Avid readers of my blog know that, in the fall, I was planning to apply for grants to go to Peru and Ecuador on mission trips. Seminarians’ summers are filled with a variety of activities: mission trips, internships, travel, or work to make money for school. I had hoped that this was my summer for missionary work, something I have waited for for many years.
But then, family things happened, and a summer in Peru and Ecuador had to be scrapped for activities closer to home. That was disappointing.
The alternate summer was highly encouraged by my academic advisers: a six-week course in intensive Latin. My academic adviser recommended Latin studies to me my first semester, and I said, “Oh, no, I’m not interested in the old stuff.” He recommended it my second semester, and I said, “I’m really not interested in the old stuff.” (This is very hard to say to a very sweet, world-leading expert on Plato and Aristotle.)
But then, it turned out that a lot of the works that I am interested in have big chunks of Latin in them. They would write, “As Augustine says, ‘Umque quad illiam blah blah'” (in Latin with no translation). And of course, a lot of important works in Christianity were written in Latin…. So when I heard for the fifth time, “You really should take Latin this summer,” I finally caved in.
So… for four hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks, I am in a classroom learning Latin grammar, translating sentences such as, “The soldiers terrified the women of the poets with torches.” Our professor tells us that in three weeks, we will be reading Aquinas’s Summa in Latin. I am sure that I will find Aquinas’s highly logical, lucid writing a relief after three weeks of reading about soldiers, torches, and the fame of the queen (fama reginae).
It doesn’t seem like God’s work, and it doesn’t seem like fun, but it’s one of those little building block moments in Christian life. I am still struck by an essay I read in a history class last year. It was about the (often unsung) accomplishments of church women in the American West. In both the Catholic and more evangelical, Pentecostal traditions, church women contributed to the fast growth of the Church by making tamales and selling them to raise funds for church construction. All those tamale sale fundraisers were the building blocks of the Church’s work.
It’s not glamorous, and it’s not Peru (sigh), but it’s good preparation for a student of theology. So I shelved my Spanish and pulled out the Latin book, and I am hoping and assuming that God has a plan for me in all of this.