If you have ever been teased or bullied, you know the power that words have to build up or destroy.
My family moved to the Detroit suburbs when I was in the middle of seventh grade. I left a Catholic K-8 grade school for a rather affluent county school district and its middle school. I was an oddity and felt like an outsider from the moment I walked into my homeroom. Accustomed to wearing uniforms, as I had every weekday of my life for seven years, I had no fashion sense and very little wardrobe to speak of. I was a short, nerdy, chubby girl who had no fashion sense. And I was middle class—very middle class.
At my new school, I was easily baited by the mean girls and subjected to garden variety teasing by anyone else. I learned from experience the harm others’ words can cause. At the same time, I found there were “ports in the storm”—classes and teachers who spoke words of encouragement in the midst of middle school purgatory.
One of my classmates, Debbie, was one of many special education students at our school who had been mainstreamed into the general education classroom because she was very academically capable. But because of the cruelty of other students who saw how she stood out, Debbie experienced the opposite of inclusion in our school.
One day after lunch, in front of a crowd of students, an 8th-grade boy intentionally threw to the ground her books and purse. As her books scattered, it was her purse and its contents that she dived for. Standing behind a couple of other people, I watched in shock at the cruelty of the boys and girls who kicked her personal items away from her and taunted her with names and cruel words, trying their best to humiliate her as much as possible.
I pushed my way past other kids who stood by watching and, in their silence, adding to her torment, and helped her gather her belongings. Eventually, a teacher came by and dispersed the crowd. When everything was back where it belonged, I walked with her into the girls’ bathroom. I think I said, “I’m sorry,” but I’m not entirely sure of that. She smiled, took a few deep breaths, and we left the bathroom to go our separate ways.
Words have the power to unite or divide, to harm or heal. This week’s collection of CatholicsRead titles showcases the power words have in our lives, world, and Church.
Two books remind us that we have the power to use words to communicate and to effect positive change, even in our Church. Twenty-Third Publications’ A Church Renewed: 30 Days with Pope Francis on the New Synodality is a booklet that guides parishioners through Pope Francis’ call for a new synodality and contains 30 reflections from Pope Francis with questions to ponder and prayers for each day. Liturgical Press’ booklet by Michael J. Sanem, Your Church Wants to Hear From You, explores how the synodal path is the beginning of a conversion process that is essential to the life of the Church and its mission—and how the Church needs each of us to carry it out.
To delve into one verbal statement of our faith, The Apostles’ Creed: Knowing, Living, and Sharing the Gift of Faith from GIA Publications, Inc., reinforces the words that bind us together as Christians. This book by Rev. Monsignor Laurence J. Spiteri, J.C.D., Ph.D. is for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the basic articles of the Roman Catholic faith as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed.
Words of prayer can bring us the peace our souls need. Catholic Book Publishing gives us Daily Companion for Peace of Heart which includes reflections on the completely updated writings of St. John Henry Newman, accompanied by a Scripture verse and brief prayer.
The words of Scripture are ones that can bring us an understanding of our world today. In New City Press’s What Does the Bible Say About Animals, Jaime L. Waters surveys the biblical text to help us better understand, articulate, and appreciate the fascinating role of animals in the Bible.
Finally, for the times when words aren’t enough, Ascension has created St. Josephine Bakhita Sacred Art – Canvas to help transform Catholic churches and homes into places of rest, prayer, and faith. St. Josephine Bakhita, who endured many hardships in her life as an enslaved woman, reminds Catholics that freedom in Christ and joy in all things is possible as she holds the chains that once bound her.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.