Latin is a delectable puzzle of never-ending wordplay, deeper meanings, and historical wonder. My students like to learn it because it is filled with innumerable “a-ha!” moments, in which the meaning of one Latin root word can set the entire classroom into a tizzy. (A recent discussion of the root meanings of dexterous — right-handed — and sinister — left-handed — created howls of protest from our left-handed students. )
Unlike its portrayal in films or popular culture (Goodbye, Mr. Chips comes quickly to mind), Latin is not a snobby language. It is incredibly down-to-earth, filled with the root words for nearly 90% of our English language, and seeped in historical common sense. In reality, everyone knows much more Latin and Latin grammar than they realize. And even though most Catholic canon lawyers, theologians, and all clerical scholars in the Vatican know Latin, it was and still is the basis of common conversation and learning.
Learning from Christ
It is odd, therefore, to read the various articles going back and forth regarding the discussions and interpretations of the results of the Synod on the Family. I have not read the Synod results, nor do I intend to do so, for this basic reason: Our faith does not depend upon the writings of that report.
Our faith lies in the teachings of Jesus Christ as it was documented in the Gospels and writings of the New Testament. We, as Disciples of Christ, are to be learning from Him and His teachings. We are his “pupils” (the meaning of “disciple”) and He, more than any Latin-speaking, encyclical-spewing theologian or expert in canon law, is our teacher. He does not expect us to be “educated” prior to learning from and understanding Him. Jesus was not a snob. Rather we are to listen, learn, and “soak Him in” with the wonder, joy, and understanding of a child.
It is clear that Christ went to great lengths to bring His message to the lowliest of people. He based his parables upon the manual labors of the soil, sea, and home: tilling the earth, fishing, threshing wheat, pressing grapes, baking of bread. His pupils were not even literate for the most part, nor did they have any life experiences outside of their community. While Jesus did teach in the synagogues, His most important discourses were done with the poorest of the poor, the simplest of the simple, and the salt of the earth.
Raising the Bar
Christ told them, and us, that He was not here to change the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it. By doing so, He raised the bar. He made it more difficult for Mosaic scholars to follow the letter of the law while avoiding the spirit of it. He challenged all of his disciples to live the law in their hearts and not just in their heads.
Hence, a man was guilty of adultery not merely if he divorced his wife, but also if he lusted after another woman in his heart (what we would call now an “emotional” affair). One was guilty of murder not only for the physical killing of another, but also for the emotional killing of one’s spirit (just like the “murder by gossip” so aptly described by Pope Francis). It was not enough to technically forgive those who hurt us; we must also love them by praying for them and sincerely wishing the best for them (because if we are judging them, as Mother Teresa said, we are too busy to love them).
Just as it was then, this is hard stuff to do. REALLY hard. But it’s not hard to understand, because Christ was so clear and down to earth in His language and actions.
When Christ asked the rich young man to give up his worldly riches if he wished to follow Him, and the young man turned away, Jesus did not chase after him and say, “Well, until you change your ways, you can still follow Me.” He sadly let him go.
And when Christ prevented the stoning of a woman caught in adultery, He didn’t say, “Okay, just don’t get caught the next time.” He said, “Go and sin no more.”
And when discussing what was expected of Nicodemus, Christ explained that it wasn’t enough to follow the old law. Rather Nicodemus must be “born again” in the spirit.
This is hard stuff for good people to follow
Thankfully, while Christ raised the bar, He also gave us the promise of His grace to help us. These teachings may be hard, but “with God, nothing is impossible.” He is always there, with strong shoulders, to lift us up and carry us. But first, as shown in all of His parables and in all of His interactions with others, it is clear that we must choose to turn or return toward Him. He doesn’t lessen the lesson to get us to come to Him. We must change our path to join His. We must choose to walk with Him, even while we are still sinners. We must “enroll” in His “class” in order for Him to teach us, while we were still uneducated and unwashed.
Thus, a divorced person who chooses to remarry and continues to stay in that marriage is living in sin. A woman who obtains an abortion or actively supports abortion is living in sin. A person, gay or straight, who has sex outside of marriage or in an unlawful marriage is living in sin. They have turned away from Christ, from His Church, and must choose to return toward Him.
But once any of the above chooses to repent (rependere — to repay, to ransom, to requite) for their sins, they will have chosen to walk with Him. And as they try to “sin no more,” He will be wonderfully with them every step of the way, with His love, His grace, the Holy Spirit, and through the love of the members of His body of Christ here on earth: His Church. They will join the legions of fellow sinners who are trying, with His grace, to “live perfectly” as He did.
It doesn’t take a theologian to understand any of this.
It only takes a pupil who is paying attention, as best as he or she can, to the Teacher.