By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some Interesting Words from the Holy Language

Sorry, the holy language referred to in this post is not Latin, but rather Hebrew. Even a simple review of some Hebrew vocabulary cannot help but light up connections for a Christian and especially a Catholic. Here are some examples.

The Hebrew word for "affliction" is "ani" (pronounced with the stress on the last syllable). When that same word is slightly changed, it can become an adjective that also means "humble." How interesting that the afflicted are in fact the humble. Think of the Magnificat and the Beatitudes. In the Magnificat, the afflicted or the hungry are the ones filled with good things--as many have pointed out, those who are empty are the ones ready to receive. Those who are full of things and of themselves have rendered themselves incapable of receiving; they have posted a "no vacancy" sign. Here are Mary's words from Luke 1:53 (RSV): "he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away." So, if He sends the rich away empty, why is most of the world obsessed with becoming rich? In our American culture, parents look on, for example, with utter indifference as their daughters lose their virginity and virtue well before marriage is even a viable alternative, but "freak out" if those same daughters damage their future career success in any way. And we wonder why so many of us, both male and female, end up so empty. At several points, the Beatitudes certainly point to the humble afflicted who will be satisfied. Here is one such example: Matthew 5:4 (RSV) "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. " Luke adds a bit more force to the same beatitude in Luke 6:21b (RSV) "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh " (emphasis added). Adonai (Hebrew for "Lord" or, more precisely, "my Lord") promises that we will not just be comforted but that we will even laugh.

The Hebrew word "mishkan" meaning "tabernacle" is especially resonant for Catholics. A variation on the same root gives us the word for "neighbor." The Eucharistic Jesus in the tabernacle in your local church has become your "neighbor." The verb form of the same root means "to dwell." Your neighbor is one who dwells near you. For Catholics, Jesus dwells very near to us as a neighbor in the tabernacle that is found in every Catholic Church. So, when we say "love your neighbor," don't exclude Jesus himself.

These are echoes and resonances in words from the holy language. There are many more to discover and savor.