February 13, 2013

Faith language lessons

By Jason Godin *

Lent begins this week by recalling remembrance of our origin – dust – and earthly outcome – a return to dust. The weeks after Ash Wednesday invite Christians to conduct an inner inventory, to note in silence the words said and left unsaid, and to sense in stillness a world filled with words increasingly in service to worldly concerns alone. As the Year of Faith continues, Lent seems an appropriate season to appreciate how the language of faith reveals some healthy heights and tender depths. 

Boundaries with Purpose

Some people in the modern world refuse to entertain one faith language lesson: boundaries serve a purpose. Libertines, for example, find the purpose of life is to live without any limits. Statements today about absolute truth underwriting authentic freedom face stern replies of how respecting limits is to reject certain “rights” or, worse, surrender to silly superstitions. 

The eyes of faith, however, aren’t blind to the purpose of borders. True wisdom speaks truthfully when it admits that humanity doesn’t know it all. Human language about God is limited because human knowledge of God is limited (cf. CCC, 40). The language of faith helps nourish open debate by admitting what we know now and, importantly, what we could and should know tomorrow. Finite expressions of language never shrink the horizons of knowledge and language. When expressed in faith, they expand its borders closer toward the “infinite simplicity” of God (CCC, 43).

Renewal in Purity

Another faith language lesson relates renewal and purity. The Church admits that “human words always fall short of the mystery of God”. The challenge before the people of God, consequently, is to “continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God” with “our human representations” (CCC, 42).

Such purified, renewed language nourishes the public square. Faith expresses more than simple “spirituality” marginalized to private worship. Hope finds its object in the Real Presence at Mass, not in earthly promises of utopia for the masses. Love becomes charity with humility, unity with diversity, and fraternity that respects the dignity of all human life. Patriotism also never yields to expressions of an ugly nationalism, but searches for tranquility as responsible partners in global society. 

Every year large corporations pay millions of dollars for mere seconds to flash images, amplify sounds, and maybe even say a few words on television. Online social media constantly collect user data hoping to pinpoint present demands and anticipate future wants. How many companies have profited handsomely by convincing, with just a short Super Bowl commercial, that a good or service will supply and satisfy our specific likes?

The Church has not only taught but lived lessons of language millennia before computers and coaches hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Jesus instituted the Eucharist when he lifted wine as well as bread in his name at the Last Supper (cf. Luke 22:14-20). He proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The language of faith since that Holy Thursday, as limited and as in constant need of renewal as it is, still leads us to a closer relationship with the Living Word (cf. John 1:14). 

And that is the faith language lesson worth sharing with others most of all.

Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. You can find him on Facebook here.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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