Sunday, September 03, 2006

Latin Lesson for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Back at the dawn of the Internet Age Bill Gates was purported to have prophesied that the Internet’s greatest contribution would be the empowerment of the individual. Twenty years later, the fulfillment of the prophecy is so ubiquitous and integrated into daily life that few even consider this tool as an “empowerment”. But just let the “net” go down for a couple minutes and its like oxygen being cut.

I suppose that’s an odd paragraph to introduce another installment of my ongoing personal reflections on what the Church actually says (Latin) and what the English translators have made it say. But prior to the Internet, the average individual (me, in this case) would not have had access to such handy tools as the official Latin texts and an online Latin-English dictionary.

Well, to the lesson for today, Sunday, September 03, 2006, Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B. At issue is the Psalm Verse.
The Latin says: Dominus, qui habitabit in tabernaculo tuo?
The English says: “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

Before we do any translation we can easily note that the Latin ends with a question mark and the English with a period. Hmmm. The Latin is a question, the English is a statement. What’s up?

Let’s take a look at the Latin, word for word:
Dominus = Lord
Qui = who
Habitabit = to live in, or dwell, inhabit
Tabernaculo = tabernacle
Tuo = your, thy

Translation: “Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle?” Now how hard is that?

The English not only does not translate this as a question it goes on to insert an answer. It’s not just a bad translation (my opinion), it’s not even A translation. It’s a completely different set of words. In addition (more of my opinion) the English destroys the effect of the verses that follow.

First let’s look at the very next verse in English:

“Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.”

There’s the answer to the question. The original Q&A setting of the Psalm hammers home the point. The question “Who shall dwell…” is asked 3 times and 3 times an answer is given. (By the way, again with the 3 times that we have so often discussed before). Look at the effect of this:

WHO SHALL DWELL IN THY TABERNACLE?
Whoever walks blamelessly and does
justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue.

WHO SHALL DWELL IN THY TABERNACLE?
Who (ever) harms not his fellow
man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
By whom the reprobate is
despised, while he honors those who fear the Lord.

WHO SHALL DWELL IN THY TABERNACLE?
Who (ever) lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe
against the innocent.
Who (ever) does these things shall never be disturbed.

The psalm verse is supposed to be THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION. The translators have purposely eviscerated the effect: eliminating the question and substituting something else altogether. But for what purpose?

The word “justice” is the clue (my opinion). “Justice” was the rallying cry of the age in which the English translation was born (1960’s and 70’s). “Social Justice” jumped out of Vatican II like a hungry tiger looking to satisfy a centuries-long appetite. This isn’t the main topic of this entry so I don’t want to spend much time on it here. But basically what materialized under the banner of Social Justice was more Social (-ism) than Justice, probably most poignantly epitomized by Catholic university students lining up to assuage their middle-class guilt in Tortilla Marathons and token stints at soup kitchens.

Okay, not all of you. Relax! But let’s face it. The emphasis, energy, and resources dedicated to helping “poor Mexicans” (a metaphor for the larger picture – and I’m Mexican, by the way) was suspiciously disproportionate. Consider this: have you seen the same “emphasis, energy, and resources dedicated to helping people live chaste lives? Okay, you get the point. It’s not there. And the list could go on of course.

By the way Social Justice was not unique to Vatican II and the new “enlightened Catholic”. It used to be called “Charity”, and people used to practice it quite on their own. I can recall seeing my mom feeding burritos to homeless guys on our back porch. I can recall going with my dad to fix a toilet at the home of an elderly person. I have lots of memories like that. I can recall something called the St. Vincent de Paul Society that cared for the poor quite without the help of government grants which didn’t exist then anyway. Perhaps the saddest effect of the Social Justice mentality has been a move away from personal charity and a reliance on institutionalized charity, which is more welfare than charity.

I have very good personal friends who are very involved with Social Justice issues and I don’t wish to offend them. I am not attacking any individual involved with the true care of those in need. I am, though, singling out “justice” in the context of the over-eager Social Justice agena that here even invades Scripture and rewrites it.

Well, that was quite a digression. Let’s go back to the Latin lesson because there’s something else that our translators are denying us in this short verse: the word “tabernacle”.

What a sad replacement is the word “presence” (“…will live in the presence of the Lord”) for the word “tabernacle”. “Tabernacle” is of course a word with great biblical significance. God’s “presence” is everywhere, but He always was (and still is) especially present in His Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, in the days of Moses, as it is now, was and is: “God with us”.

And there’s another dimension of the word “tabernacle” that is not spoken of much, which is odd because it is the very meaning of the word. Most of the time it gets translated as “tent” or “dwelling”. But it’s more than that. It’s not just a place to come in to; it’s a place to get fed. It’s where we get the word “tavern”, literally a public house for travelers – a place where one could come in out of the weather, find safety, warmth, and nourishment.

And of course that would line up with what the “Tabernacle” was and is. The Tabernacle of Moses housed the Ark of the Covenant which itself held the manna. The Tabernacle that was Mary kept the Jesus in her womb safe, warm, and nourished. The Tabernacle in our churches holds the Bread of Life Himself.

It’s not surprising that the modern translators did away with “tabernacle” from the psalm verse. It’s the same folks (and those of like mind) who have done their best to do away with the actual tabernacles in our churches. And no surprise that while they were at it, tried to get rid of images of that most special tabernacle, Mary, the Mother of God.

This brings me back to my major contention that the Catholic Church, at least in America, has been sickened from within by the translations the ICEL has foisted upon us. No amount of parish programs, workshops, youth groups, etc. will stop the bleeding because the bleeding is internal.

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