Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Non nova, sed nove & Martyrdom

"There is also a Latin expression that captures how we often see things we missed before even in familiar texts. The expression is Non nova, sed nove, meaning that, though the text is not a new thing, it is experienced in a new way, or newly."

Not new, but new for me.

This bit of Latin trivia comes from Msrg. Charles Pope, whose Archdiocese of Washington blog is eminently worth adding to your reader feed. He was writing about how a recent second reading in the Office Of Readings, something he'd read many times before, taught him something about preaching that he had never noticed before, despite having prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for 27 years.

We all have these delightful moments when a verse of a psalm, a reading, an antiphon that we've read a hundred times before just leaps out at us, blazing with new meaning.   Today, for example, the psalter for the Office of Readings was Psalm 18: 2-30. All about thanksgiving to God for saving us from our enemies. Perhaps King David was thanking the Lord for some military victory. So, thinking in political terms, I started to pray it as a way of anticipating what I am hoping will be a presidential election outcome that is favorable to the interests of our Church regarding religious freedom. But then I came to this:

From on high he reached down and seized me;
he drew me forth from the mighty waters.
He snatched me from my powerful foe,
from my enemies whose strength I could not match.
He brought me forth to freedom,
he saved me because he loved me.

It hit me (non nova, sed nove) that these verses apply just as easily, if not better, to holy  martyrdom at the hands of our enemies.  We can be very shortsighted as we work (as we should) for freedom and justice in the city of man. We forget how temporary the world is, how we are transients, exiles meant to be living elsewhere.   Should the enemies of God win a few battles, we still have one terrific escape hatch. A narrow hatch, to be sure, but God will reach down and yank us through--should we be so fortunate to receive this grace.

As a child I used  pray for the grace of martyrdom. At the time it seemed exciting and cool. (parents: this is what happens when you give kids lives of saints to read.)  Ten years later, experiencing the exquisite joys of true love, marriage, and motherhood, I began back-pedaling rather frantically on that prayer: "Heh-heh, Lord, I hope you weren't paying  any attention to that silly little girl who asked for martyrdom back in the 70s. I mean, kids! What cute, crazy thing  will they think of next! I hope you weren't planning on taking what she said seriously.. right Lord,... right? 

But when I look around the world outside of my safe, cozy, pampered USA, and realize what bloody times for Christians we actually live in, it becomes clear that the safety I take for granted may not be around forever. The time might come when  I might have to get used to the possibility of dying for Christ. 

Or maybe not. But in the meantime, I can pray these words of Psalm 18 for brothers and sisters in China, parts of India,  and in Muslim majority nations, who have to grapple with the possibility of dying for their faith on a regular basis. That God may reach down and draw them out of their (very reasonable) fear, and give them courage and hope, knowing he will snatch them from their enemies at last. And all will be well.

Have you had any non nova, sed nove moments while praying the liturgical hours lately?  Consider sharing that in the comments.