face to face, undergoing a radical examination of conscience, and putting her faith in the Messiah who was calling her.

Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke 11:1-13, the Lord’s Prayer. The link leads to the Bishops of England and Wales’ page of the Lord’s prayer recited in different languages. A reminder that the Gospel is for every nation, every citizen, every human being.

Prayer too is universal. We can pray by listening as well as speaking. You can select the language you want to hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed in using the playlist on the web page. Maybe the next time you go to Mass abroad, you’ll be able to let these words flow over you even if you can’t join in reciting them!

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8 June: Of Syllables and Steps, Singing and Silence: I

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My wife and I often sit together in silence, or work quietly in the garden together, unafraid of the absence of words. It’s the same when I am working at L’Arche Kent’s garden; most of the time we are all of us content just to get on with our tasks quietly. Gardening is a visual art, and like a good film, the action often proceeds in silence – especially the action of the Unseen Gardener.

For our wedding anniversary once we burrowed under the Channel to Lille, where patronal loyalty drew us to Mass at the Church of Saint Maurice. Silence was an effective part of the liturgy, as was that essential component of the motion picture, the movement of people. Blessed with a big church in a depopulated city centre, priests and congregation opened the Word in the nave before processing towards the altar after the homily.

Before the homily – silence.

For some minutes the priests joined the rest of us in contemplation before the preacher opened his lips. All were ready to listen. Silence had allowed us a period of reflection and, dare I say awe; a deeper hearing of the Word that was enhanced by the homily.

All this is a roundabout reflection on today’s Liturgy just before Corpus Christi. I am firmly in the camp that holds that the language at Mass, spoken and unspoken, should be readily understood by those present. Although mostly the priest is addressing God, there is no need for long or rare words – the Lord knows what we want to say even before we do. What can I give him, poor as I am? I can raise my heart and mind to him, but I often find myself deliberately switching the mind off, as the translation we have now is a stumbling block, inelegant, inharmonious; puzzling rather than enlightening.

And yet …

MMB

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April 18: Emmaus VI, breaking bread together.

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‘They knew him in the breaking of bread.’ I was uneasy about using this photo with its bread knife, when a picture came into my mind.

I was 21 years old, and seated at table with the family who were supposed to be helping my stumbling steps in the French language. The father of the family is standing to my left, the long loaf held against his chest as he cuts thick slices for his family and guests. Such a clear image it is too; no wonder then that only a few hours after his death, these two recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread!

Learning to speak and read French opened doors in my heart and mind for which I am forever grateful; although it took months to be competent and confident. How did it feel to be taught for two or three hours by the greatest of teachers, and then to have their whole beings exposed to the heavenly light of the Resurrection?

 

 

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27 February. Desert II: What was it you went out to see?

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I am writing this post in July, not a Lenten month at all. People in England are looking forward to the summer holidays, to relaxation rather than to rigorous fasting and spiritual exercise. But there is also a market – I use the word deliberately – for spiritual activities. Here are a few random web ads for yoga experiences; we could look at other sorts of spiritual experience, but yoga seems popular among those who can afford it.

What about a yoga immersion course – is the hint of baptismal initiation deliberate, I wonder?

Or a restful and rejuvenating yoga retreat, with mindfulness vegetarian food? The Cistercians are vegetarian and eat in silence, but is it the food or the shared nature of meal that contributes to ‘mindfulness’?

What about a Japanese yoga retreat mixing body-transforming jivamukti yoga  with  hikes through forests peppered with ancient temples. Could you not get the transformed body from the gym and hikes through the local countryside?

What are the purchasers of the top 30 yoga retreats going into the luxury desert to seek? Classical yoga and ‘divine’ spa treatments? Notice the Christian religious language that creeps into these ads, even the ‘transformed body’ has resonances, especially at the time you are reading, the season of preparation for Easter, when life is changed, not taken away.

Our desert this Lent makes no claim to be luxurious, nor will a few minutes of reading with us transform your earthly bodies, but we do hope the Spirit is leading us into the desert where we can receive a renewal of our baptism, the original and best divine spa treatment. And as for mindfulness food: must I spell it out?

Here is a hymn by Lucien Deiss that draws on 2Timothy2 and other texts: Keep in mind.

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9 January, Book Review: My book for Lent 2020, ‘It’s good to be here’.

