Saturday, July 28, 2012

Guatemala Part II (and Reflection)

Hello everyone,

First, I think it's fitting that I should begin with a sense of gratitude. Though I've since gotten a few gray hairs when starting my graduate year in DC--continuing until today, the opportunities I've been given have been a blessing. What I must always remember is that it is through the generosity of family, friends, priests, and above all the Catholic Church and God. The Church is giving me every opportunity to see the world, study many cultures, and use all of it in service of you. How could anyone call that closed-mindedness? Regardless, my time in Guatemala has been wonderful. It's hard to believe three weeks have passes since. With only two left to go I figured I would post some pictures and speak briefly of my experiences.

First, the weather is extremely pleasant. I know that makes a lot of you back home in Chicago jealous. I go to sleep with a thermal-shirt and pj-pants on. I wear jeans and a shirt comfortably almost all day. 50 in the morning, 75 midday, 50 at night. Repeat, repeat, and add some rain for good measure.

Classes have been excellent. I learned more in one day than probably a semester of classes. My teacher, Palmenia, is a strong Catholic who herself is a hard worker. She is patient, corrects me well, and is willing to let me talk about this or that subject. I rarely use any English except to get a work or a phrase. Still learning the past tense and haven't gotten to the trickier stuff like 'compound tenses' and subjunctive.
(Pero todo esta muy bien. Clases, los monjes, las seminaristas, las maestras, y los otros estudiantes han sido excellente.)
(But everything is really good. Classes, the monks, the seminarians here, the teachers, and the other guys have been great.)

Here's a look of my walk on the way to class:
First I walk through this very pleasant garden which is lush all year round because of the agreeable climate.

Upon leaving the priory is surrounded by a nice berry trees and bushes that are well kept. It's very picturesque here.

Just to the right of the above image is a circular shaped garden with the Virgin Mary at the top.
Walking a bit more we come to the main road. All of these trees were planted by a monk some 20 or 25 years ago. The whole campus here use to be fields. I think the more forested look is better suited to a monastic community. It's open to the public but also excluded from the noise and bustle of the city. The whole place is surrounded by the 7-foot wall and trees.
Here's a little side-trail to the school. You can vaguely see the mountains in the background.
The 'main grounds' of the school we study at. Very simple concrete and tin-roof buildings. You can see one of the mountains here in the background. We're on an incline so the city, Quetzaltenango (Xela to locals), is just over these buildings, perhaps about 4-8 blocks away.
And here's been my torture chamber for the past 3 weeks. Pleasant and intimate, the one-on-one learning experience has been a great help for me. Spiders seem to land on my shoulders from time to time.


And so this has been my short little walking path thus far. For class, my teacher and I often talk about this or that--catechises, basketball, cooking, or just other random topics where I try to put to use what I've learned and learn a little bit more along the way. My teacher goes above and beyond by making hand-made tests, handouts on our conversations (such as all the vocabulary you would ever want to know for basketball), and everything else. I'm very lucky to have her.

I've found that many of the people here in Guatemala are very fervent in their prayer life and devotion but very much devoid of solid catechises. They believe simply and live simply--which isn't a bad thing at all. But my teacher really loves it when I speak about Scripture, describe the symbolism in churches, and talk about theology. Like my friend Mike Olson said, "These people are really hungry for good, solid teaching about our faith, Scripture, and Catholicism." I completely agree. My teacher is a wonderful women who is intelligent, inquiring, and faithful. But Guatemala is a concrete culture--these people work for a living and, because there's not much leisure unless you're an alcoholic, they find beauty in friendships, family, and faith.

This is the beauty of simpler countries and communities. Much like the ancient Jews who were nomads,  shepherds, and workers they lived in a dirty, concrete reality. Yet all the same they realized because of it (separated from the often-prevalent decadence of urban culture) that the concrete is not all there is to life. When you move from the concrete you find family and friends to be more important. When you realize that even these too will not last you additionally appreciate that which always is, such as the beauty of nature and the constancy of the goodness that is love and family. From there you appreciate a Love that could be nothing but timeless.

In a way, I wish there were more  missionary priests from the United States. We have a culture rich with learning and opportunity through which we could change the lives of millions by instruction in the faith by our sacrifice (for the faithful), our education, and our manner of lives. And the simplicity, humility, and fervor with which faithful Catholics live here could transform us too.

My friends, let me be blunt here: Protestants--Mormons, Baptists, Pentecostals--are ravaging Catholics and converting them here by thousands here. The blood our martyrs poured out on this land is being harvested by those who teach others that we are wicked and wrong, and even others to hate us (in some circumstances). In the United States it's no different.

When we, as privileged Catholics, use our leisure for solely escapism (television, games, parties), then people will rightfully escape from the Catholic Church. We cannot avoid people leaving the Church and we should be proud we do not--typically--shun those who fall away (unlike many Muslim, Lutheran, and Baptist communities where becoming Catholic is tantamount to disowning someone). But all the same if we do not pray, use the Sacraments, go to mass regularly, study and read Scripture, and show that we have a life and a faith worth living then why should others care if we're just a dime-a-dozen?

Do not be slack in your faith but be a light to the world. There are those that hunger physically, yes, but there are just as many who hunger intellectually for the opportunities we have! And by intellectually I should also say spiritually. For when we come from a land of the "haves" (and not the "have-nots") and still display control, moderation, discipline, obedience, humility, and joy we will have conquered the great enemies of Pride, Excess, and Self-Indulgence. By doing so we show Christ to the world through our faith and love of His Church. By that solidarity--that recognition that we want to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church we can really change the world.


It is this love, this oneness in faith that makes such a gathering possible.
We are all working hard but find happiness with one another's company. (We won the game, by the way)

This is not a charge by me to become sullen and serious, but I do want to draw to your attention that a home that flourishes is one that loves each other and spends time together. The Church is our home. Love and work with those in it, because there are many of our brothers who need to learn Scripture and you know it. There are many who need to see good marriages. Live it. There are many who can't communicate because they don't know English--will you help them?

We are already working hard, I know. But you all also know the joy of hard work and the fruit it produces. Persevere, those of you who have worked hard but gone unseen, and I hope those who could do a little bit more get to work as well. Push me to do the same,

Matt