How To Speak Catholic

Day Freaking Two in wonderful Madrid, and though World Youth Day is still a few days away, we are already seeing the work of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t get enough footage to make an awesome video today, but I should have one up for you tomorrow. No promises though; the wifi available to me now is at a fantastic bar/restaurant called Muuu, as in ‘Moo’, as in the noise a cow makes before you kill it, butcher it, cook it up and serve it on delicious plates of rice to Americans. The bartender is great. He has a devotion to Our Lord of Miracles when he lived in Peru. So I am happily advising him to get back on that devotion.

Theresa de Avila

But yesterday was incredible. Looking back on it now, it was truly guided by God. We went to Segovia and Avila. In Avila we found an old stone chapel, and, alone in the dark there, we proceeded to sing a few hymns. Have you ever sang in and old stone church, where the sounds bounce off the walls and reverberate upwards towards the ceiling? It seems to compensate for any out-of-tune notes or strained melodies; everything is smoothed over and our voices ring out and vibrate in our chests. A group of Mexican girls, here for World Youth Day, walked in and prayed with us, asking us afterwards whether we were discerning the priesthood. Assumedly, singing is a sure sign of future celibacy. Now I, in response, wished to say, “Maybe, but I am in love with a girl right now.” But that’s a hard sentence to form, and I speak the least Spanish of my friends. So I decided to dumb it down and tell the girls, in some what of a joke, “No, I like girls.” So, rifling through my limited vocabulary, I came up with the foolproof sentence: “No, me gusta chicas.” I was perturbed to notice, immediately after delivering my impeccable linguistic one-liner, a shocked and holding-back-laughter expression take hold of each of the girls. What my Spanish-speaking friend Nick immediately explained to me, and to them, was that “me gusta chicas” basically means, at least to these Mexican girls, “I find girls sexually pleasing.” So re-imagine their devout question.

“Are you considering being priests?”
(I, full of confidence) “No, you girls are too hot.”

Oh well. We moved on, looking for the monastery where Saint Theresa de Avila lived. We didn’t really want to go there; it was a long walk and it was about to close, within 10 minutes. But our leader felt like we should, so we went. We arrived too late; we could not get a tour. But the lady there did recommend we go to a Mass down the street with a certain Father Benjamin. We got there and I went to confession. But the priest didn’t speak a word of English, and I nary a word of Spanish! There was a brief moment of panic, a fear really, that because I did not speak the language, I could not possibly receive absolution; after all, a confession where the confessor has no idea what your sins are is not exactly within the ideals of accountability and true sorrow. But suddenly, and by the grace of God, we found an unlikely common ground: French. We both knew enough to slowly, painfully, make sense of the sins in my life, and he slowly, painfully, told me how to get over them. By the final blessing we were happy, him and I. I had understood perhaps 20% of what he said, but Grace spoke a universal language. Forgiveness spoke in English to me. He and I recognized this.

He then asked us to sing English hymns in the church – which, by the way, was an incredible church, really 4 churches built on top of each other, going as far back as the Catholic Visigoths in the year 200 – we were to sing for the procession, communion and recessional hymns. We chose Praise God From Whom All Blessing Flow, the Hail Mary and Amazing Grace. Again our voices rang. We were the only young people in that Church, and I truly believe God brought us there to increase the faith of the old ladies who surrounded us. There were tears in their eyes as they gave us the sign of peace. But during the homily something fantastic happened.

Obviously, I couldn’t understand a word. I sat and looked at the beautiful church, letting the words flow over me. Then, for whatever reason, perhaps I was simply getting bored, I prayed a prayer. It went: “Lord, you allowed the crowds to hear the Apostles in their own native tongues. All heard and understood. Grant me this.” And then suddenly, not in any mystic vision or even ‘religious’ feeling, I understood. I hear lingue, bonita, America, gracia, and somehow everything clicked. The priest was preaching on grace as the universal language. That no matter where a Catholic goes, the grace of the Mass is there. The grace that flows through the liturgy, through the Eucharist. The priest was smiling, happy over this simple fact: that there are no foreigners in the Catholic Church. Afterwards, we spoke with the old ladies, wrote down their prayer intentions they told us through tears, for their husbands and daughters and selves. It was awesome.

So never feel like a stranger. The very concept of foreignness, of loneliness, of isolation; all this had been eradicated by the Universal Church. There is so, so, so much more that happened, and I hope I can tell you about it in the video. But for now, I must run, my friends and I are off to make reservations at the oldest restaurant in the world.

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