On a trip to Rome, an unexpected illness brings surprising grace

3 mins read
trip Rome illness
St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican and the city of Rome are seen in this aerial view. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I went to Rome for a short trip largely to offer a little moral support for friends who were doing something beautiful for the life of the Church. While visiting with one of them who lives there a day or so before the event, I got sick. Non-contagious sick, but a catalyst for much humility.

So, I was largely locked in my room — in Rome — for a day and change. I was annoyed with myself for not thinking this through better — as if I could have known this would happen. Just what you fly across the Atlantic for!

The moment I started to feel better, I had grand plans, despite not having eaten and probably being dehydrated. I would go to St. Peter’s and other beloved places. My friend wisely insisted I did not. He knew I was not ready (and my doctor agreed). So I stuck around and tried to pray and offer things up.

After feeling sorry for myself, the question dawned on me: Could this be about Jesus and the cross? Could this be how to leave Lent with a greater trust and love in Jesus? Could I stop whining about the fear of dying in Rome (slightly overdramatic, but I didn’t see it so at the time) and instead let God make use of this for my conversion and the conversion of souls?

Praying with friends and saints

I talked to a doctor, got some advice, and things got better. I planned to play things safe. I prayed to God fervently one morning that the blood of Jesus wash over me and heal me — and everyone who was suffering so much more severely than me. My suffering was in many ways merely inconvenient and made worse by the fact that I had flown to Rome from New York and was terrified about what flying back was going to look like if things didn’t settle for more than a few hours.

In the end, the main event was spectacular. Minds and hearts were engaged. My gratitude was overflowing that I was able to be present with my friend, who also traveled across the pond to inspire seminarians at the North American Pontifical College, right above the Vatican. The conversations around it were amazing because lives had been immediately enriched. And the reflections will continue long beyond the lecture that day.

Once over, my friend in Rome accompanied me to accomplish some of my secondary priorities for the trip. A visit to the bones of St. Peter. Prayer at the tomb of Benedict XVI for the first time. Paul VI. John XXIII. John Paul II. One of us went to Confession. We prayed at the Blessed Sacrament chapel at St. Peter’s, the most powerful room in the place. It is good to pray together. Go to shrines together. Talk about saints together. Share our struggles and accompany one another to heaven.

Jesus is always present

Other things transpired on the official post-event schedule, but later, around the Eternal City, there was suffering and love everywhere. I saw a 20-something man pushing his severely disabled teenage brother in a wheelchair with great care. There was an elderly couple walking: She clearly had had a stroke and was motionless, her face off-balance. I smiled at them, and the man seemed glad. At the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, we watched as a grandmother showed her young grandson how to write a prayer intention. It took some time, but she was a tender teacher in the Faith. I wish I had seen the prayer. Let’s pray for it anyway. God knows.

‘All hope is not lost,’ was the message for me. My soul was restored. I’m still human and still weak — body, soul and mind. But these things can be true simultaneously.

I wouldn’t wish to fly over an ocean only to find myself sick, but the trip was replete with blessings, all the same — even (especially?) in the humiliation of having to lock myself inside for more than a day. God is always present and merciful and works with everything.

As the trip wound down, I prayed, asking for the grace to get over myself and try to stay with Jesus with great joy in all circumstances. This is what Lent and Easter are about, even if you’ve — like me — had had a less-than-perfect penitential season.

Jesus is calling us closer and showing us that he truly works in all things. Let us let him. Stay with Jesus in all the liturgical seasons of the Church, no matter how the last one or the current one is going. Keep entering into him, who wants to transform us through the sacraments in the most practical ways. Keep an eye on him and don’t forget to accompany others and let yourself be accompanied with love. All for Jesus. All for heaven.

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.