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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just Words?

Recently, at work, I was giving a very brief presentation about the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal, explaining the reasons for it and what those changes would be. The woman with whom I was speaking responded in anger and shock. She thought the new translation was ridiculous because of the cost of the replacement of books, and didn't see why the words of the Mass really mattered anyway.

"They're just words!" she exclaimed in self-righteous sarcasm, rolling her eyes to make sure I got her point.

All I could do was just shake my head at such a juvenile response, for indeed I did get her point; that I shouldn't waste any time tossing any more pearls before swine. Just words? Really?

When are words "just words"?

Words are powerful. What's that old adage?  Oh, yes, right: "The pen is mightier than the sword." If the pen is writing mere words, how in the world can they cut so deeply and have effects that last throughout history, affecting people from generation to generation? Anyone ever heard of the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution? Or the famous 1st Amendment guaranteeing "free speech"? If words are "just words" why have an Amendment protecting them?

Anyone ever heard of Martin Luther's theses? Were those "just words" or didn't they create a schism that exists to this day and continues to splinter?

How do people end up being sued for libel over "just words", especially when their crime destroys reputations and lives? How can so many priests, like Fr. Gordon MacRae, among so many others, end up in prison as the result of slander if that slander is "just words"?  How many people have gone to the electric chair, guillotine, firing squad, or some other equally unpleasant way of death, innocent or guilty, when the verdict of "GUILTY" is just a mere word?

Words can destroy people - they have that power.

They also have the power to get unqualified people elected to the Presidency by the fluke of media propaganda.'s "just words". So I guess that result is meaningless.

Words have the power to begin wars, to free slaves, to install Kings, to change history - and even re-write it such that people will believe the lies simply because it is in print.

Words have the equal power to reveal Truth even in the face of the worst deception, and in so doing, set people free from intellectual bondage.

Words can encourage, elevate, support, uplift, inform, educate, and bring tidings of great joy to a world lost in darkness. Words revealed the Birth of Christ to the poor Shepherds - but they were "just words", weren't they?

Then we come to the Mass, where we come together in worship of the Almighty God. Are the prayers of the Mass, the prayers we utter in the desperation of our hearts and souls, the prayers uttered in praise and thanksgiving...are those "just words"?  If so, why are we there?  If they're "just words" why should God listen? 

In the Sacrament of Baptism, when we are baptized "In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit", if they are just words, then we are "just sinners" and not children of God.

In the Sacrament of Confession when the priest says, "...I absolve you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit", if those are "just words", then we are not forgiven and never can be.

And the Consecration: when the priest, through the power of the Holy Spirit, utters the words that change the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ - are those "just words"? If so, then Christ is not present and He lied to us a long time ago.

If they are, in the famous statement of Flannery O'Connor, if those are mere, meaningless words, "Then to Hell with it!"

Oh, right...her words were "just words", too. Yeah..I guess words don't really have any meaning. They certainly don't affect us at all, do they? Words have no power, no meaning. They don't do anything. We have the power of speech for no reason whatsoever.

What about the Bible, the "Word of God", and Jesus, "The Word Made Flesh" who dwelt among us?

I guess Jesus has even LESS meaning, then, because He is just "the Word", not even worthy of an "s" to make Him plural.

Just words. Right.

There's no such thing as "just words".


X said...

You will like this -

Anonymous said...

Amen, was the woman suposed to be a Catholic? oh dear we should pray for her.
Im linking to this ,thank you for a wonderful piece.

Anonymous said...


Toyin O. said...

There is power in our words, we should never forget that.

Unknown said...

When I grow up I'd like to be you. Seriously, I use alot of what you say when I teach CCD. You have a marvelous way with words.