The Path After Rome: How My Summer In Spain Completed My Rome Pilgrimage

by Thomas More College on July 14, 2014

Stephen Lajoie Class of 2015

Every student at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts spends a semester in Rome. This pilgrimage is universally regarded as an intense period of growth. Virtues are cultivated in an environment of indescribable beauty, while personal demons spring up thicker and faster than umbrella gypsies in a rainstorm. One can feel the conflict as physically as an infection. To go to Rome is to experience pure potency, great sanctity and humanity. Personally, I was blessed with countless graces, by which I am eternally humbled and overwhelmed. Rome was the sweetest cull where I matured from a blob of ideas to something resembling a Catholic gentleman. It felt like I had reached a destination, that my path to Rome had concluded and I would live the rest of my life as a Roman

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Then Rome was over. I was back in my home. I was back at McDonald’s. My dear friends, my fellow pilgrims, my Roman family were all gone, and though I knew I would see many of them next semester, I knew that in just two years we would be scattered to the winds. The splendid churches seemed far away from my drive-through window and I began to wonder if the highpoint of my life was already behind me, if I was going to be one of those koots too busy drowning in memories to breath the day’s air. I did not care for the prospect, but I will admit that the cool waters of remembered basilicas were very tempting compared to the scorching summer air at the ‘first window’.

All of the sudden, “that trip to teach children in Spain” was upon me and I was boarding a jet plane to cross the Atlantic once more. I wondered if I could recapture a part of Rome as churches and wine danced through my head with greater delight than any sugarplum fairy could. Soon I was ‘biking’ up a mountain in 95 degree heat and I realized, as flies relentlessly raided my face, that I was in for a very different experience. I was in for, in many ways, a better experience than Rome. This is primarily because I choose to go to Rome for pleasure, to do the things I always wanted to do, see the greatest sights in the world. The best parts of Rome came as a I learned how foolish I was for going for such reasons; that I was called to be a pilgrim and not a tourist. I learned paradoxically that the tastiest meal follows a long fasting, that the beautiful mountain top requires the difficult climb, and that the greatest joy is born from the harshest trial.unnamed

With that in mind I decided to go to Spain because I knew it would be difficult. I was slowwithlanguages, and I had to learn Spanish. I was an habitual user of the internet, and I had to go without it for weeks at a time. I had spent most of my childhood stagnant and indoors, and I had to sleep outside and get physically fit. Instead of planning to selfishly see the world, I was planning to help others. So there I was baking in the sun, amusing the children with my ever reddening skin, disappointingly unable to match their pace, yet I was happy. By facing my own faults and weaknesses I was able to grow in ways I never could have in Rome. I can still hear Padre Manuel’s voice ringing in my ears: “Stephen! You must suffer more! We need to suffer!” I did need to suffer… a lot, and I still do. If I never suffered in Spain I never would have seen the natural glories of Cuenca, I would never have played soccer, I could not have learned about St. Phillip Neri, nor would I have had the frequent formative conversations I have relied on for guidance this past year. A whole host of memories, stories, and friendships would have never existed if I had decided to be comfortable at home or in Rome. For me, piety was not enough, for without suffering my resolve would surely have withered in material distractions.

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In summary, all the goods I found in Rome would have been lost without Spain. Spain was the completion of all I learned in Rome and more besides. Instead of looking fondly back on old times, I now know that the greatest moments of my life lie always ahead of me. This past year spent in the woods of New Hampshire is more dear to me than Rome or Spain, I matured much in that time and I can still suffer so much more unlocking greater joys along the way. As St. Peter says: “the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you. To him be glory and empire for ever and ever. Amen” (1Peter 5:10-11).

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