I Have Become All Things to All

As many of you know, this summer has quite easily become one of the more interesting summers I have had in my time as a seminarian. I am spending a good part of my summer this year in Cochabamba, Bolivia, working on my faculty with Spanish. Fortunately, I am not alone in my pursuits here, but am joined by Bishop Rice and also Allen Kirchner, a fellow seminarian for the diocese.  This is not necessarily a part of our formation that is considered “core,” that is, something that absolutely must be done as a part of my curriculum, but it is essential for effective ministry in our diocese, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. This is easily seen by the amount of Spanish-Speaking parishioners that are spread across the diocese and are situated in many, if not most, of our  numerous parishes.

The experience, thus far, has been a challenge for sure. I have never been abroad, let alone even boarded a plane before this summer. In addition, I have certainly found myself at a loss for words many times when speaking in Spanish (though that capacity is expanding by the day). This is all in a country that is, essentially, Spanish-speaking. Though it is certainly challenging being immersed in the Spanish language day in and day out, I have found a new appreciation both for the language and people, and also for what it must be like for a Spanish speaker in the United States.

Even in the midst of all of this though, it rings clear that all people everywhere are still created to worship one God who transcends all language, space, and time. All people are saved by Christ’s eternal sacrifice on the Cross. All Catholics of all cultures share in the Body and the Blood of Christ at the Mass, no matter the culture or the language. And that is why it is so necessary to be immersed in the Spanish language this summer. As I progress in my seminary formation, I continue to grow in understanding my own call to minister to others. This call is often not a comfortable one- nor should it be. So often it calls us out of ourselves to reach those who are more in need than those who would be easiest to share Christ with. It is a calling to a privilege to share our Lord and His burning Passion for all people, which words will often fail to describe. It is a calling to do what it takes to shepherd all people; it is a calling to spread the Good News, so that all may come to know Christ and His Love in a powerful and unique way- an experience that will so often be sparked by a language, and yet become something so far removed from spoken word.

Please pray for the three of us in particular (in addition to all seminarians) as we study, that we may obtain the graces we need to study well and continue to grow into more effective ministers to those we serve!

“To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”

-1 Corinthians 9:22-23

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On Summer Assignment: Spanish Studies

An Afternoon Soccer Game during my Immersion Weekend

For the duration of the months of June and July this summer, I am in Pittsburg, Kansas studying Spanish, by attending Spanish Summer courses, attending Spanish liturgies, and recently, taking part in a Spanish Immersion weekend. This summer assignment, though it can be difficult, is something that I know is heavily needed for future ministry in my home diocese. Within the diocese, we have many Hispanic immigrants, and a majority of them are Catholic. This is both a difficulty and a privilege for the clergy and those of us aspiring to be a part of the clergy in the future, because it creates, not only a larger group that needs ministry, but a group that needs ministry in a new language, at least for most seminarians, including myself. This means that, since my curriculum is very busy during the school year, it is advantageous for me to take time during the summer to learn both language and culture in an environment that puts me in the midst of those who will need me to have a good foundation in Spanish to tend to their sacramental and spiritual needs in the future.

During my Immersion weekend, it impacted me in a profound way just how important it is that I work diligently in learning and practicing Spanish into the future. In my immersion weekend, I was placed with a Hispanic family in Carthage, Missouri, which spoke almost exclusively Spanish. I don’t have a very large vocabulary in Spanish just yet, so it became a struggle to communicate at times. However, even in the midst of this confusion, there were three things that particularly struck me.

First, these people are very diligent about their faith. In each home I visited, there was some sort of devotional altar which was prominently displayed in the entry of each home. Some are ornate, and some are a bit more simple- but each one was special to that family. Many practice prayer at multiple points throughout the day, and are most certainly regular participants at Mass.

St. Ann’s Parish in Carthage Missouri

Second, life is difficult for them in the U.S., but it is more difficult for them where they came from. Even though many Hispanics find themselves in a place where they have to point at photos to order at McDonalds, because no one else understands them, they still feel that they are in a much more privileged place than where they were before. They have more than what they had, and even in the midst of a culture and language that may not understand their own very well, they are very happy and overjoyed to be here.

Finally, they are excited that their future priests are working hard to learn the Spanish language. Even though I felt the family I stayed with for a weekend had every right to be frustrated with my finite amount of Spanish education, they were not frustrated, and were actually excited that I was there, both trying to piece together what I could in the Spanish language and also learning about their culture.

This summer is a little over halfway over, and I feel that I have learned a tremendous amount- both in what I will need to focus on in the future, and in the tools that I will need to have to be a Father to all of God’s children. To that end, my studies continue!