Photo provided by Kevin J. Banet, VocationPromotion.com
I scanned all the old books before me. They were all just as I had imagined them, worn covers and all.
“Take whatever you want,” my sister said. “I’m giving the rest to the Goodwill.”
My dad had entered the nursing home just a few months ago, and I was now the inheritor of his bookish treasures. Mostly theology books of every stripe. The old and worn volumes brought back fond memories of my young adulthood. A college English teacher, Dad had accumulated a wall full of tomes, but only a few dozen remained.
I searched among the familiar titles. And there it was, almost calling out to me.
Clothed in a shabby red plastic cover was The Greek New Testament. I remembered the book years ago when dad and I poured over its cryptic pages while the black and white TV squawked in the next room. The obscure characters between its covers - squiggles, funny curved accent marks, and letters with slanted lines that were like Olympic spears about to be thrown.
These pages were so many bread crumbs that led me back to the mysterious and hidden world of the New Testament, written so long ago.
This was Greek, the learned language at the time of Christ and the centuries afterward. Amazing - these Greek characters that we now gaze at were the same as that penned by St. Paul and others when they crafted their world-shaking Gospels and letters.
“Say this word,” my dad would ask, pointing to the undecipherable word, basileia. I stumbled over the term like a two-year old.
“Say it again,” he insisted. He wanted me to hear something familiar from my own voice. But I kept missing the mark. I was supposed to hear the English word basilica. Yes, Greek is a friend, known to our ears if not our eyes.
Dad had picked up the language with facility over the years. As a student in his high school seminary, he was a Latin whiz, which caught the eye of his teacher, who later offered him his first job as a college teacher. Years later, Dad had applied his interest to Greek, and it was good preparation for his vocation as a deacon for the archdiocese.
“Translating the Bible is not an easy task,” he would say. No, it was not a cut and dried deal, like the fundamentalists whom we knew maintained.
In the early days of the Church, there was not one Bible as we know it today, but letters and scraps of manuscripts that are now scattered around the world, closely guarded in museums and churches. Today, we must search each ancient word by looking at the way it was used in other contexts, both in and out of scripture.
Yes, scripture is inerrant and inspired by God. But its translations - the link between the ancient world and ours - might not be. Dad and I even found some mistakes in the King James Version, comparing words with the original Greek versions.
These Bible lessons in the living room were an antidote to the influence of my fundamentalist friends, former Catholics who had been born again. Like me, they turned over their empty life without God for true living with the God-man Jesus Christ, who freely shares His very nature with us through the transforming waters of baptism.
What sparked dad’s interest in “talking Greek” was that I had expressed a desire to buy a King James Bible. I wanted to tote it and tap it as my friends did. But dad went on the offensive, using his deft skills as an academic to keep me from sliding into fundamentalism.
As a family in those days, we were all rediscovering the Catholic Chuch, that sleeping giant who keeps waking up to bring the world back to sanity and to its Source.
The Baptists of our day had a good heart, and were full of zeal, we all admitted. But the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church was the pearl of great price. Why eat a sandwich when you can have the whole banquet? Scripture and tradition is the connecting chain that preserves the teaching that Christ intended.
I never became a language ninja, as did my dad. But the same Greek Bible is back to work - in my own family. Just the other day I picked up my teenage son from school. He and his friend slid into the back seat, full of the usual after-class giggles.
“Take a look at this,” I said, handing the book to the boys. It was opened to the Gospel of John.
“Try to pronounce this word.”