Saturday, August 19, 2017

Amoris Laetitia - updated translation frustrations

More than three years ago I wrote a blog entry on the way Pope Francis was being translated. Then more than a year ago I wrote about my problems with the translation of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. This past week I participated in a clergy study week in our diocese and looking again at the document, I found myself even more frustrated by the English translation. I found even more problems. Here is a revised version of the previous post.

Since I read and understand English much better than Spanish, I often first read the document in English and then began comparing the passages I liked in English with their Spanish parallels.

I found, in some cases, that the English translation is quite mundane when compared with the Spanish translation. In other places, it seems to soften the edge of the Spanish and miss the poetry. If anyone knows Italian, it would be useful to see how that language puts these passages.

Here are some passages I found most problematic.

Paragraph 39, in English, begins:
This is hardly to suggest that we cease warn­ing against a cultural decline that fails to promote love or self-giving. The consultation that took place prior to the last two Synods pointed to the various symptoms of a “culture of the ephem­eral”.

I believe that “culture of the ephemeral” obscures the point Pope Francis is trying to make. The Italian speaks of “cultura del provvisorio” and the Spanish is “cultura de lo provisorio.I think “ephemeral” gives the impression of something not taken seriously, even though it is sometimes used in terms of something transitory; “provisional,” though, seems to imply that something is only for a short time. The next sentence in the document seems to speak of these short-term commitments:
“Here I think, for example, of the speed with which people move from one affective rela­tionship to another. They believe, along the lines of social networks, that love can be connected or disconnected at the whim of the consumer, and the relationship quickly “blocked.”

Paragraph 183 reads:
"For their part, open and caring families find a place for the poor and build friendships with those less fortunate than themselves."

I was very taken aback by the term “less fortunate” which is not found in the Spanish.
"En cambio, las familias abiertas y solidarias hacen espacio a los pobres, son capaces de tejer una amistad con quienes lo están pasando peor que ellas".

The Spanish text is hard to translate, but here's my attempt: 
"On the other hand, families that are open and [live in] solidarity make a place for the poor, they are able to weave a friendship with those who are passing [through situations] worse than they are."

Note that the English version has families "finding" a place for the poor where the Spanish has them "making" a space. The English also talks about "building" friendships where the Spanish uses a different analogy - "weaving".

But the one phrase that really disturbs me is the use of the term "less fortunate." This is a term that I really despise. For me this is a way to dismiss or put down the poor, defining them as "less fortunate." In addition, poverty is thus seen as the result of fortune (or fate).

But look at the Spanish. It sees the situation of the person as "going through" a worse situation; it does not define those experiencing poverty as "poor" or "less fortunate."

Paragraph 219 in English it reads: 
"Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope."

I like this translation. The English expresses the need for young lovers to keep dancing.

But the Spanish has a slightly different meaning:
La danza hacia adelante con ese amor joven, la danza con esos ojos asombrados hacia la esperanza, no debe detenerse.

This is not easy to translate but my literal translation from the Spanish shows something more pointed:
"The dance towards the future with this young love, the dance with astonished eyes toward hope, ought not to be held back."

There is a sense in the Spanish that at times this joyful and hopeful dancing encounters obstacles. These obstacles must be resisted.

In addition, the English misses the poetry of  “astonished eyes looking forward to hope.”

Paragraph 240 opens with a strong statement:
Many people leave childhood without ever having felt unconditional love. This affects their ability to be trusting and open with others.

But the Spanish is stronger.
Muchos terminan su niñez sin haber sentido jamás que son amados incondicionalmente, y eso lastima su capacidad de confiar y de entregarse.

I translate it in this way:
Many end their childhood without ever having felt that they are loved unconditionally; this damages their ability to be trusting and giving of themselves.

Entregar” does not mean being open; it means handing oneself over. It is often used as a translation of the Latin “traditur” and in the Mass the words of the consecration of the Host include the words “por vobis tradetur” in Latin and “será entregado por ustedes” in Spanish. It is translated in English as “will be given up for you.”

Entregar” is a very strong word in Spanish. To say that someone is “entregado” is to say that the person is committed, has given his life for a cause. It is a far cry from being “open.” This is much more than being “open with others.”

The title of the last section of the document, beginning with Paragraph 321, presents some problems in my opinion.

The Spanish reads “Espiritualidad del cuidado, del consuelo y del stimulo”; the Italian reads “Spiritualità della cura, della consolazione e dello stimulo.” The English translation is “A Spirituality of care, consolation and Incitement.” I don’t think incitement really catches the meaning of “stimulo” which, to me, means something more like encouragement or stimulation or inspire, than incitement. (The word “incitement” carries for me the baggage of the charge of “inciting to riot.” However, I would not favor translating it as “stimulate” since it has too many sexual overtones in my mind.)

Obscuring the point

Chapter four includes a beautiful meditation on St. Paul’s reflection on love in 1 Corinthians 13. But in several places the chapter headings are misleading.

Paragraph 101 begins the reflection on 1 Corinthians 13, 4, “it does not seek its own interests.”

The English translation entitles the section, “Love is generous.” But the Spanish uses a stronger term: “desprendimiento”. This is a difficult word to translate but it can be translated as “detachment.” Interesting the Italian title is “Distacco generoso” which I think can be translated as “generous detachment.” Narrowing the title to generosity seems to miss the importance of putting the other first.

The section beginning with paragraph 123 is entitled “Lifelong sharing,” which expresses an important part of what marriage is called to be.

But the Spanish title is “Toda la vida, todo en común”, literally “All the life, everything in common.” The Italian reads, “Tutta la vita, tutto in commune” which seems to be the same as the Spanish.

