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Yo non sé hablar ... (Sr. Dominique de la Maisonneuve)

21/07/2010: General House - Rome

 General Chapter  Rome


Wednesday 21 July 2010



Biblical reflection    

Jeremiah1, 1. 4-10



Good morning

And thank you for giving me this opportunity of sharing with you our daily bread : the Word of God.

For me, it is a way of telling the Congregation, that you represent, my gratitude for allowing me to study in Jerusalem, and to study for a long time ;

I am happy to acknowledge that the Jews have announced Jesus Christ to me.

But that is not my subject.


I would simply like to reflect on today’s reading, as the Church gives us our nourishment in the liturgy.






Today we are starting a new book : the book of Jeremiah.

It is more than starting, it is re-starting,

For God is always telling us the same things.

But as we are hard of hearing and of heart,

he chooses different interpreters,

and today it is Jeremiah,

a man who has a family : a priestly family,

that is living in a particular place : Anatot,  in the territory of Benjamin,

in a specific historical context : under the king Josias and his sons / the deportation to Babylon.

We can apply that to our situation today in Sion : at a precise moment of our history, in a specific place, the Word of God is addressed to us by this or that person.


Part 1 :

To God who announces his vocation to him – I appointed you a prophet to the nations – Jeremiah replies : I do  not know how to speak.


I do  not know how to speak.

What does that mean ?

Since Jeremiah is answering, he does know how to speak !


I do  not know how to speak…that can mean several things :

Real ignorance : I don’t know Spanish…I don’t know how to fly a plane… and lots of other things we don’t know and will probably never know…

But that is not what it means here because, by replying, Jeremiah shows that he knows how to speak !


Let us ask ourselves what we mean when we say : I do not know

Sometimes that expresses a kind of laziness : I don’t want to make the effort of trying to reply..

And quite often :

  • fear : it is the reply given by someone who witnesses an accident, for instance, and who is afraid of the consequences of getting involved : he doesn’t want to have to go to court : I do not know – like that, he is freed from any responsibility.
  • fleeingbefore some task, or work… (implying : I do not know and I don’t want to know !)


Jeremiah’s I do not know is visibly of that order, because God says to him : Do not be afraid…But what is Jeremiah afraid of ?


That is going to be the subject of Part 2 :


The people of Israel is going through an extremely grave period which is going to end in exile.

The people is very far away from the Tora ;

by announcing the ONE and ONLY God, Jeremiah is proposing a break with the habits and ways of thinking of his time, and that could cost him dearly !

For God says to him :                        Today I appoint you…

                                               To pluck up and to pull down,

                                               To destroy and to overthrow,

                                               To build and to plant.


For there is a political-religious order to overthrow :

Four verbs signify how difficult this overthrowing is :

Pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow.

That is not going to make him any friends…(Later, Jesus would say : I have not come to bring peace to the earth… ?)

It is the necessary condition for establishig a new order, for building.

(I would like to remind you here that, in the Bible, very often a negative precedes a positive .  Let’s take a simple example : Psalm 1, which teaches us the first beatitude : Happy are those…

This psalm begins by what we are not to do : not to ask advice from the wicked, take the path of sinners, live with those who don’t take life seriously.  It is only afterwards that the beatitude is expressed : murmuring the Tora day and night.


What do we learn from that ?

In order to build something new, you first have to demolish…


An impossible mission ?

But the Word of God is effective : I have put my words in your mouth…to overthrow…and to build…it is already done : I have put, and not I will put


Part 3 :

What has that to do with us ?


At Sion, we are called to be a prophet for the nations, on a very specific point : to bear witness to the fidelity of God’s love for the Jewish people…

andto the promises…revealed…for the whole of humanity.

And…this means that the second part of the sentence is subordinate to the first part :

how can we announce to humanity that God is faithful in his love for all people if we do not found this promise on something real…


But this witness goes against what the world thinks,

                                   against the way the nations behave, especially today,

                                   often against what the Church thinks, even 40 years after Vatican II                                (God chose Israel in the past..that is no longer true today, as you see ! )


What an insult to God !


Yet it was in order to announce that God loves the Jewish people with unfailing love that the Congregation, each one of us therefore, was appointed prophet to the nations.

