One of the regrets I have in life is that I have never had a gift for languages. I admire the polyglots of this world, but I must confess I envy them a bit too as, over the years, living in different countries for a time, I have experienced both the loneliness of not having the language, and the way in which the language opens doors for those who do. I have mentioned before an Irish Passionist, now gone to God, who, due to a strange set of circumstances, ended up finishing his Theology studies in Argentina and being ordained there, before returning home to take up residence at Mount Argus in Dublin. When Celtic won the European Cup in 1967, and were due to travel to Argentina later that year for the World Club Championship as a result, he chanced his arm and phoned Jock Stein to offer his services as a translator. Incredibly the offer was accepted and, not only did he get to go with the team on what turned out to be a disappointing and notorious trip, but he also became good friends with the great man and his family ever after – and all because he spoke the language.
I’m also thinking of another Passionist with whom I was in Rome at the time of the canonisation of Maximillian Kolbe. The night before the canonisation there was to be a press conference with the man for whom Kolbe offered his life, and this Passionist thought it would be great to be there, and he invited me to join him. It turned out that the event was for press only, but somehow my colleague bluffed his way in by offering his services as a translator from Polish to English. The irony was, he didn’t even speak Polish, but he was so proficient in a host of other languages that he was confident he would get away with it if challenged, which thankfully he wasn’t. And, just one more example, there was a previous Passionist Provincial, already proficient in a number of languages, who had an abiding passion for China and so, throughout his eight-year tenure as Provincial, he arranged for a tutor to come in every week to teach him Mandarin. When his time as Provincial was over he set off to become part of a new Passionist project in China, and was able to make a significant contribution to our presence there, and all the more so because he had the language.
I do feel though, that this past couple of months, I have been learning a new language – the language of construction. There are works going on in St. Mungo’s church at this time. They began on 16th September and are scheduled to finish on 2nd December. Even with the hitches we have had along the way, our excellent contractors are confident of finishing on time. But, before these works began, if you had mentioned to me block and beam; Topcem screed; dwarf walls and Doc M packs, I would have looked at you with glazed eyes and open mouth, not having the faintest notion of what you were talking about. Now they have become the language of every day conversation which, at least to some extent, I understand.
It made me think about the importance of the language of faith, and the value of learning that language from an early age, and not just the words and phrases, but what the words and phrases refer to: God; Prayer; Word; Sacrament; Blessed Trinity; Father; Son; Holy Spirit; Saviour; Holy Eucharist; Blessed Sacrament; Holy Water; Holy Oil; Reconciliation; Mass; Pope; Bishop; Priest; Religious; Laity; Liturgy; Ministry; Mission; Sin; Grace; Our Lady; Parish; Diocese; Penance; Blessing; Saint; Tabernacle; Vestments; Vocation; Conscience; Confession; Sacred; Genuflection; Reverence; Gospel; Epistle; Psalm; Consecration; Ordination; Sign of Peace; Doctrine; Scripture and Tradition; Angels and Archangels; Good and Evil; Heaven and Hell; Mercy; Compassion; Commandment; Love; Passion; Crucifixion; Resurrection and Salvation – to name but a few, and in no particular order. Just knowing the words and phrases will not in itself deepen faith, but to be in the church without the language must be a lonely place and it saddens me when this seems to be the case for so many.
May the Lord soon touch your ears to receive His Word and your mouth to proclaim His Faith, to the glory of God the Father. (from the Rite of Baptism)