By Roxanne King - “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting,” G.K. Chesterton famously wrote. “It has been found difficult and left untried.”
In the 12th and 13th centuries, to get around the difficulty of what Jesus said in the Gospels, Scripture scholars wrote commentaries on them called “glosses.” The glosses diminished the Gospel demands. St. Francis of Assisi warned his friars against doing the same, said Capuchin Fr. Joseph Mary Elder, communications director for the Province of St. Conrad.
“St. Francis would say, ‘Preach simply and without gloss. Use a simple word,’” Fr. Joseph Mary said.
That is the goal of a new video series the Capuchins launched in August titled A Simple Word. Available at Capuchins.org and on YouTube and Facebook, or as podcasts on iTunes or Spotify, the episodes, which are posted on Thursdays, feature Father Joseph Mary offering a short reflection with Franciscan insight on the coming Sunday’s Gospel reading for Mass.
“The intent is to help people understand the Gospel and live it,” Fr. Joseph Mary said of their latest evangelization tool. “To help them see how God is calling them to holiness.”
Because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek, shades of meaning can disappear when terms are translated into English, explained Fr. Joseph Mary. The Scriptures are also filled with ancient cultural references that can be lost on a modern-day American. Too, context can be compromised when the Lectionary containing the Mass readings abridges the Scriptures.
“To get the context of what is going on, to hear the words as the people of Jesus’ time heard them,” the friar said, “is crucial for a clear understanding.”
Therefore, Fr. Joseph Mary peppers A Simple Word reflections with the original Hebrew and Greek terms found in the Scriptures that add meaning to the Gospel readings.
He also provides insight into cultural terms common to the Scriptures that contemporary Christians may have little to no understanding of. And he fills in the blanks when a Scripture reading is abridged in the Lectionary.
Called “The Narrow Gate,” the first episode of A Simple Word explores the Gospel for Aug. 25 (Luke 13:22-30), in which a person asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
That’s a question we may wonder ourselves, Fr. Joseph Mary notes, before sharing Jesus’ answer: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
“There is a lot going on in that sentence,” asserts Fr. Joseph Mary. “First of all, the word translated as ‘strive’ is the Greek word agonizomai, which is the verb form of ‘agony.’ So the sentence could be [paraphrased] as: ‘You must suffer agony to enter through the narrow gate.’”
Ancient cities often had a large gate allowing several people to enter at once, he notes, and a smaller gate permitting just one person to squeeze through without anything in hand. The strength Jesus says one needs to enter through the narrow gate is the strength of faith, not physical might, he adds.
“You must suffer agony to enter through the narrow, painful gate of pruning and purification,” explains Fr. Joseph Mary.
Unbelievers like to point to suffering as their greatest argument against God’s existence. The Christian knows otherwise. Offering the experience of a prison inmate he ministered to, Fr. Joseph Mary notes the man told him it was only after he had lost everything that he realized God was all he ever needed.
“You’d think I’d be miserable,” he recalls the inmate saying, “but it was the most beautiful and painful gift God ever gave me.”
“In our lives, in our discipleship, we’re going to experience suffering. Jesus said it from the beginning, ‘If you want to be my disciple, pick up the cross. It’s the only way,’” asserts Fr. Joseph Mary. “We will agonize in our following of Jesus, but if we pursue the narrow way, if we allow ourselves to be pruned and stripped of our power and pride, our pleasures and our treasures; if we have the strength to believe that in the midst of it all, God loves me and God’s love is enough for me, we’ll pass through the narrow way.”