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Comprehensive and Universal

Comprehensive and Universal

cath·o·lic \ˈkath-lik , ˈka-thə-lik\ adj 2: comprehensive, universal; especially: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests

Homesickness is much different than I anticipated. I’ve experienced longing, obviously, whether for a place or a person, and I know what that feels like. But being in Accra for four months is a little different than spending a couple weeks away from family in the states. Vast space and time are between me and the rest of my familiar world, and sometimes it hurts my heart. These are manageable feelings, and I know they are neither unique to me nor profound. They are just things people feel when they study abroad, and they are things that come and go.

What helps, though, is to catch glimpses of the universality of life on this huge planet.

Sunday the 25th of February, I went to Catholic mass for what was the first time in a month. Circumstances and laziness had kept me from going during my first four weeks in Accra, but that Sunday was a fortuitous one.

I’ve got fourteen and a half good good years of Catholic education under my belt, and I know what a Catholic mass feels like. It’s catholic – universal. It’s said in the vernacular (which, here, is fortunately my first language), all the prayers are the same, and it follows a playbook that saves me from having to really make any decisions during the service. During mass, whether or not I’m feeling particularly faithful that day, I feel comfortable. I feel connected to myself and those around me. And then after the hour, I feel peaceful and calm.

At home, I go to mass because it’s part of my routine and part of my extracurricular commitment. I participate in the ritual because it brings me these feelings of peace that, I believe, bring me closer to God. I also know that I have friends, even a second family, in my faith-based communities in Chicago and Ohio.

But here, I went to mass on Sunday the 25th because I needed something that felt familiar.

I have weird moments here where I feel turbulent, unsettled, and alien, when I know that I should instead be feeling like I belong. The week before the 25th was peppered with many of these moments, and I was desparately in need of an anchor. I knew there was a St. Thomas Aquinas Church on campus, a forty-minute walk from my hostel. I knew they had two mass times on Sunday mornings, so I decided to go to the second one at 9am.

The worship space was semi-circular, with rows of pews surrounding the altar on three sides. One side was occupied by the choir and a small podium for the choir director to stand on. Facing the altar, there were two projection screens displaying the lyrics to the hymns for the service, as there were no missals provided for the congregation in the pews.

A badly taken photo of the worship space from the choir loft.

Genuflecting, I took a seat in the center section near the back as the procession was beginning. All at once, with the incense to my left, the choir to my right, and the altar displaying a Chi Rho before me, I felt exactly as peaceful as I needed to be. I don’t think it was my faith which brought me to this calmness, because I can practice my faith anywhere. And it wasn’t necessarily the environment of the relatively humble worship space that impacted me.

Instead, I think I experienced contentment because I was experiencing something familiar. Something universal. Something catholic.

Since Sunday the 25th, I’ve been searching for these universal experiences from which to draw serenity. I’ve found them in teenagers who walk home from school in groups of two and three, gossiping among themselves; in street vendors and bartenders who get my attention when I forget my change; in the way the earth smells after a light rain. This week I ended up in the hospital with a fever, and the nurse taking a blood sample from me asked how school was going so I wouldn’t feel nervous. The other day I tripped over the sidewalk in a place where the cobblestones had been upset by a growing tree root. Once I saw a toddler take a faceplant in the dirt before promptly getting up and continuing to run along with her older siblings.

When I take a beat to slow down and reflect on what I’m feeling, I recognize these catholic moments. A moment that doesn’t necessarily remind me of anything or anywhere, because I don’t think that would help my homesickness. Rather I cherish moments that could happen anywhere, and in these I feel peace.

I really am trying to make myself feel like I can be a part of this place, to truly be where my feet are. Sometimes it feels hard when I know I’m not staying for a very long time, but I’m trying nonetheless. How do I balance a mindful effort to be present at this university with genuine feelings of longing for the family, friends, and places that are familiar?

Truthfully, I’m unsure. And I’d love for any tips and tricks.

But I bet if I spend enough time pursuing these moments of universality, seeking the catholic facets of my world, and leaning in to my Catholic faith, I just might find some answers.

Ad majorem dei gloriam,


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