Guest Columnists

Language Is the Music of Our Souls

Father Eugene Hemrick

BETWEEN 380 and 400 international priests enter the U.S. priesthood yearly, according to the study “International Priests in America: Challenges and Opportunities” (Liturgical Press), by the late Dean R. Hoge and Dominican Father Aniedi Okure.
Although American-born priests still outnumber international priests substantially, the study said, priests among second-generation immigrants, together with the flow of priests from other countries entering the United States, indicate that the gap between American-born and international priests continues to close at a rapid pace.
I believe that with international priests and multicultural parishes increasing rapidly, a new age of artful bonding is being called for. To the degree that this succeeds, it will be the degree in which we enjoy a vibrant church and country like none before. What might be one sure way for ensuring success?
Language is the glue that bonds us together. In addition to it being a skill, it is an art.
It is one thing to attempt to speak a few words in Spanish to make a Spanish-speaking person feel comfortable. It is yet another thing to have a heartfelt desire to converse with that person.
The frustration of language barriers often has a way of dampening our urge to connect with another. Desire, on the contrary, has a way of breaking down barriers no matter their heights.
In addition to desire, our eyes and gestures are essential to the art of language.
I will never forget a conversation I had in Germany while riding the train. As I took my seat, I said to the man across from me, “Wie geht’s (How are you)?”
The man pointed to his lips and ears, indicating he was a mute and deaf. His eyes looked deeply into mine, inviting conversation – and this we had!
I slowly mouthed a few words in German and he replied with a smile and pantomiming. It was ever so touching to feel our bonding even though no audible word was spoken.
The art of language requires tone.
In advising his son Marcus on manners, Cicero encouraged him to speak melodiously.
In his definition of a gentleman, Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman said the following in his treatise on university education for Catholics: “(A gentleman) is tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant and merciful toward the absurd” (“The Idea of a University”).
To truly communicate with another is to be a musician applying softness, spirited forte, accentuations, measured tempos, and the many other elements that make music enjoyable.
In many respects, the art of language is being lost. More often than not, shouting, an adversarial tone and meaningless conversation take precedent over harmonious speech aimed at bonding.
Our language lacks music. Recapturing the art and beautiful rhythms of language is the best means we possess for creating a vibrant world of new possibilities in our growing multicultural world. They contain the very means for making music that speaks to our souls.

Father Eugene Hemrick writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.