Words are not neutral

Pope Francis recently wrote the preface to a new book by Bishop Nunzio Galantino called Vivere le parole: Per un vocabolario dell’esistenza (To Live Words: For a Vocabulary of Existence).

The book is marketed as filling the “urgent need to penetrate words and live them more deeply,” especially “in times of hyper-information yet scorching non-communication between people.”  It seeks to counter today’s tendency to reduce words to non-sense by emptying them of their concrete connection to the flesh and blood complexities of everyday life.

The author has selected 101 words that he categorizes into seven sections:  tending toward the absolute (e.g., God, silence, grace), the essence of man (e.g., body, dignity, action), openness to others (e.g., encounter, promise, listening), social virtues (e.g., optimism, authenticity, tolerance), the way of mercy (e.g., forgiveness, tenderness, gratefulness), social action (e.g., culture, development, work), and the value of limits (e.g., humility, resilience, death).

As a small gift to those at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary who will be instituted as Lectors this weekend, and to all who read the words of SemCasual, here is my very unofficial translation of the preface by Pope Francis:

“Words are not neutral, nor do they ever leave things as they are.  They are not born at a table, or in salons good for closed and self-referential circles.  Rather, they give voice to cultural and spiritual values rooted in the collective memory of a people, to whom they restore new vigor.  Their fecundity is bound to a sharing of life; it is proportionate to the openness with which they allow themselves to be interrogated by and engaged in the realities, situations, and histories of persons.”

“To live words means to overcome suspicions, fears, and isolations in order to assume the liberating courage of encounter.  It is a journey that requires knowing how to rediscover the primacy of silence, from which everything takes its initiative.  This (silence), in fact, remains the womb that, while it makes listening possible and guards it, permits us to go out of and go beyond ourselves.  One then reaches the point of drawing near, of assuming attitudes and styles of proximity, eventually taking to oneself ‘the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted’ (Gaudium et spes, 1).”

“Thus, whoever learns to listen finds himself in the company of men and women, animated by a spirit of dialogue that opens out to the culture of reciprocity, capable of teaching and learning, of giving and receiving, of offering and accepting ideas about meaning, hope, and the future.  In such a dynamism also stands the freshness of words, which – always arising from experience – address the sensibility, formation, and profundity of the person.  Together with the density of the contents, they are spread thanks to the attention given to seeking the most appropriate modality by which to reach the other and to draw forth a reply and response.”

“For everyone who is baptized, this fidelity to man is the necessary condition that opens the way to the mission of announcing to all the Word that saves; it is the soul of discernment, that never tires of scrutinizing the signs of the times to search there for the will of God, reaching to the point of reading, interpreting, and taking positions in history; it is the secret of every evangelizing action, the charming power of the credibility and reliability of the words of the Church, the sign and instrument of the Kingdom.”

“I have already observed that, precisely because of (their) authenticity, such words are weighty: he alone sustains them who incarnates them in life with a clear and impassioned witness.”

“Of such witness this book is a sign, thanks to the ability of Bishop Nunzio Galantino, to arrange voices of a dictionary that helps to re-appropriate the vitality and beauty of daily life.”

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