I have been blessed to travel to more places in my short years on earth than many people have traveled in their entire lives. I think the first major trip I have any recollection of was when I went to Austria with my family and my godparents a decade and a half ago. I saw the sites of the filming of The Sound of Music including the von Trapp family’s home. I also visited the Czech Republic and acquired a marionette (which I still have), and I visited Vatican City (which I remember virtually nothing about). I have also traveled extensively throughout the United States.
Most poignant of my early memories being the first time my Dad attended an event in Estes Park, and he took me along to Colorado. As our family grew (and I became the oldest kid of seven siblings) a jaunt to Austria became less of a monetary possibility, but we always traveled somewhere at least once a year – often to the same location in Colorado (my Dad loves mountains).
My Dad likes to volunteer his time as a doctor in different poor regions outside the US (to say nothing of the free clinic he runs back home in Wisconsin). This has led to me twice to Chunhuhub Mexico, assisting with triage (while I let the other volunteer doctors do the actual work). In addition to helping the poor, this let me experience new cultures, old Mayan architecture, history, and new foods (to my own chagrin).
Four years ago I raised money and traveled on a trip to the Rio World Youth Day with my friend Zech and his Dad in the Lacrosse Diocese. In addition to traveling to Brazil, the trip (which was three weeks in total) allowed my to travel to Mexico for the third time and see the Tilma of Juan Diego. The Lacrosse Diocese also runs an orphanage by Lima, Peru, which our group visited as our final destination after the closing mass in Rio.
As I finished high school, I decided to attend college studying filmmaking. I wanted a Catholic school, and I essentially had the choice of either DeSales University on the East Coast or the equidistant John Paul II in California. Deciding on DeSales University, I moved out of the Midwest for the first time.
Last Fall, DeSales University gave me the opportunity to live abroad in Rome. This was the longest I had ever spent in a foreign country. In Rome, I was able to see all the tourist spots as well as unconventional buildings and churches through my Roman Art and Architecture class. I traveled outside Rome on a few occasions, heading to Glasgow over the break, going skiing in the Italian Alps, visiting Turin and seeing the shroud, as well as staying a weekend in Assisi with my family who visited for a week part way through my semester.
That brings me to today, and the reason I named this post “Ulysses”. Among the many classes I took in Rome was a class on Dante’s Commedia. One of the characters which struck the strongest chord with me was Ulysses, who is in Hell having neglected his life at home in his psychotic pursuit of the discovery of new lands and new experiences. Ulysses continued to have new experiences and new adventures, but he did not let those experiences positively impact him or make him a better person.
I think the fall of Ulysses is a great cautionary tale. Travel should elevate one’s perception or art or history, or of God’s movement throughout them. I think I find that I often return from a trip or experience without reflecting sufficiently upon the great opportunity I have undeservedly been given. I will never forget the small dark stone pavement of Rome or the view of the Vatican across the Tiber. Those experiences have value simply as positive memories, but they should ideally do more. As everything we participate in should, travel should elevate one’s conception of God’s goodness and place one in a position of humility.
I would obviously recommend travel to those who have the option presented to them, but I would simply encourage you to allow that opportunity to be transformative. Not in an arbitrary “expanding your horizons” type way, and certainly not by simply giving yourself an emotional high, but by opposing the example of Ulysses. By exposing yourself to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God and his creatures and allowing it to strengthen your desire to fulfill your obligations and Vocational path.