The spiritual message of causative verbs

Columban Fr Barry Cairns [right] with a family Japan. Photo: Fr Barry Cairns

Columban Fr Barry Cairns [right] with a family Japan. Photo: Fr Barry Cairns.

In high school, English grammar was never my thing! Years later, my director advised me to re-write the text to eliminate all the split infinitives in writing my theology thesis! I still do not know what a split infinitive entails!

But I was suddenly faced with grammar again in the Japanese language school. My former high school failure impelled me to make a better effort. There I met something called ‘causative verb’. Through conversational practice, guided by a kimono clad, skilled, elderly teacher, I finally got the gist of causative verbs. Her patient verbal practice was far more effective than a technical explanation.

Causative verbs are used when another person moves one to do something. They are used extensively in the Japanese translation of the Scriptures and in our liturgy and hymnal.

In the mass in English, we have the words “Make me worthy to share eternal life”. In Japanese, this is: “Cause me to enjoy eternal life”. (Somehow, to me, rather than the word ‘make’, cause’ is more fitting for the way the gentle Spiritt works in us).

A favourite hymn of Japanese congregations has a verse: “O Lord! Cause me to hear your words of encouragement that you spoke to Peter as he sank in the stormy waves”  And another verse of the same hymn: “O Lord cause me also to hear your words of consolation at my death, that you spoke to the thief next to you on his cross”.

Causative verbs have a hidden spirituality beneath them, and it is a call to acknowledge our human frailty and rely on the strength of the Lord. We are all called to be missionaries and as such, are instruments of Christ’s love, each in our own milieu. We never ever work alone.

Jesus tells us “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Paul has the same message: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). The last line of Mark’s Gospel stresses this point. “The Eleven went forth and the Lord worked with them”. (Mark 16:28).

Charles Schulz in his ‘Peanuts ‘cartoon strip so often gave us a Christian message. At times, he was decidedly Biblical. 

Framed in my prayer corner I have a strip that depicts Linus with a shovel and in the final panel cries out: "I need a push”. We all need a gentle causative push from the Spirit. This attitude of humble dependence and guidance from the Lord makes proclaiming his love a team effort, with the principal partner for mission, Christ himself. 

Of course, this causative way of reliance on God’s strength is valid in every aspect of our daily lives. It sure makes life’s journey more of a joy, and most certainly a journey with less stress. Try it! It works!

O’Lord cause me to grasp the message.

Columban Fr Barry Cairns lives and works in Japan.

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