There is a ‘risk’ : like Jeremiah, we have been appointed to overthrow, to pluck up, to destroy…received ideas, misinformation, an antisemitism ever ready to rise up again…

Our vocation is bound to our cause, that is, it establishes a bond between us and the Jewish people : so it is normal that we should share a little in the sufferings that the world – the nations – inflicts on them (P. Desbois).

There are areas where we have no right to say : I do not know.


1 – a) We must know the Bible as a whole – with our mind and intelligence :

this love-story between God and his people,

a story which, like every human love, has its moments of tenderness,

                                                                                      of tension,

                                                                                      of rupture, even.

This unfailing love of God who 248 times in the First Testament calls them « my people » :

even when he is expressing his anger in presence of sin…the golden calf, for example : I am going to consume them…(Ex 32,9).


b) We must know the Bible with our heart.

Make the study of the Tora your chief occupation(Avot I, 15).

A daily occupation – as nourishment : Your words were found and I ate them (Jer 15,16).

For the Tora is as indispensable to a human being as water is to the body.

In the root of the verb yada’ – to know – there is an implication, a connotation of love.

For knowledge leads to love…(St Augustine).

To know God is man’s end! it is another name for love.

For we study with our mind but also with our heart : (cf. the Prayer of Solomon read at the farewell Mass for Rosalie).


We say we have a Biblical spirituality ?

Should not prayer at Sion be ruminating the Word of God.

I have put my words in your mouth.


2 – This is about theology : we have no right to say I do not know, when it is a case of situating the Jewish people in God’s plan of salvation ;

the coming of Jesus was but a confirmation of this choice.


To me, that seems to be part of the indispensable formation of every sister of Sion, even if only at an elementary level.


3 – There is a third, more delicate, point on which I think a sister of Sion has no right to reply : I do not know..

I want to speak of the knowledge of the Jewish people living today.

One of the aspects of the mystery of God’s love for Israel, of his fidelity to this love, is the permanence of the Jewish people in spite of all the efforts for a final solution…ever since Egypt.


We have a duty to know about what concerns this people : their history, their daily life which is at one with their life of faith, the way they live, their struggles, their aspirations…

For it is through this history that we can read the fidelity of God’s love.


That requires continual study,

a particular way of using the media,

a particular way of exercising one’s judgement…


We have to learn how to tell it – how to give an account of God’s love of predilection for his people.

That often, and nearly always, requires courage,

- in order to demolish prejudices among non-Jews

- with regard to Jews, to denounce, if friendship allows it, fraternally, what does not seem to us to be in harmony with this love of God, that which, sometimes, betrays it.

I am conscious of speaking from the point of view of Europe, a continent which has a history of conflict with the Jews (I am also speaking a bit from Jerusalem, where certain Jews accept from us, sisters of Sion, what they consider to be marks of friendship : with our friends we can, we must be true…

This last point is more delicate in countries where there are few (or no ?) Jews, in parts of the world where history has unfolded outside of the Jewish people,

and even more so in countries where, today, the Jewish people is a political enemy…


Conclusion :

A– The drama of our world is that it truly does not know, it does not know God because it does not know the Tora.

And because it does not know the Tora, it no longer has a sense of evil (sin).

Our world does not know…it does not know where it is going…

We are to teach others how to know, and give them the means to study :

teaching them to read and write, education of all kinds.

We cannot take charge of all the misery of the world, but at least, only…the part which corresponds to our vocation : education in knowledge of the Tora : Rabbi Tarfon (2ndcentury of our era) used to say : You are not being asked to do all the work, but only to commit yourself to it (Avot 2).


In this area, we have no right not to know : Do not say, I am only a child…I am not intelligent enough…I am not an intellectual…

Faced with a responsibility : I do not know…is synonymous with ‘fleeing’.

Not-knowing leads to sin : the golden calf…


B– Studying the Word of God transforms us.

It forms the image of God in us : « to know God ».

According to Ps.73,22 : not-knowing is the lot of a beast…


We live in a world where people no longer study, but in which they consult computers…and that is not something that converts !


As post-conclusion, I will add that in Belgian-French…I do not know means : « I cannot ».  For example, ,I do not know how to sleep on a plane’ means I cannot sleep on a plane.

If, for whatever reason, we came to think : I do not know (how to love the Jewish people), that would be saying : I cannot love them…

There again, God tells us : Don’t worry, Do not be afraid ; I am with you, I will teach you how to do it .

That too I have experienced…