The sound of shoes walking down a path unknown creates a melody for discovery. Layered in the cobblestone streets of Florence, Italy are past footprints of pilgrims and saints who had walked the very same streets before me, seeking to discover what it was God was ultimately calling them to do. As I walked along those same streets, I was overwhelmed by the unity I felt with the pilgrims of the past and how we, too, truly must discover what God’s plan for us is because through that understanding we can be authentic in our lives. We walk physically daily, but how often do we walk spiritually?
An experience studying abroad is often referred to as a voyage, an undertaking, a journey of self-discovery, but I felt that “self-discovery” lacked the deeper, relational aspect of what I was doing — seeking God’s will. So, I prefer to use the term “discernment” to describe my experience, which, as Saint Ignatius of Loyola so profoundly believed, is not centered on self, but rather on a personal awareness of God’s ultimate plan for each individual person. The Jesuit teachings emphasize discerning who you are — that beautiful, complicated and unique you. Discernment is only possible through vulnerability, journeying and by walking with Christ on those unknown paths both physically and spiritually. While studying abroad in Florence, I was often awestruck by the rolling hills of Tuscany, along with the rich Catholic history that was embedded in the heart of the Italian culture. The atmosphere was absolutely perfect for discernment.
Unknown paths may be frightening — but it is through community in which we can find support and confidence to continue walking. During my junior year at Fairfield University, God gave me the grace to understand this reality. He inspired me to create a new program that would harness this time of discernment not only for myself, but for other students faced with the same yearning to better understand what they were being called to do, may it be academically, professionally, or spiritually.
The unique study abroad program that I created, called Fairfield University Christian Life Communities (CLC) Abroad, launched during my senior year. I started CLC in combination with Fairfield University’s Florence study abroad program. CLC provided students with the opportunity to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage to designated Catholic sites in Florence, Cortona, and Rome, Italy where they were able to experience the Lord’s presence and gain new cultural perspectives on religion. Genuine friendships blossomed out of the organic faith sharing that took place at our weekly meetings, and an enchanting combination of the Holy Spirit and delicious Italian foods created a safe space for everyone to share.
I’ve learned that with discernment comes authenticity. The Jesuits at Fairfield University inspired me to share this understanding with my peers. My hope was that I could in some way provide them with an outlet to find the joy in their lives, to walk those cobblestone streets where so many other Catholics in Italy had walked, and to feel like they, too, were on a journey with Christ.
It is difficult to explain to someone in their early 20’s that there are no guarantees or instant answers. It would be nice if we could give God a call and ask him to drop a pin where he would like us to go next, but it doesn’t work that way. Allowing the vulnerability and excitement of risk-taking abroad — combined with spiritual direction and Catholic guided prayer — was the catalyst for much discernment and provided fruitful answers.
The Gospel of Matthew proclaims the truth: “Where two or three are gathered in my name there I am amongst them.” God accompanied us throughout our semester in Florence. CLC helped to deepen our understanding of what would make us each ultimately happy by providing us with a space to discern His will for us as He continues to do so today.
Samantha Buck is a 2015 graduate of Fairfield University. She works as Coordinator for Marketing & Public Relations at Fairfield.