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It’s Good To Be Here by Christina Chase

Review by Maurice Billingsley

Regular readers will remember the thought-provoking posts that our friend Christina Chase has allowed us to share from her own blog, which you can visit from the link. You will understand how I had been waiting to see this book, and I was by no means disappointed on reading it. Christina weaves autobiography and a profound incarnational theology with a love of language and clarity of expression. This will be my Lent book for 2020.

We were led, in my pre-Vatican II childhood, to look upon Jesus as the perfect human being: ‘Little children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he.’ Our teachers apparently forgot that it was at his Transfiguration that the Apostles saw something more and Peter said, ‘It’s good to be here.’

There are those who would contradict Chase’s assertion that it is good for her to be here, since she is profoundly disabled – she readily uses the non-PC term ‘crippled’ – with a wasting disease that ought to have killed her years ago, and that renders her unable to feed, dress, or care for herself, depending on others for such needs.

But Christina has undergone her own transfiguration; this is her story. She had no need of a Franciscan stigmata, the wounded body was hers from birth, but she has had to come to terms with the human condition in her own self, with all the frustrations writ large. And so she can write: ‘The one astonishing fact of life is that suffering, like disease, war, murder, and abuse, cannot destroy the gift that God Almighty gives, because real love never fails.’ (p18) It’s good to be here; to be human here, as Christ was. After his Baptism, ‘He stood, rising to inhale deeply and shake the dripping wetness out of his hair and off of his drenched body.’ (p38)

And this from a woman who frequently finds breathing difficult, who cannot shake her head to dry her hair! This is not a book to buy out of pity for a ‘poor, disabled woman’, but for its deep insights into the divine light that wills to brighten our days. All our days. Christina’s vision is eternal: ‘What will life be like then?’ (p124) The glimmer of an answer is to be found in our earthly, earthy lives: it’s good to be here, breathing, getting wet, enjoying the sacrament of everyday in the wondrous life God has given us.

This will be my Lent book for 2020.

You can order it now from the publisher, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire, or  their UK agents, Gracewing, or via Amazon .

 

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10 October, Month of Mission, humbly at their service.

door st Maurice

The Month of Mission gives us another chance to reflect on the Martyrs of Algeria, beatified on December 8 last year. The Martyrs’ Door at the Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland, unites the names of Bishop Pierre Claverie and Mohamed Bouchikhi, his driver and friend, who died with him in a bomb attack. We should remember that many Muslims, including imams, were also killed by the fundamentalist rebels.

We share part of a reflection by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, Missionary of Africa, taken from the February 2019 White Fathers magazine.

I knew them all … The four Missionaries of Africa who were martyred at the town of Tizi-Ouzou were all very different: Alain Dieulangard, involved in the charismatic movement; Charles Deckers, practical, adapting well to local conditions; Jean Chevillard, a born leader; Christian Chessel, the young intellectual.

They were nevertheless united, for they had all drunk from the same source: the instructions that Cardinal Lavigèrie had given to the Missionaries of Africa: love those to whom one has been sent, make an effort to learn their language and speak it well, get to know and appreciate their traditions and customs, show respect for their religious beliefs, put oneself humbly at their service in all sorts of ways – all of these aspects of the spirit of Lavigèrie could be found in these four men, each one in his own way. The testimonies of both Christians and Muslims confirm this.

It can be added to this that all four were deeply spiritual persons, men of prayer, who wanted to serve the Lord and not their own interests. This is why they felt very much at ease within the project of the Church of Algeria which Bishop Claverie described in the following way: “We are, and we want to be, missionaries of God’s love, that love which we have discovered in Jesus Christ. This love, infinitely respectful of human beings, does not impose itself, does not impose anything in fact, bringing no force to bear on consciences or hearts. With gentleness, and by its very presence, it frees whatever is bound in chains, it reconciles that which is torn apart, it raises up that which is crushed, brings new life where there was no hope and no strength”.

In a reflection written one month before his death Christian Chessel tried to provide a synthesis of this approach in what he called “Mission in weakness”. “To recognize, welcome, and accept one’s own weakness would seem to be a necessary, inevitable, preliminary step,” he wrote, “especially for a missionary”. This allows one to forge with those men and women to whom one has been sent relations characterized by an absence of power, or, according to another favourite expression of Christian, “by the language of discreta caritas”.

