Stephanie Pausell in Christian Century November 25, 2015 titles her thoughts “A Shower of Nouns.” It got me to thinking of the power that words have to affect, motivate and disturb us, even when we don’t know exactly what is being said
On Sundays she attends the ancient church of St. Mary of Trastevere in Rome, Italy and listens to a cascade of words in the sermon that she does not entirely understand. The fountain of Italian flows past too quickly for her to keep up. Waves of songs pour over her and she catches images from words like: “i bambini,” ” i poveri”, “le salvatione.” The substantives themselves conjure up images of little children, smiling, crying and playing… and street people picking through trash… Jesus offering sinners salvation.
St. Theresa of Avila was not fluent in Latin but she caught snatches of Latin Hymns. The Song of Songs in Latin –not really a hymn but an extended love poem– was one of her favorites. Even when someone translated the text for her into her mother tongue, she insisted that she did not understand it any better.
T.S. Elliot said that certain poems communicate even when the words themselves cannot be fully understood.” The fifth canto of the Inferno , he promises will speak to you even if you do not know a word of Italian. Think of words like “pace,’ ” giustizia,” and “misericordia.
In my homilies, concrete nouns are sometimes the only things people remember. I know one thing for sure: Without words like “children,” “cross,” “bread,” “wine,” “tree,” “mountain,” my words are without power to move people’s hearts.