“If you want to save a thousand souls, become a Priest. If you want to save 10,000 souls, become a Priest who knows Spanish.” I heard these words during a homily in my first year of seminary in 2019. These words served to increase an already-present desire within me to learn the Spanish language. Seeking to act upon this desire,a brother Baltimore seminarian, John Anderson, and I received permission to go on a 7-week summer Spanish immersion program in Antigua, Guatemala during the Summer of 2022 (this summer).
As I am currently writing this blogpost, I have just finished the immersion trip – what an amazing experience! Over the course of 7 weeks, I received 135 hours of one-on-one class instruction (4 hours per day), something which greatly aided my Spanish-speaking skills and confidence. I can say that this immersion program has been one of the greatest gifts from God that I have ever received for several reasons: linguistically, spiritually, culturally, and more.
Without a doubt, greatly progressing in my ability to speak Spanish was an incredible opportunity. However, something else made an even greater impact on me, something that surpasses language altogether. In Antigua, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the feast in which the Church celebrates the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, is an awe-inspiring celebration. This year Corpus Christi fell on Sunday, June 19, but in Antigua, it is celebrated for about 3 to 4 weeks! And it is no ordinary celebration – fireworks are set off at any time of day or night – even 3am! In addition, there are several multi-hour Eucharistic processions in the city accompanied by numerous fireworks and large brass bands. I had the privilege of attending the biggest procession of them all (which is at the center of the city), and when the Eucharist came out from the church and entered into the street, fireworks were set off for 4 straight minutes! The noise was deafening, but it was an incredible witness of the people’s Catholic Faith. The people in Antigua know a core truth – that Jesus is truly present with them, present with them in the Eucharist! This is the reason they celebrate Corpus Christi in the way that they do. They know that the King of the Universe is in their midst. Being in that procession, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, the King is really here, and His people are rejoicing because He is present.” This was the most impactful moment during my time in Guatemala.
But someone might say, “What does this have to do with learning Spanish?” Is it wrong that this was the most impactful part of my immersion experience? I don’t think so, and for this reason: Jesus Christ is the very core of our Catholic Faith, and since the Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ Himself, we should say that the Holy Eucharist is at the very core of our Catholic Faith. Being a Christian and following Jesus entails being close to the Eucharistic Lord – He wants all of His people to be close to Him in the Eucharist! However, for me, this is a truth I need to be constantly reminded of, and I know that I am not the only one. The Lord deepens and reminds us of this truth in various ways, and for me, witnessing the extravagant Corpus Christi celebrations in Antigua served to deepen my awareness of Jesus’s Eucharistic Presence. This awareness of the Lord’s Presence serves as a bedrock for the Christian disciple’s life, especially for the life of Priests and seminarians. Even if equipped with the ability to speak a multitude of languages, our lives will be sterile without a personal encounter with the Eucharistic Lord. However, on the other hand, living from a place of deep encounter with the Eucharistic Lord will allow for any gifts, such as the ability to speak Spanish and countless others, to flourish to the glory of God and the salvation of the entire world.
Alex is in 2nd Theology at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg. Alex’s home parish is The Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in Baltimore. Please pray for Alex!