June 12th, 2012A Little Grammar Lessonby Dena Hunt
On the New Advent site this morning, two posts that seem so different on the surface struck a common underlying chord. Marcel LeJeune, with three humorous videos, begs us all to use words that make sense; then JoAnne McPortland laments her discontent with a less-than-traditional Corpus Christi Sunday Mass in “The Parable of the Turquoise High-Tops.” (The altar girl wore the shoes beneath a too-short alb.)
What is the common chord? LeJeune condemns nonsensical clichés, especially those of business people and of teenagers—expressions we hear every day and sometimes find creeping into our own conversation. McPortland relates an experience I’ve had myself, one that I suspect many share: We go to Mass, longing to worship our Lord, and find everything there—liturgy, homily, behavior, etc.—seemingly doing all that is possible to discourage that worship. And so we—well, we complain, and even criticize, only to find ourselves afterwards asking forgiveness.
The chord is—language, specifically, this one tiny bit of language: the verb love is transitive. That means that it requires an object to “make sense.” And because it’s an active verb, it requires a subject, an agent of the “acting.” I love you means I am doing the loving, and you are the object of the acting, receiving the loving, as it were. This is so much more important than it seems. Love does not come from the beloved, but from the lover. That simple lesson in grammar is the entire Gospel—as well as a great deal of mental health. God does not love us because we’re lovable. We are not loved because of our own lovability, and if we are unloved, it’s not because we’re unlovable. An agent of any action chooses to perform the action—or not. He’s not out of his own control. He can’t be—otherwise, he couldn’t be a subject—which means he couldn’t love. McPortland realizes that the choice to love those she encounters at Mass, or the Mass itself, is her own—not theirs. The beloved does not do the deciding—we, the agents of the action, decide.
As the subject, the agent, we choose. We cannot escape that responsibility by claiming that the object is not lovable. That claim does not alter the object in the slightest, but it denies us our freedom to choose. Conversely, as the object, we can take no credit for being loved. It is not of our own doing—we don’t earn it, deserve it, or have some “right” to it. And if we are unloved, it’s not our fault—that’s such a hard lesson to learn and such an important one for our own mental health.
A little lesson in grammar can change not only one’s life, but one’s soul.