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15 September: Brownings XII: to be written to is the chief gladness

 

Elizabeth Barrett is writing to Robert Browning:
“But to be written to is the chief gladness of course; and with all you say of liking to have my letters (which I like to hear quite enough indeed) you cannot pretend to think that yours are not more to me, most to me! Ask my guardian-angel and hear what he says! Yours will look another way for shame of measuring joys with him! Because as I have said before, and as he says now, you are all to me, all the light, all the life; I am living for you now.
 And before I knew you, what was I and where? What was the world to me, do you think? and the meaning of life? And now, when you come and go, and write and do not write, all the hours are chequered accordingly in so many squares of white and black, as if for playing at fox and goose … only there is no fox, and I will not agree to be goose for one … that is you perhaps, for being ‘too easily’ satisfied. So my claim is that you are more to me than I can be to you.
A running joke between two people who are totally sure of each other, and will soon elope to Italy as man and wife despite Elizabeth’s father. But letters between friends – we have few excuses for not whizzing off the occasional email to arrive in Australia or Zambia almost before it’s left the keyboard. Of course they may never be collated into two volumes for public consumption; let our emails be private and let the recipient decide whether to keep them.
And letters from our Creator are there for us, via Paul, Peter, John, Jude; and really in all of the Bible. No need to get up from the computer and find a hard copy, two clicks and the Scripture is there at our fingertips in many languages.
We can answer God’s messages by going to Universalis for the daily prayer of the Church. We are spoilt children, though Elizabeth Barrett was receiving two or three posts per day in central London, compared to just one today.
Who are you going to write to today, this minute, to incite gladness? 
And let’s say thank you for human ingenuity and information technology. Which includes the pens and paper that RB and EBB enthused about occasionally!
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning) From Project Gutenberg
Angel – God’s messenger – from St Mary Magdalene, Davington, Kent.

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27 July. Little Flowers of Saint Francis LV: Saint Anthony preaches in tongues

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Of the marvellous sermon that the Brother Minor Saint Antony of Padua preached in the consistory (the consistory is an official meeting of the pope with his cardinals.)

That marvellous vessel of the Holy Spirit, Saint Antony of Padua, one of the chosen disciples and the companion of Saint Francis, whom Saint Francis called his vicar, preached on a time in the consistory before the pope and the cardinals, in the which consistory were men of diverse nations, to wit, Greeks, Latins, French, Germans and Slavs, and English, and of other diverse languages of the world; and being kindled by the Holy Spirit, he set forth to them the word of God so forcibly, so devoutly, so subtly, so sweetly, so clearly, and so learnedly, that all they that were in the consistory, albeit they were of diverse languages, full clearly understood his every word, as distinctly as if he had spoken in the language of each one of them.

They were all amazed, and it seemed as though that ancient miracle of the Apostles at the time of Pentecost had been renewed, the which through the virtue of the Holy Spirit spake in every tongue; and they spake together one with the other marvelling; “Is he not of Spain, this preacher? and how then do we all hear in his speech the language of our countries?” The pope in like manner pondering and marvelling at the deep meaning of his words, said: “Of a truth, this man is the ark of the Testament and the armoury of Holy Writ.”

St Anthony of Padua and St Francis of Assisi by Friedrich Pacher

 

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June 9: Pentecost, We hear them speak.

somers.town. pentecost

St Aloysius, Somers Town, London.

Two articles came before my eyes on the same day. In one, an English divorce lawyer said that the main cause of marriage breakdown was lack of communication: spouses not speaking to each other.

The other article was in the Columban Fathers’ Far East magazine for September 2018. Father Willie Lee, a Fijian missionary who has worked in Peru described how he was inspired by the missionaries who ‘were always there with the grassroots people, crossing boundaries and cultures and learning another language. It gave them a feeling of belonging.

‘The sacrifices they made in their calling, in their missionary life, amazed me. If these people can leave their family, come this far … and be happy on their mission, why can’t I do this?’

Learning another language is hard work, very few Pentecost morning experiences these days; if people are to hear us speaking their own language, we must first get close to them and learn to listen.

Let us pray for ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

To read the interview with Fr Lee by Mark Bowling see the message below from the Columbans’ Katie Howard:

We are so pleased to hear that you feature the Far East magazine in your blog. Please use link below and scroll down to ‘Past Issues’ where your readers can download the September/ October 2018 edition of the Far East:

https://columbans.co.uk/publications/far-east

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