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Changing the Words

July 14, 2019 (615 words)

That rascal Pope Francis is at it again. This time he is recommending a revision to one of our oldest prayers, the Our Father.

Specifically, he has recently approved a change in the Italian translation from “lead us not into temptation,” to “do not let us fall into temptation.”

Since this is said to effect the Italian translation only, I’m not sure when it will make its way to my local parish, if at all. In the sleepy little backwater where I attend Mass, we are still reciting “lead us not into temptation” every Sunday.

Nevertheless, this tweak by the notorious outlier who currently resides in the Vatican has generated the usual firestorm of criticism and controversy from certain scholarly quarters.

Monsignor Charles Pope is one of those who have stepped up to the plate and taken issue with this minor change. He writes for the National Catholic Register, and his work regularly appears in other venues as well. His is always an articulate and reliable source of information.

On June 11 he blogged his disapproval of the notion, expressed by Pope Francis and others, that God does not lead us into temptation. When Francis says, “A father does not do that…,” Msgr. Pope argues such a statement is “simply not true and is contrary to Scripture.”

He then goes on to point out, in his characteristically erudite manner, how Matthew 4:1 clearly shows that Jesus himself was led into the desert to be tempted.

“This teaches us it is part of the providence of God that his Son, and all who are members of Jesus’ body, experience temptations and trails of various sorts. God leads us forth in life to experience and overcome these things by his grace.”

Now I personally find this parsing of a few words in a well-known prayer to be extremely fascinating. If only more of us gave as much thought to the words we use every day. Such reflection can produce clarity of thought and action.

On the other hand, I’m not sure most people are going to tune into such a minor change, and find it as fraught with meaning as the critics do. I guess what I’m saying is, the phrase in question as it currently stands has always made sense to me, but I can also see what Pope Francis and others are trying to communicate with the minor change.

why all the fuss?…

Which begs the questions, why all the fuss? One of the problems with our instant access world is that everybody is supposed to have a decisive, partisan opinion about everything, and right away. In this case, Msgr. Pope has been designated as that guy, who can be counted on to caste an immediate verdict on anything that goes down in the world of Roman Catholicism.

As helpful as he can be with his insights, sometimes this expectation of instant declaration can work against him, and all our other astute, faithful Catholic spokespeople. Occasionally it’s okay to just step back, mull things over, and withhold judgement.

But that’s not what professional spokespeople get paid to do, is it?

In this case, it’s not as if the fate of the civilized world – or the integrity of the deposit of faith – hangs in the balance. Sorry, folks, but the difference between “lead us not” versus “do not let us fall” does not strike me as a game changer of epic proportions.

This latest brouhaha is just one more example that there is far too much commentary happening, and not nearly enough contemplation going on, if you ask me.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
July 14, 2019

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