By: Daniella Palmiotto
Please tell me that I am not the only one who has struggled with motivation in every aspect of life during this period of quarantine…I have woken up each morning for the past month and a half forcing myself to garner the will power and resolve to be productive.
Please allow me to give a bit of the back story. After a period of discernment, I left my position as a law professor at the Ave Maria School of Law in Florida to move to the Umbria region of Italy in January in order to plan and prepare to lead pilgrimage hikes along the St. Francis Way and other trails in this region that captivated my heart when I visited a couple of years ago while completing the St. Francis Way myself. My parents helped me settle into my cozy loft apartment in Perugia in January and I was having a great time adjusting to life here. I taught English at a local elementary school and middle school; I was taking Italian classes at the Accademia Lingua Italiana Assisi; I spent the weekends hiking sections of the St. Francis Way to scout out the restaurants and hotels that we would reserve for the guided hikes; and I was having a great time making friends and living la vita dolce. I woke up early each day to catch the train in order to cross the valley to my favorite city, Assisi, where I was working, taking classes, spending time in the chapel that contains the tomb of St. Francis, and exploring the nooks and crannies of the “city of peace.” I heard about the coronavirus but did not think too seriously about it until the weekend of February 29 when friends told me that northern Italy was being hit hard by the virus.
On March 10, I was told that we could no longer gather in groups or leave our towns and that if we were to leave our homes, we had to carry an “autocertificazione,” a self-certified document explaining the purpose of our travels. This was a bummer but I found out about a mountain called Monte Tezio that was a 2 1⁄2 hour walk from my apartment that had several trails and incredible views. Quarantine did not seem so bad! This journey was about 19 miles but I embarked on it every other day and found castles, hermitages, and churches that I would have never known about and that will be excellent additions to the guided hikes that I hope to lead in the future. When my family and friends would call me or message me concerned about the news they heard regarding the coronavirus in Italy, I was oblivious and was usually at the top of the mountain sending them videos and pictures of the stunning views (I admit that I am not very good at keeping up with the news). This period of blissful quarantine ended abruptly around March 20 when the limitations became stricter and we were no longer allowed to walk further than 200 meters from our homes.
This is when the real mental battle began. I tried to keep a schedule and to take care of my responsibilities, but the more that time passed without being able to leave my apartment, the more I struggled with motivation and I felt a low-grade depression creeping up. Thankfully, I was motivated to watch Word on Fire materials including the Mass Series, the Catholicism Series, the Pivotal Players Series, and several other features so I felt that I was growing in my understanding of and love for the Church. I am also tremendously grateful for virtual platforms and the opportunity I had to connect with friends and family and to be a part of the community that gathers in prayer each day for the SoulCore daily decade on Facebook Live. That time in prayer together was the highlight of my time in quarantine! I tried to go to the grocery store every day to have an excuse to walk outside and passed by military checkpoints and was stopped several times by police officers asking my address and where I was heading. Before finding out that we would be able to walk outside on May 4, I felt trapped and like there was no end in sight and it affected my outlook and motivation each day.
I began to think deeply about why the lack of freedom was having this unmotivating effect on me. There was one day where I was tempted to walk out to the mountain despite the restrictions because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I consulted with one of my Italian friends to ask if she thought I might be able to get away with it. First, she told me that there was a high likelihood that I would get arrested and second, she asked me not to embark on the clandestine operation because it would affect the length of quarantine for everyone else. She was right and I was ashamed of the fact that I was trying to get around the restrictions placed on the country so that I could exercise my individual freedom.
What is the purpose of freedom? Surely, the purpose of freedom is not for me to have the ability to do what I want to do just because I desire it. Pope Saint John Paul II, one of the most beloved modern-day saints, was well aware of the dangers of restricting human freedom as he lived in Poland when it was occupied by the Nazis and the Soviets, at different points in time. He also played a critical role in the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. He was a warrior for freedom, but not just because he thought people should be able to do what they want, when they want.
In his homily during the Mass he celebrated at Oriole Park in Baltimore in October of 1995, he stated, “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” I like to go hiking and to leave my apartment, but what ought I do? What determines this? Pope John Paul II discusses this topic in his encyclical entitled Veritatis Splendor (Latin for “the Splendor of the Truth”). In section 17, he quotes St. Paul writing to the Galatians, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). What words of beauty and truth – “you were called to be free” – this is why the human spirit has sought freedom throughout history, this desire is what led to the formation of the United States, and this desire is what makes being in quarantine so hard. Yet Pope John Paul II points out that St. Paul quickly adds the second sentence – that the purpose of our freedom is “to serve one another humbly in love.” Pope John Paul II explains that in order to arrive at perfect freedom where our freedom is rightly ordered to serve others humbly in love, we are to conform our thoughts, words, and actions towards the divine law or God’s law by living out the fullness of the commandments. In the encyclical, he references the rich young man in Matthew 19 as an example of how difficult it is to reach perfect freedom on earth; but he reminds us that it is possible by grace. Daily death to self and “yes” to love of God and love of neighbor cultivates this fullness and perfection of freedom wherein we do not feel that serving others humbly in love is a constraint of our individual freedom, but rather the perfect expression of our individual freedom.
Oh, how I pray to get there. Based on my readiness to run for the hills during quarantine, it is clear that God’s grace has a lot of work to do in my heart!
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us! Our Lady of Light, pray for us!