Saturday, June 25, 2011



I read and article recently written by a young Englishman who got himself in big trouble at a dinner table in Paris. Fluent in French, he had been invited to dine at the home of some Parisian friends. One of the other dinner guests was a young French woman to whom he was properly introduced. As the two began chatting in French, the young man wrote later, he accidentally addressed the young woman with the pronoun “tu” (you, in the so-called “familiar” form) instead of the formal “vous.” The woman was insulted and visibly incensed at such a breach of propriety and wanted nothing to do with him for the rest of the evening. She interpreted his use of “tu” as his making a pass at her and she rebuffed his unwanted advances in no uncertain terms. The moral is: Watch your pronouns!

A similar thing happened to me just a few days ago while exchanging greetings with a Haitian colleague. He wished me a good day, addressing me as "vous" but I answered him using "tu." As soon as the word escaped my lips I realized that I had changed pronouns on him; but I said to myself, "Oh well. Blew that one!" He'll chalk it up to my ignorance."

The same sort of thing happens in Spanish and in German, too. Your choice of pronoun sends a signal to the person being addressed; you must choose to address the other person either as distant and formal or else as familiar and personal.


The first reading at mass this past Wednesday was from Genesis, Chapter 15. In this part of Genesis we see Abram (later to be named Abraham) beginning to discover little by little who he is relative to God.

The adventure had begun in Chapter 12 when God approached Abram and addressed him personally: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (12:1). We are so used to this idea of a God who talks to us that we miss the incredible significance of this verse in the history of religion and indeed of humanity. It was here that God began to communicate with human beings on a person-to-person basis. No other religion ever had the daring notion of a god or gods being so personally and lovingly connected with humans. Yet here is Abram listening to God’s voice and responding. Often the voice is challenging and literally unsettling (“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”), but our father Abraham keeps finding out more about himself as he grows closer to God.

Most of the time when I read the bible for meditation (lectio) I use the French Bible de Jerusalem because of its wonderful marginal meditation/notes on various verses. One of the notes on Chapter 15 of Genesis was this: “Abram is discovering himself vis-à-vis God, his ally. The force which had once set him on his journey is becoming for him a partner in dialogue, a 'tu.'
Right from the start of the Abraham story in Genesis 12:1, ff. in La Bible de Jerusalem God refers to Abram as “tu,” and Abram responds in kind. Like that young Englishman, most of us English-speakers find it hard to get a feel for what that divine use of “tu” implies. But it is worth considering.


When God calls you or me, he addresses us the way he addressed Abraham: not in a formal, distant manner, as ”vous,” but rather as an intimate, close friend, a “tu.” The Lord would like nothing better than a deep, abiding relationship of love with each of us. God’s actions and words in Scripture reveal the Lord as someone who loves me deeply and who would do anything for me, whose love knows no boundaries.

But too often I act as if God were simply a “vous” who is distant and not someone for whom I’m willing to go out of my way. My selfish wants and needs keep me distant from this God who insists on calling me “tu.”

When God took on human flesh it was to reveal us the ultimate truth that God is love. This ultimate self-revelation of God was the perfect way of assuring us that each of us is a “tu” in God’s eyes.

And he expects us, who are made in the image of God, to reflect that kind of generous love to those around us.


......"Love Your Neighbor" by American artist Tema Okun


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