Sunday, May 23, 2010

Because the Church is Universal

Guest post by Meredith Cummings
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”   (Acts of the Apostles 2: 4).

I grew up in Southern Colorado in a small town that was more or less half white and half Hispanic. Common white names were Smith, Jones or Anderson. Common Hispanic names included Trujillo, Archuleta or Garcia. My parents taught me that there was no difference between us. We all attended school together, played together, hung out together, went to prom together. We all learned to speak Spanish in school, so again, no real differences. Except … although no one said anything, and I never thought to ask, it seemed to me, one big difference loomed over us.

White people worshiped at all the churches in town but one: the Catholic Church. St. Joseph’s was the Hispanic church. Our family knew a few white families who worshiped there, but I assumed they had to get a special letter from that pope guy or whoever he was to attend. (Our family attended St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church down the street. I had little idea who that pope guy was at the time.)

I knew whites were allowed to go to their friends’ weddings and funerals at St. Joseph’s. But I had in the back of my head that there must have been an unspoken rule. The Hispanics got one church, and we got all the rest.

I asked my mom about the Catholic Church on occasion. What was different about it? She said the prayers were mostly the same, as were the beliefs. Really, the only differences she knew of were just the amount of attention paid to the Pope and Mary. “Oh,” I replied. Her answer didn’t really solve anything for me, but I moved on and didn’t think much about it until years later.

Wouldn’t you know, in time, I dated several Catholic guys in college and ended up marrying one before joining the church myself?

The big surprise I learned along the way is that the Church isn’t just for Hispanics. It’s for everyone, just as God planned. It isn’t an elite church but one for all, and that’s what I love about it. At our parish in Indiana, we’ve met friends who came here from all over the world … LaosKenyaMexicoVietnamGermanyChina, the PhilippinesHaiti and many other places.

This weekend of Pentecost, some of these parishioners lectored. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was read in Lau (an African dialect), French, Tagalog (Filipino), Kreyol (Haitian) and Spanish. What a blessing to hear God’s words in so many languages  and to know that He speaks to us all wherever we are, whether it’s Central Indiana, Southern Colorado or half way around the world.

In my first guest post, I mentioned His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom I recently saw speak in Indianapolis. One of the Buddhist monk’s key messages is that we are all the same. We are all humans with the same needs, but it’s our differences that make the world special. He told the audience to think of a cereal aisle.  There are so many different kinds of cereals, especially here in the United States. Can you imagine if we only had one cereal from which to choose? Breakfast would be pretty boring pretty fast.

I loved the Dalai Lama’s cereal analogy, especially because a Venezuelan woman I once interviewed for a magazine article told me that when she moved to the United States and stepped for the first time into a big box grocery story, she was stunned by the cereal aisle. “I had never seen so many different kinds of cereal in my life,” she said. She sat down in the middle of the aisle and cried tears of happiness. She said she knew it was just cereal, but she realized then that America had so much to offer her in so many ways.

So, too, does the Catholic Church. People from all over the world bring their cultures, their ideals and their talents together to form one Church in the name of Jesus.

I’d like to end this piece with The Lord’s Prayer. Our school children pray it at Mass each week without batting an eye. It’s part of who they are; part of being a universal church, and it’s said, each week, in Spanish.

Padre nuestro, 

que estás en el cielo, 

santificado sea tu Nombre; 

venga a nosotros tu reino;

hágase tu voluntad 

en la tierra como en el cielo.

Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día; 

perdona nuestras ofensas, como también nosotros perdonamos 

a los que nos ofenden; 

no nos dejes caer en la tentación,

y líbranos del mal.