Monday, November 10, 2014

postcard from Chile, the final one...#5

landscape of Santiago de Chile, from the top of the Cerro de San Cristóbal
Spanish is the language of my soul. I don’t mean this in a romantic, esoteric way—but rather as a profound, eucharistic reality.

I’m not idealizing Chile. And I do acknowledge that I’ve been extra emotional remembering and mourning my Dad on his six-month anniversary. But what I’m addressing and trying to put into words is about more than that.

Being in Santiago de Chile this past week has been a deeply spiritual experience for me, and being immersed in Spanish is a huge part of the reason why.

I hear a prayer or a song that I learned in Spanish as a small child, for instance—and in spite of the fact that I haven’t said it out loud in decades, the words burst out of my mouth without hesitation. 

Just today, kneeling before the altar inscribed with the words: Yo soy el Camino, la Verdad y la Vida,” just reading the words brought spontaneous tears to my eyes. I hear the word “Camino” in all the levels of meaning that it has: Literally, the word means, I walk. It is also the way, as in el Camino de Santiago. And ultimately, it is my profession of faith that Jesus Christ is the Way.

In a much more mundane way, I am so very comfortable in a culture that starts the day later (than I am allowed to do without guilt in an American culture), then serves lunch around 2 pm, and dinner after 8 pm!

And finally, there is the issue of my name.

Every time I am addressed by my full name here, what I call my real name—María de Lourdes and not “just maría,” it’s as if the real me is acknowledged. I am known, in the deepest sense of the word.

One more thing. Clearly, my experience in Chile has been enhanced by the fact that in this profoundly Catholic culture with churches, chapels and shrines all around me, I’ve been able to pray, sing, and celebrate Mass in Spanish every day but one during our seven-day visit. And that one travel day, we stopped to pray at a national pilgrimage site for Chileans, el Santuario Lo Vásquez, where I discovered a new (to me!) Marian devotion to La Purísima.

Never ceases to amaze me how much attention our God pays to details! What a grace to be allowed to mourn in a Latin culture--with everything that means to me.

Just for fun, here's a few other things I have loved about my week in Chile:

the feel of being in a major city:

Stunning, colorful street art! 

As my daughter Michelle would say, food from the gods! 

And in keeping with all things Catholic AND good food--a cooking show by a nun!

Sor Lucía's cooking show
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Long before I could grapple with the theology of transubstantiation--or even try to pronounce that word!--the Eucharist had a special meaning to me. My heart understood that the Eucharist was a special and unique gift that Jesus Christ left for us, a way for every Christian to get to know him intimately. I have somehow always “known” that this type of food could nourish something in me that even now I struggle to name. The Eucharist also reminds me that I belong. In a real, even if mystical way, the Eucharistic celebration heals and answers our inner need of “belonging.” “I have called you by name... You are mine!” says the Lord. And in Christ we are, literally, one with Him and with each other.
Perhaps as pilgrims on our journey home there is no greater compass than the Eucharist. As a Protestant friend once said to me, “I wish I really did believe in the Eucharist, because then I would run to receive Jesus every day.” And I do want it and hunger for it every day. As I struggled with nowhere to call home, it was being Catholic, being claimed by something bigger than myself, and the communion I felt with Christ and his people in the Eucharist that gave me that much needed security growing up…          
It was at Mass that I could go and claim to belong, even when no one there knew me. This was the one “place,” regardless of the particular church we attended, where I felt that I “fit.” Together, we stood and professed our faith as believers in one and the same God, and we received in the Eucharist the gift of Christ’s presence right here and now. I “knew,” even when I couldn’t understand these abstract concepts, that the community of faith that claimed me became one Body in our one Lord, Jesus Christ. My heart understood what I even now struggle to explain in words.”