Posts tagged with: language

R.R. Reno at First Things has written a moving meditation on the preferential option for the poor:

“In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus warning us about how our lives will be judged. His words are pointed. We are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. For what we do to the poor and the destitute—“the least of these my brethren,” says Jesus—we do to the Lord himself.

It’s a sobering warning, and I fear that I’m typical. For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires. And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. The poor? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life. As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.”

Reno points out something very interesting about the language used to describe our relationship to the poor:

“In Octogesima Adveniens (1971), an encyclical marking the eightieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s seminal treatment of modern social issues, Rerum Novarum, Paul VI evoked the fundamental importance of a transformative spirit of self-sacrificial love. “In teaching us charity,” he wrote, “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.”

“Preferential respect” became the handier slogan “preferential option,” a formulation that first emerged from liberation theologies in South America but has percolated into a great deal of Catholic pronouncement on social ethics in recent decades. It captures a fundamental Christian imperative. When we think about politics and culture, our first question should be: “What are the needs of the poor?””

The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase, ‘preferential option for the poor’ a few years prior to Pope Paul VI’s use of ‘preferential respect’ in his encyclical and both phrases bring out a different dimension of what the Christian’s relationship with the poor should be.

The language of Arrupe follows the Ignatian tradition in its emphasis on choice. It is a preferential option, a decision to be made, and a commitment to be lived. The language of Pope Paul VI is more ontological, a respect to be given to the poor as poor, possessing a dignity that also demands ones own renunciation of rights and claims before them.

When meditating on the preferential option, a relationship of action and choice, Reno is right to recall the words of Jesus when he speaks of the judgment, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

When I think of Pope Paul VI’s language of respect my thoughts go to these words of Christ, “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”

The poor must never be reduced to a project or duty and they must never be ignored while simultaneously held in our esteem. They are our neighbors and all that that entails.

 

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
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In addition to the GodBlogCon coverage here by Jordan, I’d like to point readers to two speakers who gave thought provoking talks on the careful use of language. That is, the careful use of language in a time where language is often treated as an ephemeral or disposable thing in the service of the latest Web-enabled communications widget. Not really.

On Saturday, Ken Myers offered “Renewed Minds Online: The Internet, Media Ecology, and the Christian Consciousness.” Myers is host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, a high quality source of audio programming on a wide variety of issues. Here is the gist of Myer’s talk (podcast available here):

The word, spoken and written, lives at the center of Christian faith. The case has been made by many theologians and philosophers that human nature is in its essence linguistic; we are, after all created in the image of a speaking and writing God, one who utters all things into existence, who reveals his law by writing with his finger on tablets of stone, who reveals himself in dreams and visions, but who also provides words to accompany and sometimes explain those images; who comes among us as the living Word. Bread alone is not the source of our life, but rather words.

How we use language should thus be a matter of thoughtfulness and deliberateness. Not only should we pay attention to the way we use words; we also need to attend to how the setting within which our words are presented to the world spins their reception, often in ways we never intended.

Also see Myers’ online essay, “Configuring Church and Culture” here.

The closing talk by John Mark Reynolds, “On The Art of Online Conversation,” looked at how online discourse too often degenerates, particularly in political circles, to a harsh and unhealthy contest of who can shout the loudest. Reynolds, a philospher and director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, also looks at the way online writing has landed in the strange middle ground between books and conversation. Reynolds observes that the “immediacy” of online conversation is its great advantage, and also its great drawback. Those online conversations, authored with great care or with almost no thought at all, tend to stay around a long time after the live interaction is over.

Reynolds also offers rules for good conversations starting with, “A good discussion begins, most critically, with the right question.”

Listen to his entire talk on the Scriptorium Daily blog. The full list of posted GodBlogCon podcasts is available here.

And check out “The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting for Christ,” edited by Reynolds and Roger Overton, on its way to bookstores later this month from Crossway.