02.07.1950 - 02.07.2000
It is often called the birthday of the Church. The scene is recorded in the second chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The facts are relatively simple. There is a big aimless crowd. The come from all different countries and cultures. There is a small group of men and women who have been reflecting on recent events in their own lives. A close friend has died. He has come back from the dead. He has placed a sacred trust on them to preach and live out his life and values.
What seems like a bit of localised willy-willy brings many people to the one spot. The friends of the man who came back from the dead see an opportunity. This crowd gathered could provide a sounding board for their message. There is one problem. Language. They will give it a go because at least some will understand
This is how it pans out. Their own country men do hear, understand and are impressed. There is another dimension. People from other countries also hear the message, understand and are impressed. The amazing thing is that all these people hear these words in THEIR OWN LANGUAGE.
There is something reassuring about hearing things in ones own language. It is familiar, reassuring, easily understood. Shades of meanings come through clearly.
Language is bound up with the way we think. The way we judge, the way we act. It is so easy to mistake the message when the language is poorly or imperfectly understood. The Holy Spirit assured the authenticity of this message received by the milling crowd for all heard it in THEIR OWN LANGUAGE. The message that these men give changes the way people will think and act. Yet each group of people heard the Apostles speak in their own language. The message would be the same. The way it is presented would differ.
As the influence of this group of men spread attitudes would change. Christianity is by its very nature a whole way of change. Openness will replace barriers, courage will replace fear, love and forgiveness will replace hate and vengeance. But in the midst of this radical change each people must hear the message in their own language. It is very easy to mistake our own views for the authentic views of Christ and his spirit. f t
It is so easy for all of us Christians to fudge and confuse the content of the message of Jesus with how it is presented. Usually we donít have the great advantage of an overt presence of the Holy Spirit translating our words so that people of other cultures can understand the nub of our message.
So much of the message of Jesus has been tainted, slanted and even falsified because people who imagined that they were loyal messengers of Jesus and his Church failed to speak the message of Jesus to the people in their own language.
They confused the form for the content. What they presented was their own cultural outlook. They attempted to generalise and legitimise their words by claiming it was Christís message, These aberrations led to all type of excesses by which earnest Christians have vainly and untruthfully tried to legitimise their cultural version of Jesus as the only authentic message of Christ and his spirit.
The Holy Spirit still does this work of translation but he needs committed earnest and wise people to carry our this task. It is still very much the work of the spirit, but hard work, hours of study and reflection are needed. We cannot expect the miraculous but Christ does call forth spirit filled men and women who will place the everlasting message of Jesus in words and actions which people of different backgrounds will more easily comprehend. It will be presented to them in a way which preserves their identity as people with their own culture language and symbols but will by faith and commitment unite them with the world wide family of the followers of Jesus.
Kevin for years and years you have laboured with your fragile hearing to hear the words, customs and symbols of the people amongst who you lived. At times you have felt discouraged at the lack of support you have received for this endeavour. But the call of the spirit was heard loud and clear by you. The message of Jesus must be preached and heard by the people in their own language if it is to make a true and lasting impact. This message of Jesus must be worked over, interiorised and expressed again in the language of the people. Only in this way does the message of Jesus gain authenticity and relevance. Otherwise it runs the danger of confusing the message of Jesus with the culture, language and values of those who speak the message.
It is only when this task is undertaken sincerely, modestly and with consistency that the wish of the Holy Father expressed at Alice Springs has any hope of becoming reality. The Church in Australia will never be the Church which Jesus intended until the Aboriginal people have a decisive and ongoing input to the Australian Church and this input is gratefully received and accepted.
Kevin I know that no task has been nearer and dearer to you heart that your work on the liturgy expressed in The Missa Kimberley. I see in that work and all the writings and insights that go with it your significant effort at Pentecost, Kimberley style. The message of the Risen Jesus is proclaimed by the power of the spirit but in the language of the people. Congratulations on your efforts. May they come to full flowering. May we be wise enough to truly value and support this input.
May the wider Australian Church be big and wise enough to open its heart and ears to the insights, love and wisdom of the Aboriginal people so that the wish of John Paul II will be fulfilled.
Michael McMahon sac