I flew over the Atlantic ocean to spend a semester in Ireland nearly five weeks ago. Almost since the moment I arrived I have wanted to share this journey with y’all. But every time I sat down to write my first blog post something held me back. Either I became distracted, or I argued with myself about what to write, or I became anxious that I wouldn’t be able to capture the experience. Now I am refusing distraction, I will plow forward with whatever words are given to me, and I have reconciled myself to the fact I will inevitably fail to capture all that I have seen and done and felt.
I’m going to give y’all the condensed version of my last five weeks for two reasons: 1) Telling every detail would make for a ridiculously long post (if you want more insight, I would be more than happy to fill you in if you contact me!), and 2) I have something much greater on my heart to share than the basic itinerary of the last five weeks.
I left the continental United States for the first time in my life to come to Limerick, Ireland! In the Houston airport, my phone was lost and/or stolen. That was an adventure. Two days after moving into my new apartment, I went to Dublin for three days. My time in the city itself was happily spent meandering around, visiting Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, and a ton of churches that I randomly stumbled into.
I left from Dublin for a day tour of the Wicklow Mountains, and I can honestly say that my heart was completely captivated.
The rest of week one was filled with orientation and meeting the other international students, which was a lot of fun!
During the weekend I took a jaunt with several friends to the town of Adare, reputedly the most charming village in Ireland.
Adjusting to a different way of education was difficult at first, and almost all of my pre-approved classes fell through. I ended up in Modern Drama, Theology of the New Testament, German, and Celts and Early Christianity. I really enjoy each of my professors, but it is strange not taking my usual flux of theology classes. I miss my Church Fathers and complicated papers.
The first weekend after classes began, I was blessed with the amazing opportunity to accompany a professor to a seminar held at Clonmacnoise. Clonmacnoise is situated in the middle of Ireland, and during the Middle Ages it was a great place of study and prayer. Thousands of monks, religious sisters, and lay people worked, prayed, and studied there. Now Clonmacnoise is one of the two largest and best preserved monastic sites in Ireland.
Week 3: The second week of classes brought with it a little more security and familiarity with my new routine. On Friday, a group of us explored the events open for Limerick’s Culture Night. We explored a local museum, walked the medieval walls of the city, and stormed King John’s Castle. It was a blast! Saturday, we went on a day tour the Cliffs of Moher, and my words fail to describe the awe-inspiring beauty of the Cliffs. If I could only recount all the thoughts that streamed in my head in awe of the majestic landscape.
On Sunday, we visited the nearby town, Ennis, which was very charming. We also visited Craggaunowen, a heritage site that has reconstructed a crannog and a ring fort from ages past. It was a cold and wet day, but it suited the mood of the serene woods and ancient living situations.
Week Four: I experienced quite a bit of homesickness this week. I was finally settled, and I was no longer rushing around to get everything I needed. This meant I had time to think more and more about the people I was missing. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to Skype with a number of friends and family. This was the first weekend with some established rest. On Sunday, I was supposed to make a pilgrimage to Knock, but I unfortunately missed the bus to get to the Marian Shrine. Instead, I made the trip to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, and spent a lovely day there with good friends.
Week Five: This has been a very good week so far, though it is not quite over. My classes are going well, and we’ve had some very fine weather for strolling through the park. I’ve experienced fall for the first time in my life, and I think I’m beginning to see what the fuss is all about.
Today, October 1st, is a very important day for me, and for many of the faithful in the world. Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She is my patron saint and is very near and dear to my heart. She is one of the four female Doctors of the Church, and much can be gleaned from the words she left us with during her short life on earth. Below is one of my favorite quotes, one that has been on my heart constantly since I came to Ireland:
“Everything is grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love — difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs — everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness — Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events — to the heart that loves, all is well.” -Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Everything I have experienced on this journey so far has been a grace. Everything. From losing my cell phone, to sitting in pubs talking to people, to spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, to walking literally everywhere, to expanding my horizons in sometime uncomfortable ways, everything has been a grace.
In the hub bub of getting over here, I forgot for the first few weeks that this is not merely a trip abroad, but this is a pilgrimage. My very first blog post, and in fact my entire blog, is dedicated to my understanding of being a pilgrim in this world. And I somehow lost sight of that, and lost sight of God’s specific call to me to come to this land.
Almost nothing has gone according to my plans for this experience. Five weeks ago, this would have made me worried sick. But in the last five weeks, I’ve gained a fair bit of perspective on my anxiety. I’m learning how to be flexible with my plans. A pilgrim has to be flexible. The destination may be solid, but the journey there can take many unexpected twists, turns, and may present some obstacles to overcome. My journey has seen a lot of change, a lot of variation in the plans I had originally intended, and although there has been some grief I have mostly experienced great joy in the unexpected moments of my journey.
Whatever graces come my way in this life, I must remember that this world is hardly permanent. Some day, it will all pass away. My dear best friend in heaven, St. Thérèse, reminds us that “The world is thy ship and not thy home.”
This understanding of the world and of the human condition came from the family in which she was raised. Her parents, Bl. Zelie and Bl. Louis, experienced much suffering in their lives and in their deaths. In spite of their earthly sufferings, they always looked forward to the joy of Heaven, the joy of abiding forever with God. Right now, I am reading their family correspondence, and it is very illuminating about Thérèse’s home life. Her parents were not perfectly pious people to be placed on pedestals. On the contrary, they experienced the uplifting joys and crushing sorrows of raising children and losing children, of trying to run a business, and watching the world around them change dramatically over time. What Zelie and Louis do provide us with is an insight into a home where Christ and His Church came first above all, where children were showered with love, where extended family was cherished, and where spouses mutually supported each other in all possible ways. They are a beautiful example of Christian marriage, and of a solid Christian family.
On October 18th, Bl. Zelie and Bl. Louis will be canonized saints by Pope Francis in Rome. Everything is grace, and I am blessed to announce the grace I have been given in the opportunity to attend the Canonization Mass for the parents of the Little Flower. I am in complete wonder and awe that this will really be happening in two weeks! I have been praying for this opportunity for months, and blessedly, my prayer has been granted. Their canonization will take place during the Synod on the Family, and they are, most significantly, the first married couple to be canonized together.
Two weeks from today, I will embark for Rome, for the heart of Christianity since St. Peter. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! I head for Rome as a pilgrim, and though I may encounter difficulties on the road to Rome, I accept all the Lord has in store for me as a grace.
So I ask you to pray for me as I prepare for and embark on this pilgrimage to Rome. Please send me your prayer requests, and I will carry them with me on my heart as I embrace the experience and walk the streets where so many prayers have been offered up to God.
May God bless you on your way!