JESUS YOUTH-Being normal, ordinary and simple, but with a difference
“What I like about these youngsters is that they are just like any other youth, but get to know them closer, and we find some excellent stuff in them.” This professor was not sympathetic to anything spiritual on the university campus. But watching a few Jesus Youth leaders working there, changed his attitude. The reason? They were just normal, and not ‘over-the-top-spiritual’.
‘Normal Christian life’ has been a phrase that has been dear to Jesus Youth. Being normal and ordinary, yet different in a deeper way – can be something fascinating and at the same time quite challenging. And in these columns, we have been asking what this could mean in the life and mission of the movement.
Two: Using normal, ordinary language
A friendship group is perhaps the best place to mould and groom a person; especially so if the group has informal ways and continues meeting for a long period of time. For many of us from the early days of the movement, the First Line Group was just that. Everyone would wait eagerly for the monthly meetings where there was such joy and freedom. And when there were conflicts and misunderstandings, there were simple ways to resolve them and build up the fellowship.
Through the First Line group a network of dependable leaders and youth initiatives got built up. It was this group that dreamed of and organised “Jesus Youth ‘85”, that lent the movement its name. But more than anything else, everyone in that fellowship would fondly remember how it formed each of us. A lot of unwinding took place during those gatherings, through informal interactions and guided sharing. From rigid and serious personalities, many of them turned into simple, joyful people. This group taught them that it is OK to talk and act in simple way, and helped them give up many masks.
Pope Francis discusses in detail the importance of using simple language. “Simplicity has to do with the language we use. It must be one that people understand, lest we risk speaking to a void.” This is from his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (158). He then, hints at a mistake that many spiritual people commit, i.e. using expressions they learned in retreats and training sessions. “Preachers often use words learned during their studies and in specialized settings which are not part of the ordinary language of their hearers. These are words that are suitable in theology or catechesis, but whose meaning is incomprehensible to the majority of Christians.” The Pope says, the bigger problem is that in our groups we have a language that the ordinary people outside find very strange and we don’t understand that we speak a funny language. “The greatest risk for a preacher is that he becomes so accustomed to his own language that he thinks that everyone else naturally understands and uses it.”
In our sharing and discussion, we found that after attending many retreats and going for charismatic meetings, almost all of us use some special words and even certain peculiar way of speaking. For example, saying ‘Praise the Lord’ for greetings or just to catch attention. There were many more such expressions, like, ‘he has to surrender more’, ‘his inner healing is not complete’ or ‘she has not enough infilling’. The list can be long, and these can be quite strange for others in our Church circles and more so, for general public.
But then, what is the problem if we use these special words? Don’t we have the right to be different? These words and other expressions become what we call ‘cliché’ and such stereotyped words slowly lose their original beauty and meaning. A bigger problem is that the regular use of a lot of such words separate us from other people around us. We connect with others mainly through words. When we use such strange words and clichés, they often find us quite ‘funny’. And what is more, our important duty of building loving relationships and sharing the good news of Jesus is seriously thwarted, and we would be, as St Paul would say, “holding a form of religion but denying the power of it” (2 Tim 3:5).
In the words of Pope Paul VI, “Evangelization loses much of its force and effectiveness if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language” (Evangelii Nuntianti, 63). So there was a conscious effort among us to start talking and behaving in a normal way. In our group there was a lot of freedom to question our ways and even to make fun of someone using bombastic ‘spiritual’ words. This was another journey to be ‘child like’ by using simple and normal words.
It is good idea to ask ourselves whether we are simple and joyful, not artificial or not using spiritual masks, by checking some specific areas of our day to day life:
- Greet in ways appropriate to the group or context. In street or work place use ‘Hello’ or ‘Good Morning” and not “Praise the Lord” or “Hallelujah”.
- Avoid using too many spiritual jargons or cliché expressions – If you must use a very special idea, take a little trouble to paraphrase it in ordinary words
- When talking of spiritual experiences or your inner journey, talk in words that an ordinary person would understand
- When you make a spontaneous/shared prayer avoid stock patterns and don’t use “Lord” and/or “Jesus” repeatedly. Instead use simple and sincere spoken language addressing the Lord.
Some one may ask, “Should we completely avoid using ‘spiritual jargons’ or as quoted from Pope Francis ‘words of preachers’?” I think the main issue is not about using or avoiding jargons but using simple and ordinary language that most people in a society would understand and enjoy. Over use of special expressions, whether it be religious, political or even scientific, can give a bad taste to the listeners. And that can slowly destroy the simple joyful spirit of a Christian community. Use simple, ordinary language and become joyful Christians!