September 23, 2012

Ex Ore Lactantis

After prayers this morning I was having breakfast with one of the friars. We were talking about the Sunday ahead; who was going where and for which Mass, etc. I mentioned that I was grateful not to have to give a homily today; I've had to preach in Italian the last three Sundays and it has been a challenge. Each time it was a lot of work for a short little thing too conventional in approach for my taste. But it has also been good practice, both spiritually and with the language.

As I was thinking on this I was struck by an analogy. Back when I was at the parish, once in a while I would have a chance to offer Mass with the children of the parish elementary school. It didn't happen very often; as I recall they came to Mass once a month and almost always on a Friday, which was my day off. But when I did have the chance to give a homily with the children, I really appreciated it. It was always a fascinating challenge, given the need for simple language and concepts, and also respecting the fact that a large portion of the kids had little or no experience of church apart from these moments. How could I try to evoke something of the pleasantly jarring surprise of the goodness of God and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ without being able to presume many religious concepts or much of the basic critical vocabulary of Christian spirituality? Whether I ever succeeded or not I was always fascinated by the challenge.

In a way my current moment is something similar. But now I'm the one without the words. I might have the theological concepts, but I don't know (or don't know if I know; let us not commit the masked man fallacy) the common spiritual vocabulary in which the average Italian Sunday Mass-goer is accustomed to receiving them. So as much as I could I tried to stay close to the language of the Scripture readings. There's nothing wrong with that, after all.

Maybe such an analogy comes to me because I'm not so far from concluding this hidden life of language study which has been my first four months in Italy. Soon this infancy will be over and I will have to land in the general curia and rise to the occasion of being tested out in this new assignment.

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