Use words that bring understanding

By Vinal Van Benthem | For The Compass | June 2, 2017

“Jargon” — those specialized words and expressions that we sometimes use without even being aware of it. As a Roman Catholic liturgist, I occasionally catch myself referring to the “ambo” (pulpit to most folks) or the “gathering space” (replaces and expands the vestibule), the “worship space” (previously known as the church), the “ambry” (place where the holy oils are kept) or the “reconciliation chapel” (remembered by some as the confessional).

But jargon isn’t limited to church folks. For instance, since when is a “mouse” not a small rodent with a long tail, or a “hard drive” not a tedious trip on a bumpy road? The jargon associated with computer usage is pretty much second nature to many people, but it might as well be a foreign language to others. I remember my relief when I walked into a local cell phone store and was greeted by a young man who actually spoke English as I knew it. On the other hand, a recent shopping expedition for a high definition TV ended in disappointment when it became obvious that the clerk had little time for people who did not speak his language.

“And they … began to speak in different tongues … devout Jews from every nation … each … heard them speaking in his own language.” The writer of Acts does not say that the apostles spoke in unintelligible tongues, some kind of “holy jargon,” but rather that their words were made intelligible for the good of all regardless of language or origin. “There are different forms of service …” Certainly, my two salesmen saw their service very differently, one using words that made sense to him but not to me, while the other chose instead to speak in words meant for my benefit.

The Holy Spirit did not come to bring confusion but, rather, understanding. Our world is made up of many languages, many words that have meaning for some, but not for others. Do we use words that will bring our community closer in understanding? Or do we prefer jargon that only serves to drive us farther apart?

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.

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