As I write this blog, I am sitting in the beautiful city of Antigua, Guatemala. I’ve been here in Guatemala for a little over a week. The primary purpose of me coming to this ancient ciudad is to learn Spanish so that in the future I will be able to speak the language of many of the faithful in the Diocese of Austin. A couple of years ago, through experiences at my assignment at St. William Catholic Church, I learned the importance of being bilingual as a priest for the Diocese. At that parish, I saw firsthand the need for priests who understand and speak Spanish. In that parish – the largest in our Diocese – nearly half of the faithful have a Hispanic or Latino background. For many of these faithful, despite the fact that they may speak English in their work or school, their language of faith is Spanish. What I mean by this is that when they talk to the Lord, Spanish comes naturally. Moreover, many of them know the faith in Spanish but lack the vocabulary to talk about the faith English.
A priest’s role is to be a living presence of Christ in his particular parish. This includes more than just the Sacraments but rather requires him to be/become a living sacrament of Christ for his people each day. This means he needs to be able to speak their language. For the seminarians of a Diocese like Austin, this means learning Spanish as best as we are able because the chances are good that we will encounter a significant number of our flock who will hear the Gospel better if we preach it in Spanish. I am working hard at this goal (this English-language blog, is an exception to a fairly well-kept immersion in Spanish), but I’ve also learned a lot extra just being here. Over the summer, I’ll share a few of these lessons here at ATX Catholic.
One of the things that this assignment has already reminded me of is the necessity of humility in learning a language. Every day that I’m here, I make tons of mistakes. Within the first minute or two of any conversation I have with my teacher, it is extremely likely that I will make a mistake and be corrected. All day, every day my speech is being corrected. The worst part is that typically I understand the correction or the problem and how to fix it, but I just can’t seem to make it stick in my head in practice. In many cases, pronunciation is especially hard for me; it’s hard to get my mouth, lips, and tongue to move different ways than they are used to, and occasionally I just can’t get a word out even though it is in my mind and I could spell it perfectly. For an extrovert, like myself this is hard. I want to communicate to express myself with fluidity, but it often takes lots of time to do so. I’m also sure that most of my speech is on level with that of a child’s speech. Reading is particularly challenging for me because I usually understand well what the text says but sometimes some words are persistently difficult for me to verbalize. I know that they will come with practice but in my pride, I want to be able to do it perfectly right now!
But what I’ve realized is that this is a blessing. These corrections, this struggle, to master a language is paying off in more than just learning the language so necessary for a future priest in Austin. It’s reaping dividends of virtue. I’m learning patience. I’m learning persistence. I’m learning humility. I’m discovering my weak spots. Each day, I take the frustration of learning a new language to Mass with me and ask Jesus to make me humbler, more persistent, and more patient with myself and others because I’m learning this language for Him because I see Him in the people of God that I hope to serve one day. This is the flip-side of the fact the priest is supposed to the image of Christ for his people. On the one hand, he needs to make himself understandable so that the Gospel can be preached and he needs to understand his people so that he can walk with them in persona Christi. But in a real way the people he serves are/become Christ for him. The people become his motivation because he finds in them Christ, who is the Lord of his life, the lover of his soul, and his best friend. They are the body of Christ for whom he gives himself up. So right now it is like I am learning to speak the language my future bride and at the same time, I’m being formed to be a better man and priest through accompanying struggle. Please pray for me and for all the seminarians as we continue to work and be formed as tomorrow’s priests!