I took three years of Spanish classes in high school and one more in college. That was more than the minimum requirement to graduate, but I tend to love learning. I especially love to know the real, true day-to-day novels of people’s lives.
I have found there are beautiful stories wrapped up in the language people speak. When you learn the language, you learn the culture. Their mannerisms, their slang, their individual way of describing an experience. It’s so personal and diverse, yet has this mysterious way of bringing us together. The common ground of humanity is found when people from different cultures can meet at a necessity and understand one another. One may say “bread” and the other “pan”, but they can see the food they both need and know a familiar universal purpose.
My teenage self didn’t comprehend it at the time, but my school was doing me an enormous favor by requiring me to learn about a different culture. Underneath that rule was a valuable lesson in humility. I was taught that when I come into contact with people who are different from me, I should not immediately dismiss them. Instead, if I take time to humbly listen, observe, and look for common ground, it can nearly always be found in the necessities. And from that foundation, much can be expanded upon if humility and love are actively practiced.
The reality is that my language is not the only language. My home is not the only home. To visit another place is not to expect others to conform to me, the visitor, but to patiently and respectfully listen to the stories of my hosts’ lives. Language is just the opening line to their memoirs, leading into the chapters of how they dress, eat, act, and love. The “how” being just a teaser for the “why”. I still remember my Spanish teacher trying to convince us all to take a trip to Mexico or to Spain. She said the only way to truly become fluent was to immerse yourself in the culture.
Only now, decades later, do I find myself following her advice and nodding in absolute agreement. I’m a member of a Catholic parish that participates in the Latin form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is said, and I can personally attest, that the Mass is the point where Heaven meets earth even to this day. Visiting a place where that is happening is like stepping into a mysteriously familiar home whose family culture I long to immerse myself in. The Cross on the altar and the Eucharist in the hands of the priest is a portal into that one place where all of humanity can enter into their homeland of Heaven…Jesus Christ. Our Lord on the Cross is that one necessity where we can and must find common ground.
Tapping into that humility subtly reinforced by a required foreign language class, I have since learned that Latin was one of three languages (among Hebrew and Greek) written on that portal to Heaven.
“Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”
“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”
And so, Latin is used to initiate that connection to the most intimate moments we can have with Christ while we are on earth.
I can’t consider myself fluent even as I now recognize many of the words. Years later, I still carry my Latin/English guidebook (missal) to find the words of necessity. But the Latin language is truly the opening lines of the greatest memoir ever written, whose infinite chapters I can’t seem to put down, lest I miss the climax. It’s worth patiently and respectfully listening to the stories told in Latin while absorbing the culture that is happening all around me. The “how” leads to the “why” and I find myself at the Door to the Home I was created to live in forever, surrounded by a family that universally spans across time and distance.
We can all come to this same place from all different cultures speaking all different languages, yet I’m grateful it’s not my language or yours that takes first priority. Instead, we must all trade in our preferences for the common Word that describes the necessary universal purpose that brought us here. I have never experienced a better definition of unity than in the culture of Heaven, witnessed at that place where everyone’s story flows in together through that one Cross. That place where I am not expected to conform to you, and you are not expected to conform to me, but where we all begin to conform to Him.
Per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso
est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti,
in unitate Spiritus Sancti,
omnis honor et gloria,
per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
Through Him and with Him and in Him,
Be to Thee, God the Father Almighty,
In the unity of the Holy Ghost,
All honor and glory,
Forever and ever.