To adhere, you just have to be sincere, to affirm the correspondence; and thus, to be reasonable. Reasonableness means to affirm the correspondence between what you've stumbled upon and yourself and your own heart. To deny this, you'd have to have a preconception. You'd need to be attached to something you want to defend. If you have something to defend in front of the evidence and the truth, you no longer see the evidence... I used a word that works for everything, the word "scandal," which comes from the Greek word scandalon which means "hindrance" -- like a boulder on a mountain that falls in your path: you need to run to town to get a crane, if you can. Scandal is the objection that comes from an interest that is not professed in the name of truth, in search of the truth. • Luigi Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? pages 59-60One of the biggest boulders in my path to seeing the beauty of Christ in Communion and Liberation was the way in which language was used (or abused) by people in the Movement.
In the beginning, the word that bugged me the most was judgment. I kept hearing people in CL talking about the need to judge everything, and my first thought, after remembering Christ's words: "Judge not, lest ye be judged," was that this use (and overuse, in my opinion, but that's another point) of the word represented faulty translation. Surely, I thought, Fr. Giussani must mean something like discern? Because the word judge also carries within it the sense of the word condemn -- and in fact, I thought I sometimes discerned a tendency to condemn others, their behavior and their beliefs and their very persons, in some of the judgments my CL friends made. The word judgment can also refer to a legal process, and indeed, sometimes my CL friends seemed to approach life with a burden of legalism. Finally, the word judge calls to mind a figure who sits above others, and I also thought I detected a whiff of superiority among those who insisted so strenuously on judging everything. It bothered me so much, and I often thought: if only Fr. Giussani's translators had chosen the word discern instead, so many wouldn't have been led into error!
I also have an allergy to jargon. Here's how Merriam-Webster defines jargon: 1 a: confused unintelligible language b: a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect c: a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech2: the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group3: obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words. This definition is very helpful because it encapsulates the problem -- certain words are made to stand in for Big Concepts, and the poor little words aren't strong enough to hold them up. Meanwhile, while the person, who is speaking the word, would like it to stand in for a long string of words, that long string might not be the same long string that the listener fills in when he hears the word. It may even be that neither the speaker nor the listener is fully aware of the precise long string of words that spells out the heavy burden of meaning that the poor word is meant to carry. I am speaking about words like Encounter, "I," Experience, Judgment, Freedom, Companionship, Unity, Presence, Reason, Reality, Being, Mystery, Event, Preference, Nothingness, Awareness, Infinite, and Belonging. When Fr. Giussani uses these words, he almost always explains and clarifies them, but sometimes, it seems to me, when his followers use them, they appear to think that no explanation or clarification is necessary. Even a single speaker will use the same word, several times in a conversation, and mean different things each time he uses it! When words are treated this way often enough, it bleeds them of meaning. Even the person speaking may no longer be aware that there is a string of other words behind these words -- the long string of words turns into a cloud of feeling, and the truth that wants to be communicated turns into mush.
The other problem with jargon (besides the degeneration of meaning) is that it tends to foster exclusivity because there are those who have mastered the jargon and those for whom it is unintelligible. Using the jargon is a shortcut to becoming an authority, to being a part of the in crowd.
In my opinion, all of this is actually antithetical to the charism of Fr. Giussani. This is why it is so important for us to avoid ever being lazy or facile with our words. Using our words carefully and with precision, and never using one flashy word to do the work of eight or ten others, is to practice the kind of ascesis that Fr. Giussani calls us to. It also makes it possible to do the important work of mission. Unless we can speak a language that is intelligible to all, we are just trading useless chatter with the in crowd; in other words, we're trading personal comfort for the truth.
A friend of mine, Fred, helped me to see another side to this issue, though. He wrote:
Jargon can be a crutch even in CL, but I'm of several minds about this. I think it's always worthwhile to express one's experience in one's own words - to strain at describing things with rigorous detail. I also thought many things in CL were untrue, people just repeating something they heard - the latest example is this: people saying that Christ showed his face to them through their kids. But then it happened, so now I can't say if someone's just repeating. It may have happened to them too.I asked Fred for permission to quote what he said to me, and he just granted it, on the condition that I also quote the following passage from Fr. Giussani:
The other thing (and I argue this point with Karen) is that as a student of language and history, I know that the words that Fr. Giussani used were not a presumptuous imposition of his notions on reality, but words that more often than not had a different meaning than they do now. They're important words that express the contours of distinctly Christian experience, and we shouldn't give them up to the common mentality. We should fight for them and reclaim them. Like he reminds us in Is it Possible to Live This Way?: a child says "mama" and repeats that word for years and decades until as an adult it has a completely different depth to it. So, perhaps some of this jargon is people baby talking, trying out the words as they look for the experience.
What's interesting is this: so much of what we learn in CL can be reduced to a series of cliches that are printed everywhere we look. What's different for us, I hope, is the recoil. I love this word recoil (like the recoil of a gun). Is this a CL word? There's a seriousness and a depth that goes all the way down. We don't need new words so much as to mean the ones that we use.
We'll have you repeat words heard as discourse or words spoken as prayer that you don't understand. Not because we're fools and we make you do things that you don't understand. We know that you don't understand them. We didn't understand them either when we were young like you. Yet it's only by repeating them that you understand. What a two-year-old calls "mama" he'll refer to by the same word when he is fifty. That same word, not another word, will be profoundly different, understood more deeply, loved more deeply, judged more deeply ... but still one he has repeated his whole life long. The method we use to go to God is like this. This is how we come to terms with Christ.So, okay. People need to repeat certain words that they don't fully understand. I do the same thing, really. I'm fully aware that I don't truly understand mercy, or freedom, or even love. Yet I use (and yes, misuse) them every day. I hope I am nearer the truth than when I first began to use them!
This came to mind when I heard "We regard no one from the point of view of the flesh." Do you remember reading this? You mean you don't remember it any longer, you've already forgotten it? "If one is in Christ, he is a new creature." If I were to say to you, "Explain this sentence to me," none of you - except some genius, still unknown - would be able to explain it to me. Would anyone be able to explain it to me?
If you don't know what it means, why repeat it? Because you're told to repeat it! And why are you told to repeat it? Because it's a form of asking... You're asking Christ. You don't understand the formula you use to ask. This will emerge in your experience as it matures over time
(Is it Possible To Live this Way? pages 79-80).
What crane did I use to remove this particular obstacle from my path? Why does it no longer bother me when I feel as if people in the Movement are using jargon? Because Fred's insight, and the passage from Fr. Giussani that he has me quote here, were only recently given to me, but my irritation at the use and misuse of certain precious words has been gone for some time...
There are so many things that are exceedingly precious to to me -- language among them -- but there is something far more precious than all these things. It is the voice of my Beloved asking, "Suzanne, do you love me more than all of these?" It has taken me so long to relinquish the urge to protect and defend what I count as precious. But, unless I do indeed relinquish my sense that it is my duty to save these things, I will lose what is most precious. And then everything else dries up and turns to dust, too. I do love him, more than I love everything, even language. And loving him means viewing the people who speak to me in a completely new light. As Angelo once said, "My reactions to others are one billionth of what they are." And it is the other 99.99999% of them that interests me now.