Some students see graduation as a lofty vista that looks out into the great blue yonder, brimming with possibility and promise. I saw graduation as a deadline for figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. Instead of making a decision about my future, though, I deferred my choice and ran off to Germany, where I have been for six weeks now.

Ok. I might as well throw it out there simply: I live in a German fraternity house. There is wise-cracking and beer-chugging. There is churlish name-calling and odious prank-pulling. At face value it’s not really the stuff of spiritual edification. And yet, in this German frat house atop a hill overlooking Heidelberg and the Neckar Valley, I have been spiritually edified.

This might all be prefaced by the fact that I actually am in Germany with an agenda. I am not just some moody runaway. I had to put in my time applying for a grant, justifying my research interests, and seeking out accommodations. The last of these items led me to the webpage of a student group by the (decidedly un-German) name of Ferdinandea. They said they were Catholic and offered rooms for monthly fees that made Motel 8 rates seem like price gouging. I was sold. I sent an email in excruciatingly composed German to one “Maximillian Möller” (a decidedly German name) and planned to move into their house upon my arrival in Heidelberg.

Move-in went well enough. I hauled two suitcases up a hill that seemed two to three times longer and infinitely steeper than Google Maps led me to believe. I mispronounced the name of the fraternity member, Herr Möller, who had arranged to meet me at the house’s gate. Yes, gate. The house has a gate and a full perimeter wall, actually. But I was there. I had arrived.

The first signs of the spiritual growth to come probably presented themselves when I first sat down in the house’s sitting room, which opened up to a jaw-dropping panorama of tree-covered hills sloping toward the gleaming Neckar River lined with red-roofed houses that had survived the war. Moritz, as my host was properly called, explained to me that Ferdinandea was not some run-of-the-mill German fraternity, devoted to binge drinking and swashbuckling—the whole tradition with German fraternities being that they fence, and fence hard, evidently; some “schlagende Verbindungen,” as the sword wielded fraternities are called, adorn their halls with pictures of confreres dripping with blood from fencing wounds, which were, and maybe still are, a sign of prestige in Teutonic high society. But that is not what Ferdinandea is about, I was told. Ferdinandea commits itself to founding principles: to faith, fraternity, philosophy, and Fatherland. These are virtues of sorts, virtues that I have only started learning.

The virtue that has imposed itself most on my life since moving in, though, is humility: the simple, unadorned realization that I am a small part of a world beyond my comprehension, a single flower in the rolling meadows of God’s creation. Much of this has to do with my continued struggles with the German language, a language which, by all rights, I should speak with relative comfort. I got an award for my achievements in German studies, after all. It’s sitting on a cabinet in my parents’ house somewhere. But my Heidelberg days have flipped the tables on the ability I cherish most, namely, a command of language and a subsequent particularity in my choice of words. No such linguistic flourish is allotted to me by the German language. In the Ferdinandea fraternity house, I must subsist on stock phrases and common verbs, often improperly conjugated.

This existence has forced me to focus on other things, littler things. I learned the Rosary in German. I started reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul. I have unloaded more dishes in the last month-and-a-half than I have in my whole life heretofore. I have cooked a few meals and shared a few meals. I have folded my housemate’s laundry, and not just because it was occupying the space I needed in the drier (I hope).

In doing all of this, I have learned a central truth that all good parents already know a thousand times over: that love is practiced in the mundane tasks of everyday life, in taking out the trash or scrubbing grease off a stovetop, so long as these tasks are offered up to God as selfless acts. Such moments sanctify us in their humility. I hope they have begun to sanctify me.

St. Thérèse writes in The Story of the Soul that “if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtime beauty,” for in “Our Lord’s living garden,” God has “also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them.”  

But so it is for all of us at different stations in our lives. In Germany, I have indeed learned to take stock of the little things, of the happiness an email from a friend can provide or the beauty of chiaroscuro tones on a hillside at dusk. That might sound a bit flowery, sure, but we are all flowers at God’s Feet and ought not to forget our littleness in comparison.

Charlie Ducey (’16) studied English and German at Our Lady’s university. Sources say he can do a shockingly accurate Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI impression, so long as the setting is sufficiently German enough.