big words and windows

Aug 11, 2013

It’s Sunday morning, and I am thinking again. This Year of Faith (with only 100 days remaining) will (please God) challenge and inspire us to rethink our motives and methods for evangelization. 

If our prime goal is to fill our Churches, then our motive is a tragic reduction of the heart of the evangelisation mission. The reason that we evangelize, is that people will be able to live more deeply in personal friendship with Jesus Christ. This life must be our prime motivation. Every other aspect of human existence (including full churches) is a fruit of this encounter.

The language we use in church is often an obstacle for good people. A sermon flowing with words like adoration, beatific vision, catechesis paschal mystery and dogma may be thoroughly orthodox and inspiring to the theologian, but it will probably not touch the hearts of the worshippers at a parish Sunday Mass.

These big words are important since they are the windows to essential knowledge of our faith. The big words are our linguistic short-cut, our method for conveying all that scripture and tradition teaches us about each aspect of our faith. 

Therefore it is important that when we use these words, we also provide the meaning in an understandable, accurate and attractive form. At times, for a particular audience, we might speak about (for example) the “incarnation,” without using the word itself. Our hope is that with good catechesis there will come a time when the simple use of this big word will remind the hearers of the full meaning of the incarnation of Jesus. The word will be the window leading us to recall the full significance of the event of the incarnation. 

Our hope too is that when people hear a word that they do not understand (perhaps in a sermon), that they have enough intellectual curiosity to  search out the meaning. This is pretty easy today since every online home has direct access to good catechesis. In this way we take responsibility for our own growth in faith.

And now to the word that got me started on this thinking this Sunday morning. I was reading a well-intentioned piece about the Catholic’s Sunday obligation.” The writer was enthusiastic, and had clearly grown to experience Sunday Mass as the heart of his life every week. But his little reflection with repeated use of the “obligation” word, left me with a heavy feeling. I am of the generation that finds the language of “obligation” (at least initially) pretty unattractive.

So did some more thinking. 

When we use the word “obligation” in Catholic life we refer primarily to the personal desire within every human person to do whatever leads us to encounter the divine. So an “obligation” may initially seem to be an external imposition of a rule. But pretty soon we grow to appreciate that the greater “obligation” comes from deep within our healthiest self. While the Church uses the word “obligation” about the baptised person’s participation in Sunday Mass and regular confession, the heart of the “obligation” is the voice of the deep-felt need of every baptised person. Put simply, when we live in harmony with this deepest desire, we feel better about ourselves and about life. That is a pretty good reward. If you don’t believe me, try it!


The words we use might carry heavy and uninspiring baggage for many people. This is not a problem of the word itself, nor with the truth that the big word conveys. Sometimes a little self-therapy, seeking to discover the heart of the meaning, leads us to a more lively and robust adherence (there’s another of those words!)

A word itself is but a window. We can hide the window by drawing the curtains. We can even keep away from the window and pretend it is not there. 

But the best thing about a well designed and carefully positioned window is that it draws us to the light. Only when we follow this attraction and move towards the window, can we appreciate the view.

tap on image for further information about Edward Hopper’s painting

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