Last night my family and I had the privilege of attending a mass celebrated by the Jesuit Superior General Adolfo Nicolás, who was visiting the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. The school had to set up a tent and seating on the patio outside the chapel in order to accommodate the standing room only crowd.
Fr. Adolfo Nicolás had prepared a homily, but in light of some conversations he had earlier with students and faculty, decided to speak extemporaneously. He spoke of the need for those doing theology in the Church to be conversant in three languages. The first is the language of theology itself, its traditions and technical vocabulary. The second language, proper to the Jesuits as missionaries, is the language of what he called “the frontier,” and in particular the frontier where the poor and marginalized are found. Finally, there is the language spoken by those at the “center,” the language of institutions and those charged with authority.
All three of these languages are necessary and we need to be comfortable speaking each. The problem is that they are not the same languages and they require translation. We need to be patient with one another in this process. The contemporary speed of communication-particularly with the Internet-can make it hard to have this kind of patience. He joked that remarks made in Berkeley can be known in Rome 30 minutes later. I suspect this post is only proving Fr. Nicolás’s point!
In light of the feast day of St. Paul Miki and Companions, Fr. Nicolás spoke of a fourth language, that of “witness.” He told a story of meeting an older Catholic during his time in Japan who had been catechized by Pedro Arrupe himself. “That must have been wonderful,” said Fr. Nicolás, expecting to hear that the experience had given the man profound insights into the faith. On the contrary, said the man, often I couldn’t understand what he was saying. “But I watched him and at the end of a year I said, this man is a good man and if this faith can produce such a man, I will become a Christian.”
I’ll close with an anecdote about my eight-year-old daughter Megan, who was particularly interested in meeting Fr. Nicolás. “Can I touch him,” she said, “or is he too holy?” When my wife laughed, Megan said “I know, I’ll creep up behind him and touch his clothes like the woman in the Bible did with Jesus.” I’m happy to report that no such subterfuge was necessary. We were able to meet Fr. Nicolás at the reception and Megan got to shake his hand. Perhaps she’ll remember this moment if she’s ever ordained a Jesuit…:-)
All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening and one that I thought other members of the community here would be interested in reading about.