This story is featured in the fall/winter 2021 issue of Lumen.
There we were, shoulder to shoulder, squeezed into a small wooden pew in the Eucharistic adoration chapel. I spent a moment in prayer with Marely and Mariela, two Mexican-American girls I had been teaching the past couple months. Together we made the Sign of the Cross, prayed the Our Father, and knelt before our Lord for a moment of silence. As we left, one of the girls turned and asked me, “What did you say to the Father?” This question took my breath away; in her innocence and simplicity, she realized the essence of prayer – to remain before the Father’s gaze and speak from the heart.
Because of a coin toss, I spent the past year teaching catechesis at one of St. Paul’s predominately Spanish-speaking parishes, St. Francis de Sales. My roommate and I were both encouraged to volunteer at the parish and, in order to decide who would take the opportunity, we flipped a coin. Several months later I would realize that this chance victory was a gift. It has provided me with a deeper appreciation and understanding for the gifts that Latino cultures contribute to the Body of Christ within the universal Church.
Like typical tweens, Marely and Mariela first came to class in hoodies and sealed lips. It was difficult to connect with them. During the first few lessons I found myself intimidated by the fear that I would be unable to successfully relay the content to a seemingly disinterested audience. Yet, as sweatshirts were ditched, hoods thrown off, and greetings became “What’s up?” – in true 12-year-old lingo – these classes became a great joy. My teaching fears were quickly forgotten as our time was spent answering curious questions and delving into the Gospel. These girls sought Christ with eager hearts, just like their parents and other St. Francis de Sales parishioners.
St. Francis de Sales has parishioners from a variety of Latin American countries, but Mexico and El Salvador are most prevalent. Through these cultures especially, I have come to see the deep devotion of the people to Christ in the Eucharist and to each person in the community. My time with the girls not only helped me to understand this beauty, but also to recognize it within our Catholic faith as a whole. I began to see the family of the Church truly as Christ teaches: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” and as a result, becomes united with Christ (Matthew 12:50).
While at St. Francis de Sales, I regularly witnessed a distinctly profound reverence and devotion to the Eucharist and prayer in the Latino parishioners. Often in adoration, community members would not turn their eyes from Christ, even to the extent of walking backwards to their pew. What incredible faith and humility before our Lord! It was something I learned from them.
At Mass, I noticed a humble obedience to the teachings of the Church about the sacraments and what constituted full participation. Many parishioners, wanting to respect Jesus in the Eucharist by being in the appropriate state of grace, would not receive since they had, perhaps, not been to confession before Mass or, for some others, were currently cohabitating outside of marriage. Yet, their devotion to Christ and to each other was apparent in their commitment to showing up every Sunday for Jesus. Witnessing their faithful devotion to and humility before the sacraments deepened my own understanding of their magnitude and stirred within me an eager heart for the Lord from what was reflected by the parishioners.
Our Latino brothers and sisters are true treasures within the Church, but I never had a concrete understanding of what kind of treasure they contribute to the Body of Christ until I taught at St. Francis de Sales. Through the Mexican, Salvadorian and other Latino cultures present in the parish, I found myself enfolded in the embrace of joy, family and faith which brought me deeper into the beauty of our Catholic faith. Our faith is one that is all encompassing, for under the will of Christ’s heavenly Father we are centered upon the One who makes us all family as brother, sister, and mother.
So, what did I say to the Father? I thanked him for the gift of the girls before me and for St. Francis de Sales Parish. What he had said was all around me: I found a home with a group of people I hardly knew but whom I knew I loved. My time there truly revealed to me Christ’s presence in the whole parish, who unites us all as one family in the depths of the Father’s love.