My best friend married a lovely woman who was born and raised in the Czech Republic. So every year they make a trip there so she can see her parents, which is nice; and so her parents can see their grandchildren, which is non-negotiable.
For the last few years, Ted has been after me to go with them on their trip to Central Europe, and it has generally not worked in my schedule. But this year, I made it work. I had two and a half weeks traveling throughout the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
I have to admit that I was intrigued to see the Carpathian Mountains, and told Ted that going there was my only requirement for the trip. Ever since I was a boy, watching my first vampire movies, the Carpathian Mountains have been one of those places, so vast, so foreign, that I could not imagine being there in person.
It was a delight to see them and hike through them, and I am pleased that I did not see a single werewolf; but the moon was not full then, so, who knows.
We traveled and I saw sights; I woke up in Prague and fell asleep in Budapest. I walked a bridge crossing the Danube and baptized my friend’s son in his mother’s home parish, a church older than the United States.
Many of the evenings during the trip were spent at the farmhouse where Ted’s wife Jindra grew up. It is a lovely home in a small village a few kilometers from the larger city of Kutna Hora. Her parents were generous and beyond hospitable. We arrived after a long, long day of travel to an American flag hanging from their window; a small token of love for their guests.
We sat down almost immediately to a meal and ate chicken that had that morning been walking around the back yard. The first bite took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. I had forgotten what chicken tastes like, but I remembered how important it is when guests are welcomed to the home table.
But it was the first morning in their home that taught me some lessons. I woke up before my friends and their kids and made my way downstairs to the kitchen to find some coffee. Jindra’s parents were up and, when I walked through the door, we were faced with a slightly uncomfortable situation, they spoke Czech and a little English, and I spoke no Czech at all.
I smiled and they smiled and I walked over to the electric kettle and the mother walked over, opened the cabinet and pulled out a cup and then instant coffee (which is the káva they drink in the Czech Republic). That little action was navigated and we began to work out breakfast. I was amazed at how much we could work out with just smiles and a few hand signals.
Following that, I enjoyed my first European breakfast of sliced sausage and ham with beautiful fresh bread and some amazingly bright and flavorful butter. As I ate, Jindra’s parents went about their day, stopping to smile and speak to me and I would nod and smile, hoping they were asking if everything was fine. During those days, we managed to eat, smile, watch seven puppies born, get laundry done, get chores done, and learn to appreciate each other’s presence.
Those few days with limited ability to communicate with most of the people in the house, I had the chance to simply watch and notice things; common things. We have a tendency as people to notice the things that divide us, those things that make us different. Yet, if we have the chance to just watch, then what unites us is amazing. We are united by common desires and very human actions.
We love our families, honor our friends, we want children to be happy, we honor guests with a warm meal and a chair at the kitchen table, and we smile, which says so much. There are universal themes in our lives, that we live because we are human beings. The gift of our faith gives deeper meaning to these themes.
In them, we feel the presence of Christ and the gift of His Gospel that binds us together. We recognize that the gift of love transcends our differences and makes our unity a gift, a joy, and a journey.
As we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs and Occasions I: “For by the word of your Son’s Gospel you have brought together one Church from every people, tongue, and nation, and, having filled her with life by the power of your Spirit, you never cease through her to gather the whole human race into one.”