I’m struggling to learn Spanish. I believe this is important, because it is, after all, the language of about half of the Church worldwide. Fortunately, I am blessed with a very patient instructor. Apart from the fact that I find it difficult to find time for a lesson and then do my homework – not! – he is constantly having to field my questions around translation: What does this word mean? How do I translate that? How would you say such and such? Spanish is a truly beautiful language, and its beauty inspires me to learn it better. One day I hope to be able to listen to it and speak it without the intermediary of translation, but I’m certainly not there yet – far from it.
The most beautiful language of all is that of the Gospel. Its inherent, unsurpassable beauty awakens within us a strong desire to listen to it deeply and speak it to others. In our day, though, it needs translation. For many, the Gospel is little more than words without meaning. What does it signify? What is its relevance? Here is the challenge facing the Church as we embrace the new evangelization. How does the Gospel translate such that it is not only understood but also embraced?
Properly translated, the Gospel means joy. Yesterday, the third Sunday of Advent, was Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete – rejoice! The Scripture readings were a summons to joy. In the first reading (Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11) we heard Isaiah rejoicing in anticipation of the dawn of salvation. St. Paul in the second reading (1Thessalonians 5: 16-24) rejoiced, and summoned others to share in this joy, at the fact that the Saviour has come in Christ and remains near to his people. In addition, as Christians we rejoice in that the Lord, who is near even now, will come again with definitive salvation for his people.
How does the “act of translation” take place? How do the words of the Gospel become joy in our hearts? Consider John the Baptist in the Gospel passage of Sunday (John 1:6-8, 19-28). In response to the queries of those sent by the Pharisees to question him as to his identity, he made this striking statement: “Among you stands one whom you do not know.” He is referring to Christ, whom John did know. Furthermore, John knew himself in relation to Jesus. “I am a voice crying in the wilderness…” Here is the point at which the Gospel translates into joy. When we know Jesus Christ – not just know about him, but truly know him – and when we know ourselves in relation to him, then we find joy. Perhaps better, joy finds us. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Christian joy is that which comes from abiding in the love of Christ.
This is very different from the pleasure and excitement that seems to be the sought-after goal of so many today. These are superficial things that are but transitory, fleeting, and that leave us not satisfied but longing, looking for more, running after the next “thrill.” This is not joy. Real joy is deep and lasting. It is that which we find in the Gospel, which offers a sharing in Christ’s own joy.
¿Como se traduce? How does this translate? My prayer is that, for each of us, a deeper personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and of self-knowledge in him will translate into that deep lasting joy which is the true meaning of the Gospel.