Both the Spanish and Italian translations play on the word “all” – “todo” o “tutto” – which is hard to do in English. But the sense is more than mere sharing and recalls the passages in the Acts of the Apostles 4: 32, where the followers of Christ are described as holding “everything in common.”

I have not had time to check other parts of this important document on the family, but I hope in the future that the English translators are a little more accurate.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Preaching on divorce in light of Pope Francis

Tonight I have to preach in Dulce Nombre at a Celebration of the Word with Communion, following a Holy Hour. IT is sponsored by the Family Ministry group in Dulce Nombre which has been sponsoring these Holy Hours and either Masses or Celebrations in different neighborhoods of the city on Fridays, in an effort to strengthen the families.

Padre German is out of town and asked me to preside tonight (as I did last Friday). But the Gospel reading is Jesus speaking on divorce, Matthew 19: 3-12.

I know there will be married couples there as well as single mothers, abandoned by the fathers of their children, and perhaps unmarried couples. What can I say?

I have decided that the best I can do is to read a few passages of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love. I won’t preach all that I’m writing here, but I want to share what is behind my preaching tonight.

First of all, the Pope acknowledges that divorce is an evil.

Divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces is very troubling.” (AL, 246)

But he also recognizes that there are times when separation is called for:

In some cases, respect for one’s own dig­nity and the good of the children requires not giving in to excessive demands or preventing a grave injustice, violence or chronic ill-treatment. In such cases, “separation becomes inevitable. At times it even becomes morally necessary, pre­cisely when it is a matter of removing the more vulnerable spouse or young children from seri­ous injury due to abuse and violence, from hu­miliation and exploitation, and from disregard and indifference”. Even so, “separation must be considered as a last resort, after all other rea­sonable attempts at reconciliation have proved vain”. (AL, 241)

And thus there is the need to accompany the divorced and separated.

But Pope Francis recognizes that we need to find ways to prevent what leads to divorce and separation.

He is well aware of the cultural frameworks that have contributed to the growing numbers of divorce. In paragraph 39, he notes several of them, including, first of all, the prevalence of a “culture of the provisional.” (The English, which I believe is a poor translation, speaks of a culture of the “ephemeral.” The Italian is “cultura del provvisorio” and the Spanish is “cultura de lo provisorio”.)

“Here I think, for example, of the speed with which people move from one affective rela­tionship to another. They believe, along the lines of social networks, that love can be connected or disconnected at the whim of the consumer, and the relationship quickly “blocked.” (AL, 39)

This culture of the provisional, the short-term, emphasized in popular films and television shows, makes it hard for couples to value the long-term commitment needed for marriage.

But there is also the problem of unrealistic expectations of what marriage is or can be. As Pope Francis notes:

Among the causes of broken marriages are unduly high expectations about conjugal life. Once it becomes apparent that the reality is more limited and challenging than one imagined, the solution is not to think quickly and irresponsibly about separation, but to come to the sober real­ization that married life is a process of growth, in which each spouse is God’s means of helping the other to mature. (AL, 221)

Marriage is not something easy. If we don’t present marriage with all its challenges as well as its joys, we are not preparing them for the real life of marriage.

But there are also some problems that can undermine marriage. Pope Francis rightly notes the lack of self-knowledge and of mutual knowledge and understanding.

…Sadly, many couples marry without really knowing one another. They have enjoyed each other’s company and done things together, but without facing the challenge of revealing them­selves and coming to know who the other person truly is. (AL, 210)

Couples need to know who they are, share who they are, and know the other person. This is not a task that is done in an instant, or even in a year or two. It is a lifelong challenge, which can also become a joy and consolation as we get to know ourselves and our spouses more deeply.

The pope is not afraid to say that sometimes the Church itself has not helped couples to maintain their sacramental commitment. Sometimes it has presented an overly strict understanding of the sacrament with its continuing challenges, often in a very defensive way:

… Yet we have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denounc­ing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness. Many people feel that the Church’s message on mar­riage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show com­passion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery. (AL, 38)

In addition, the church has sometime so emphasized only one aspect of the sacrament, the procreative:

we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation. (AL, 36)

What is to be done then?

Speaking about divorce, Pope Francis wrote:

our most important pastoral task with regard to families is to strengthen their love, helping to heal wounds and working to prevent the spread of this drama of our times. (AL, 246)

And so we must, above all, help couples before marriage, couples living together without being married, and married couples grow in love.

As Pope Francis notes in the last section of the exhortation: we need a spirituality of care, consolation, and encouragement. (Here I again find the English translation problematic. The Spanish reads “Espiritualidad del cuidado, del consuelo y del stimulo”; the Italian reads “Spiritualità della cura, della consolazione e dello stimulo.” The English translation is “A Spirituality of Care, consolation and Incitement.”) Pope Francis is somewhat poetic:

“Christian couples are, for each other, for their children and for their relatives, cooperators of grace and witnesses of the faith.” God calls them to bestow life and to care for life. For this reason, the family “has always been the nearest ‘hospital’.” So let us care for one another, guide and encourage one another, and experience this as a part of our family spirituality. Life as a cou­ple is a daily sharing in God’s creative work, and each person is for the other a constant challenge from the Holy Spirit. God’s love is proclaimed “through the living and concrete word whereby a man and the woman express their conjugal love.” The two are thus mutual reflections of that divine love which comforts with a word, a look, a helping hand, a caress, an embrace. For this reason, “to want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone.” (AL, 321)

So, in face of divorce, we need to help people dream and make their dreams real.

But this requires the commitment of the community. Marriage cannot be lived alone. A family needs a large community. Marriage needs a culture of love, of sharing, of care, of giving oneself for others.

Marriage needs the continuing grace of God - and the support of the community.