“Content…Exhausted…Happy…Blessed.” | Postcards from Rome 2019

June 17, 2019

Reflection on Week 4 (June 10-16):

It’s hard to believe how much you can pack into one week. Our week began with us all loading onto a bus and making our way out of the city of Rome. We’d been there just over a week at that point. As we drifted through crowded city streets, we settled in for a drive which would last several hours. After a stop in Naples, we ended the day in the ancient city of Pompeii.

Like all cities, Pompeii has its own energy, its own fingerprint, its own identity. For me, I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere I found in Pompeii. After Mass, followed by dinner, we were cut loose for the evening. Many of us took the opportunity to stroll through a city best known for tragedy. The city is defined by its darkest hour, and yet, we encountered a vibrant, living, healthy city. That evening in Pompeii was one of my favorites on this trip. It certainly ranks very high on the list.

The next day we toured the ruins of ancient Pompeii. I preferred the version of the city I’d experienced the night before. Still, it was surreal looking backwards through the lens of history into a civilization that came to a grinding halt when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. We spent most of the day there, looking at what used to be, the day before the day everything changed.

From the ruins of Pompeii, we traveled north to Monte Cassino. It’s very difficult to use words adequately enough to describe something as magnificent as Monte Cassino. High (real high) on the mountain, this fully functioning monastery serves as a beacon of prayer for all to see. The climb to get there was harrowing, frightening at times. Eventually, the bus made its way to the last resting place of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Established around 529, Monte Cassino is a spectacular spectacle of sacredness. I felt a gentle peace sweep over me as soon as we arrived. Looking out at the horizon far below us, it seemed like we could see into eternity.

Almost two hours after leaving the last monastery St. Benedict ever dwelled, we were back in Rome. Within a few days, we’d find ourselves face to face with the burial spot of none other than St. Paul himself. St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is easily one of my top five favorite churches in this city. There’s a feeling of strength there, the strength of its patron is clearly felt as soon as you arrive. For me, spending the day at St. Pauls was an intense experience. There is a strong touristy atmosphere at St. Peter’s — where thousands upon thousands line up to take selfies in what is perhaps the most famous church in all of Christendom. Unlike St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s is a place that calls all to prayer. St. Paul’s is blunt, it gets straight to the point. You go there to pray.

At the foot of the altar lays the final resting place of St. Paul. We each took time to kneel there in tribute to this great saint. I had a hard time comprehending the reality of the time and space which surrounded me. Words don’t come close to describing how it feels to be inches away from one of the great men of the early Christian church.

We began the week on a bus. We ended the week on foot. We spent Saturday walking to each of the churches in the 7 Churches Pilgrimage. By the time we’d made it to the fifth church, the impressive St. John Lateran, we’d already walked ten miles. Several of us ended our tour at St. John Lateran.

It’s hard to describe such an amazing, jampacked, grace-filled week. Three of us, myself included, found the perfect way to bring the week to an end. We headed down into the Metro station and caught a train to take us closer to where we’re staying. After we got out, we walked over to an American run restaurant called Homebaked. If you’re ever in Rome… They serve American style breakfast all day, AND they have real bacon.

We’d feasted on sites, sounds, relics, and layers of history all week. At the end of it all, we savored flavors of a different nature. After walking over ten miles, at the conclusion of a week in which we saw Pompeii, Naples, Monte Cassino, and the burial places of both St. Benedict and St. Paul, we collapsed into comfy chairs and relished each calorie we consumed. Old-fashioned ice cream shakes, eggs, bacon… more bacon. We were content, we were exhausted, we were happy. Most of all, we were blessed.

David Bailey
The Rome Experience Class of 2019
Diocese of Tyler
Notre Dame Seminary