By Sam Aitchison
The Church is Alive
There is something thrilling about traveling and seeing new areas! This past week, I trekked (well, flew) across the Atlantic Ocean to Madrid, Spain to study abroad for the spring semester. It has been amazing to explore a new city and culture; I am extremely grateful to be able to study abroad and immerse myself in a new continent!
Amidst the delicious tapas (Spanish appetizers), breathtaking architecture and the vibrancy of a European city, I find just one drawback as an Iowan studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. My Spanish is not exactly the best. Navigating a new area is difficult in itself but trying to understand another language adds to the struggle. I figured I would feel more comfortable when I met up with my U.S. friends or attended my classes, which are in English. I never anticipated feeling most at home in a place where I understood little of what people were saying.
On Sunday, I walked into one of the cathedrals in Madrid expecting to attend Mass without understanding what the clergy and lay people were saying and thus, not able to be fully present in the liturgy. My naiveté led me to assume that the language barrier would be a total obstacle. It is true that during the all-Spanish Mass I understood very few words. Yet my experience of the liturgy was transformative, inspiring and special.
The feeling of community grew as I watched a few-hundred people pray and sing with fervor, as I shook hands with parishioners around me during the Sign of Peace and as I received Christ in the Eucharist. All of these things allowed me to realize that, until now, I had been letting assumptions and dispositions affect how I entered into the Mass.
Cultural and language differences really enrich rather than hinder the celebration of our faith. Our Church is universal; in almost every corner of the world people participate in the Mass in different languages, customs and traditions. On that Sunday in Madrid, I learned an important lesson about how large and widespread our faith truly is — and how the language barrier that I thought was an inhibitor actually reminded me of the beautiful diversity of our faith.
What I thought would be an ordinary and less than ideal experience of the Mass turned out to be an hour of transformation, inspiration and full participation despite the language barrier. As the Christmas season ends and we enter Ordinary Time, I am reflecting on the ways in which I can be open to allowing the ordinary moments to become extraordinary. How can I exhibit intentionality and openness to how Christ is working through me? How can I practice these virtues to better love and serve God and others?
(Sam Aitchison is a sophomore at Saint Louis University. Contact him via email at email@example.com)