Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Word Origins As Spiritual Enrichment


A ciborium holds the holy food at Mass


We often bandy words, assuming we know their meanings. But our understandings can be impoverished. Early on in my priesthood I had a pastor who had taught Latin to young seminarians for years. I only have two years of high school Latin and so I enjoy Latin discoveries. 

One evening I was sitting in my front room struggling to translate the lovely hymn Ave Maris Stella (Hail Star of the Sea) from Latin to English. The pastor came up behind me and looking over my shoulder at the Latin text he gave me a free translation which was so beautifully tender - very unlike the book translations I'd seen. Then out of no where he said, "Do you know the word ciborium comes from the Latin word cibus (chee-bus) meaning food?" I had never made that connection. And what a lovely inner light turned on.

I remember when it dawned on me that the word humility comes from the Latin word humus which means good earth. Not that we are dirt or should degrade or falsely deny ourselves but that we should be down to earth about ourselves - realistic or real with and about ourselves - our vulnerabilities, fears, neediness, hopes.

And I remember when I realized the word radical comes from the Latin word radix which means root. So radical doesn't mean a destroyer or bomb-thrower but a person or a movement looking to get back to the root of deep origins. Jesus is indeed radical in this sense: getting back to the root or essential thing of religion which is the love of God and the love of other people.

Recently someone asked if I was leading a revolt against the Church when I suggested (since God has become human in Jesus Christ) that churches should offer bathrooms. That's Christianity 101 for me, not a revolt. But then I discovered revolt comes from the Latin word volvere which mean roil (a small wheel) which gives us vault - to jump. With the prefix re it means to roll back, unroll or return

The word only assumed the sense of a violent overthrow in the 16th century. But between that late usage and the ancient Latin, the word meant a complete reversal. So....the young people in our country have clearly abandoned the Church and given up on institutionalized religion, we are lost in the worst and often ugly polarization and contentious argument about all kinds of religious believing and do-ing. Yeah, the Church needs a revolt - an unrolling, a jumping back  to what is essential which is the mystery of God drawn so close to us that we often miss its meaning. But mystery is more like a room with too much light.

Some priests (maybe not a few) have lost their sense of the mystery. They have become religious functionaries and need an inner revolt. The young people can detect it at once.  I knew a priest who had done seminary in what is said to be one of the finest theological centers in Europe. I shared with him the Genesis account of creation which I'd just seen in a new children's bible.

The page read something like this: God had created all the planets and the stars and the plants and animals but then out of his lonely heart God created us. I told the priest that I thought this was lovely and sensitive and he said, with a kind of knee jerk reaction, "Well yes, maybe, even though it is completely heretical." 

And I thought, poor fellow, he has lost the mystery - which is the sense of wonder and pondering about the love of God. He doesn't know that love has to know loneliness and incompleteness. Ask any newlywed. But he was locked in by his mind-training, his catechism page, his academic-drunk and had lost the sense of Jesus: "The kingdom of heaven is LIKE..."

So yeah, bring on the revolt: getting the heart-mind of Jesus and not just using bible verses to defend dogmas and moral teachings.

12 comments:

  1. For sure, these posts are all a spiritual enrichment, lucky for us to have found them. Secretly, we know the driving force is the Holy Spirit.

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  2. Yes indeed! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of all of us, kindle in us a fire of love! Create and re-create us and thereby renew the face of the earth. Amen.

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  3. I am thankful that you have not lost that sense of mystery. You bring it all full circle Father. Back to the root if things. We can start from the beginning and find new meanings out of old words and concepts. Thank you.

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  4. Just this morning someone said after a report on the closing of the Rome Synod that priests are speaking and preaching in Church-code language - words that are only understood (if even then) to the church insiders. We can hope for nothing that way. People, especially young people, are not interested in Church-speak. Jesus didn't teach that way.

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  5. Curious as to why the child's biblical story would have been heretical? Why wouldn't it have been to complete a relationship that God stated, 'let Us make man in our image and likeness'?

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  6. God doesn't "need" us. God is sufficient within God's self.

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  7. Sometimes we overlook the true meaning of things. We do throw words about without stopping to think about what they mean. And then words change meaning over time, such as the word revolt. Thanks for researching this and sharing it with us.

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  8. Our profession of belief in the Trinity is expressed in the Creed. The word creed itself is right from the Latin credo, to trust in, believe, rely on. This word also appears in one of the key Latin phrases of Catholicism, lex orandi, lex credenda: the law of praying is the law of believing, meaning how we pray reflects, or should reflect our belief. We should truly believe in what we pray. Think and feel the meaning.

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  9. Feel it! I've wondered often as a group is praying (what I'd call rattling) the rosary: Do they feel anything? Or a priest is reading the Eucharistic Prayer or distributing Communion on auto-pilot: Does he feel anything? But that's part of the revolt I'm talking about - revolt - to jump or roll back to the original.

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  10. I guess when Jesus came, He started a revolt. It seemed the only way to save the people/ Standing up for truth, change can call for great sacrifice.

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  11. To be sure: "Master which of the commandments is the greatest?" And Jesus referenced the two laws which he made into one - Love God and love people. In the world of religion that was a revolt - a return to "first things first." If we'd stick to that....

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  12. Here is a good one, since you mentioned Love. Today, we usually translate the word "Agape" to mean Love, Love of God, God's Love for Humankind... something like that. I recently read that back in the day (two millennia ago), Agape was used colloquially to express preference. As in, "I love chocolate," which means "I prefer chocolate over x,y,z." Of course the New Testament uses the word Agape as a statement of Divine Preference. So I like to think of Love as "what God prefers." When I'm busy telling someone what to do because I "love" them, because I think I want what's best for them... What would God prefer? What would God prefer me to do for this person?

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