Updated: Dec 20, 2021
The Fourth Sunday of Advent, the 19th of December, today as I write this, began with heavy rains through the night and into the morning. Mists clung to the nearby hills and there was no sign of sunshine as I made my way from bed to kitchen to get the coffee going. This was not my first Sunday in Cuenca, but in another way it was "our" first Sunday in Cuenca, "our" being the small community of North American expat Catholics who have chosen to live here...and me, now. This Sunday, today, was our first time to gather at the Iglesia San Francisco for Mass in English since my arrival some ten days ago.
For the folks who live here, it has been at least a couple of years since they've been able to pray together in their native language. If you've lived outside your homeland in another culture and dominant language for any length of time, then you know how good it feels to be able to pray your prayers in the language you first learned them. Those words and phrases and rhythms are hard-wired into our hearts. They go deeper within, rest on memories of parents, grandparents, or big sisters teaching us those prayers, and they express feelings that no other language can. In our own language, we can rest in praying. To hear the Scriptures with the nuances only our own language provides is just so much richer than hearing them in another language even if you mostly understand that other language. So today was a wonderful day for them to pray again in the words, phrases, nuances that are their own.
As it happened, this "first Sunday" was also the fourth of Advent and the Gospel reading, (Luke 1: 39-45), in particular, was especially evocative for me at this time and in this place. The story of an elderly but very pregnant Elizabeth welcoming a young and very pregnant Mary across the threshold of her home and into her heart resonated with me, for the welcome I have received here by so many has been of that sort. I, so new and nervous and feeling like a babe in the woods, while Richard and Kathy and Madelaine and Larry and Linda and so many others have gone out of their way to let me know that for the months I am here, this is my place with them. Even more, they have told me that I am an answer to their prayers, the right guy at the right time, and that their hopes for a growing community are resting on my shoulders. In doing so, they do for me what Elizabeth did for Mary; that whatever doubts or worries Mary might have about what was happening to her since that unexpected visit by Gabriel, it was nevertheless, the God of their forefathers and foremothers at work in her. These "Elizabeths" here remind me that this is not a vacation or a lark, nor is it an accident that I find myself here; this, too, is God at work on their behalf. That is humbling and important to be reminded of. Holy Spirit: help me live up to at least some of their hopes and expectations!
So Mass this Sunday morning, our first together, in English, was quite lovely, even if there more than a few clinks and clunks along the way as I, in particular, tried to fit my manner of presiding and preaching into a kind of church building and liturgical way that is quite distinct. (I'm not used to the "demands" of an 18th century church... Oh, the acoustics...so lovely for Gregorian chant, so terrible for preaching!). We did our best, rolled with the unexpected, and most of all, together we prayed in the language of our mothers and fathers. As I said, it was lovely. Not long after, sunshine broke through the heavy clouds and made this city glisten. Sunday One done.
(By the way, audio of today's homily is available here: Advent 4 )