Thursday, October 28, 2010

Column: Word by word

Robin is the friend whose voice I hadn't heard, but who I could recognize right away. The photo is from an early October meet-up with Stratoz at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville.

WHHS is the oldest high school FM station in the country.


This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 28 Oct 2010.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. — Jn. 1:1

Dawn was just starting to light the sky as I headed down Darby Road, listening to music on the radio. The song faded out to the sound of Tim’s voice announcing, “Good morning, Haverford! You’re listening to 99.9 FM WHHS, Radio Rediscovered.”

Three mornings a week, Chris and his friend Tim host a morning drive-time show broadcast from the high school’s radio station. As I pulled into the driveway, listening to my youngest son’s voice on the air, I had the uncanny sensation he was actually there — sitting in the passenger seat. For a moment, his voice made him present to me.

We hear at the start of John’s Gospel how strongly God’s voice evokes His presence, the Word is God. The Word spoken that will call all of creation into being.

The Church teaches that Christ is present in the liturgy in four ways: in the person of the priest, in the assembled faithful, in the Eucharistic species and in the Scriptures — “The Word of the Lord.” In Sacrosanctum Concilium — Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy — we are reminded “He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church.”

I was taken aback in the car at the very real sense of Chris’ presence his voice evoked. It made me wonder about my response to the Scriptures that I proclaim and hear proclaimed at Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours. Is it words I hear, not much different from the thousands of other words I hear and read each day? Or can I hear the living Word speaking to me now in the psalms, and the prophets, in the Gospels and Paul’s letters?

St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in the fifth century, in reflecting on this passage, expresses similar worries. “Words, by their everyday usage, sounds and proceeding out of us, have become common to us, seeming to be nothing more than words.”

Augustine goes on to wonder if our minimalist vocabulary — “Is this all that God is, four letters and two syllables [in Latin God is Deus]?” — in fact heightens our sense of God’s enormity. The sound quickly fades away, but what it brings to life within us is “everywhere present, everywhere whole, nowhere shut in.”

A couple of weeks ago I met a friend who I knew only through her writing — both in letters we had exchanged for several years and her work published online. Though I had never heard her “real” voice, when we met I was fascinated to realize that it didn’t feel like the first time we’d ever spoken. Her words, like Chris,’ captured a real sense of her being.

Reflecting on both these experience reminds me that even though I might never have heard Christ’s human voice, I have grown to know Him deeply through all the words of Scripture I have read and heard over the years. We’ve met amidst this garden of letters and words. And conversely, it’s made me wonder if I am as awe-struck praying the psalms, proclaiming the Scriptures, listening to the readings, as I would be if I turned the corner in first century Jerusalem to hear Jesus’ voice telling a parable. I know God, but do I know He’s here?


May the all-knowing God and Lord show us his ways; may Christ, the Wisdom of the Father, teach us the words of truth; may the Holy Spirit, most blessed Light divine, ever enlighten our mind, so that we may learn and put into practices all that is right and good. Amen. — From the Rite of Blessing for a New Library

2 comments:

  1. Oh my. May I please lift part of this for Sunday's sermon? It's perfect.

    ReplyDelete