While I've been here, I have been able to do all sorts of different stuff--from working on things in the parish office to helping out at youth group. Also, having never lived in Louisville before, I've had the opportunity to do a little exploring of the city. Part of that exploring has been getting to spend time with brother seminarians a little bit more. Since we go to seminary all over this side of the country (and even in Rome) any time to be together is good! This "bonding" with the other seminarians recently took shape in a trip that's dear to every Kentuckian's heart: the horse track! Some guys and I went to Churchill Downs to watch some races, and it was pretty fun! One of my horses even won! (I ended up only making forty cents...should I still give 10% to the Church?)
Basically, this summer has been great so far. I've had the opportunity to already learn so much about the life and ministry of the priest in the setting of the parish. And, I've gotten to explore, with my brother seminarians, the great city that is Louisville, Kentucky. However, over the past couple of days, I've had two interesting experiences that were pretty powerful, and impacted me in different ways.
The first happened yesterday in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. In the evening, I decided to walk over to the Church to pray Vespers and read a little bit. It's a beautiful little chapel, and in the evening it's quite peaceful. Anyhow, while I was in there, a woman walked in. I haven't seen her before and don't know if she is a parishioner or not. She looked a little distressed, but she came in and knelt down. She started praying--out loud. At first I was like "okay, really? I'm trying to read!" But, then I listened. She wasn't speaking English. She was speaking in her own language, and she was speaking with love, hope and compassion. After a few minutes, she left, and I could tell she was better than she was when she walked in.
Then, I got to thinking. First, I thought of how blessed we are to have the gift of the Eucharist (this of course being the day after we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi). She probably had some sort of burden that came upon her during the day. She probably knew that the only one she could give that to is Christ, who was waiting for her in the Blessed Sacrament to pour out His love. Then, I thought about the fact that she was praying in her own language. She was being herself with the Lord. It made me think of the beauty of the Church as universal--after all, it's what the word Catholic means. All too often we, or at least I, get caught up in the Church here, and I don't often think of the true beauty that the Church is Catholic, that it is universal. Finally, the way she was speaking made me think of a beautiful quote from Saint Alphonsus Liguori, "Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with God. Speak with familiarity and confidence as to your dearest and most loving friend. Speak of your life, your plans, your troubles, your joys, your fears. In return, God will speak to you—not that you will hear audible words in your ears, but words that you will clearly understand in your heart." She really seemed like she was talking to God as if He were her friend, and is something that I definitely want to continue to work on.
Last week, a lady that works in the parish office presented me with a unique-sounding opportunity. She had earlier in the week went to Catholic Charities to volunteer for a program, but couldn't make it this week, and asked me to take a group of high school students. I wasn't sure quite what I was going to be doing, but she said the experience was amazing and I should definitely go. So, I agreed to go.
I woke up bright and early this morning to meet the three students at the Youth Center and we got in the car and headed over to Catholic Charities. The place where we were at is run out of the old Saint Anthony Church, which I believe was closed by the Archdiocese around 2011. Even though it is sad that the church closed, it is wonderful that it is able to be a useful space for Catholic Charities. I was delighted to walk past the Church and notice the writing above the door: "St. Antonius Kirche"--"St. Anthony Church"--it was a GERMAN parish, named after one of my patron Saints! As a German minor, the nerd inside of me turned on and I got excited and of course most likely judged by the high schoolers.
After we finally found our way to the back of the old school building, we went inside, up some stairs and met with the lady in charge of volunteers. It turns out that we were going to be working with children--ages 5 all the way through high school, on their English. Catholic Charities in Louisville sponsors an English as a Second Language program during the summer. I had a phone call to make so I stepped outside while the high schoolers I brought with me were divided up, and spent most of the time "floating" between their classrooms they were in, helping each group as I could. These children were all refugees--their families have fled their homeland, mostly because of political turmoil. The families are usually placed in a city by the government, and organizations like Catholic Charities step in to help however they can. There was one little girl (I think about five years old) who arrived in the United States on Saturday. There was a teenage guy who has been in the country for a week, but just got to Louisville and started his second day of studying English.
The first thing I thought of was the bravery of the families. They have to flee their homeland because they are in danger, and face coming to a country with different languages and customs that are completely foreign to them, with no clue what will happen or where they will be. The children's names were written on the board under what country there were from. There were families from at least ten different countries there. I couldn't imagine being in their situation, and admire them for their courage.
As the morning went on and now as I reflect on all that happened, I thought of how beautiful the situation really was. Yesterday, I was struck by the universality of the Church, and today I'm struck by the charity of the Church. I've heard it said before that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, and after today, I can see why. This program was there to help all families--no matter who they were, or where they came from. It didn't even matter what religion they were. (I could tell by their dress that many of the students were Muslim). It didn't so much matter if they were Catholic or not, but what mattered was that they are children of God, and that we, as followers of Christ, are compelled by love of Him to help all in need. I thought of the beauty of the fact that these families know that when they are in need, the Church will be there to help them.
Like I said, this summer has been fantastic so far, and these two experiences have only made me appreciate being here, and my faith in general, even more. I look forward to the rest of this summer and what God has in store for me!
In all things, may God be glorified.