This coming Sunday (30 August 2020) is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. The following is a homily by Father Valentine Young, OFM, who died on 17 January 2020. We received permission to post these homilies, as well as to correct “grammatical errors, etc.” To learn more about Father Valentine, scroll to the bottom of the page. These homilies were all delivered sometime between 2013 and 2020.
Editor’s Note: When I first read this sermon, I thought Father Valentine was referring to the previous translation of the Lectionary. (Father Valentine held an extremely low opinion of the Lectionary translations which appeared immediately after the Second Vatican Council, around the time he was teaching Latin in the seminary.) However, I see that he was referring to the current translation, and you can verify this with the current USA version, the current British version, and even the 1970 USA Lectionary. The section in question is Matthew 16:25-26, which reads as follows: Quid enim prodest hómini, si mundum univérsum lucrétur, ánimae vero suae detriméntum patiátur? Aut quam dabit homo commutatiónem pro ánima sua? Father Valentine correctly points out the horrible way this has been rendered following the Second Vatican Council. Even the Protestants translate these verses into English properly, but for some reason our current “scholars” cannot. Monsignor Knox (1940s) does it correctly: How is a man the better for it, if he gains the whole world at the cost of losing his own soul? For a man’s soul, what price can be high enough? The Douay Rheims gets it right: What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul? The Westminster translation (1950s) also has no difficulty. Someone once told me that the post-conciliar translators in the United States made the decision never to use the word “soul” (anima) for ideological reasons; could this be what’s going on here? In any event, this translation is terrible, and it fills me with great sadness. This error must be corrected.
Homily • 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
ODERN “Catholic” theology, (I use this phrase somewhat sarcastically or cynically), does not like the expression “to lose one’s soul.” Actually, this is a rather polite or gentle way of saying “going to hell.” Sadly, I doubt that even in many Catholic schools—even in religion classes!—the idea is ever brought up to the children that if they dare to do certain things they may “lose their souls” or “go to hell.” Such a notion—we are told—might cause irreparable psychological harm that perhaps not even countless hours of counseling could cure! Who knows? Perhaps the school and perpetrating teachers might be liable to great lawsuits?
Reason for mention: My reason for mentioning this is because of the translation of today’s Gospel translation that has been foisted on us—and I purposely use that word foisted. More specifically, I’m referring to the line where we are told that Jesus said, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” That is the translation we heard today, that the United States Bishops make most Catholics in the USA listen to. [See above: this shameful translation of anima has also been adopted by the bishops of Great Britain.]
Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier: Almost five hundred years ago two men met each other (I believe it was in Paris) whom we now know as Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius was trying to convert Francis Xavier, who at that time was far from being a saint. He quoted the part of the Bible, used in today’s Mass. I am sure he used either the Latin (Quid enim prodest hómini, si mundum univérsum lucrétur, ánimae vero suae detriméntum patiátur?) or a vernacular translation which would have been closer to our English translation, namely: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his own soul?” Do you think that first translation (“forfeit his life, etc.”) would have had the same impact? I doubt it.
Language spoken: Saint Francis Xavier was probably quoting these words in Latin, which would have been the usually thing to do back in those days. I don’t even know when the Bible was first translated into Spanish. But the expression “losing one’s soul” was a rather universal expression, used in many languages—and it meant to suffer eternal damnation. Unfortunately the modern world (yes, even many in the Catholic Church!) don’t want to hear about that…and so they simply try to ignore the fact.
What fact? What fact? I’m glad you asked the question. The fact that it was, is, and always will be possible for people to suffer eternal damnation. I’m certainly not wishing that on anyone—and I actually hope that it will never happen. But when we read the entirety of the Bible, especially the four Gospels, we can’t help but get the impression from some of the things that Jesus says and does that there is a hell and it is possible for people to go there. Admittedly, this is not a very pleasant thought and no one likes to talk about it. But Jesus talked about it on occasion—and if He did, I suppose his priests should also do so, at least on occasion. I would love to believe that everyone who dies goes immediately to heaven, and if I were in charge, maybe that is how things would be. But I am not in charge. I also know that genuine Catholic teaching says we should pray for people who die. Now if we were sure they were in heaven, that wouldn’t be necessary. So let’s be consistent in our teaching.
Conclusion: The other day several of us were discussing some worldly matters, such as fake news. Fake news can take all kinds of shapes and forms. It can be outright lies. What happens then if the newscaster is caught? Later he will retract, but very quietly and unobtrusively so that most people won’t even know that he corrected himself. I doubt a day goes by without this happening. And then we people in the Catholic Church have this special problem to contend with. The official—or shall I say “guaranteed”—version of our religion is written in the Latin language, and most people have to depend on a translation to be able to understand it. Years ago, this was no problem because we could trust the translators. If I have done nothing else today, at least I have brought to your attention some very familiar words of our Lord: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” I know I heard these words as a child and I remembered them. I don’t think they did me any psychological harm. I think they may have helped me to try to lead a good life. Now children will be hearing: “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” I’ll let you decide which is the better way of presenting what Jesus was trying to tell us.