Through Fr. Antony’s reflections and experiences, we’ll discover the transformative power of grace, the importance of self-care in spiritual growth, and the value of journeying with the saints. Join Fr. Antony to reflect on our own spiritual journey and to cultivate a deeper relationship with God. This blog is a must-read for anyone seeking to deepen their faith and live a more meaningful life.
Introduction - Getting Ready
It's here. I leave for my sabbatical in but a few days. I am flooded with emotion as I think of the excitement of the adventure and the fear of living out of a backpack for three months. Join me on this adventure as I daily blog my pilgrimage. I covet your prayers and ask you to pray for me.
Day 2 - Basilica of the Sacred Heart - Newark, NJ
Day 3 - May 3 - Montepulciano Italy
I arrived in Rome!!! After 20 hours of travel I arrived in Rome and met up with my parents who arrived at the same time on a different airline. We got a rental car and drove to Montepulciano about 2 hours north of Rome. We are staying at a friend's house. Thank you Russ and Lori. My parents experienced an authentic Italian meal made by Anna. She kept feeding us till we couldn't eat anymore then put out the next course :). My parents hope I'll put on a few pounds before I start hiking. After a walk, we visited the church of San biagio - better know as st Blaise - a bishop martyr of the 4th century. The fact that I am on sabbatical is beginning to settle in. God is working on my heart beginning to pray apart the layers so He can do a deep spiritual surgery. I put all of your intentions under the corporal on the altar for Mass. Continue to pray for me as I pray for you.
Day 4 - May 4 - Assisi
If you are not aware, I am traveling with my parents through Italy for 10 days before I start the Camino. Today we visited Assisi. We saw where St. Francis and St. Clare are buried and the Sam Damino cross through which St. Francis heard the call to Go Rebuild the Chruch. Though I could wax eloquently about all these profoundly moving experiences, the grace that struck me the most today was how the saints are calling out to us from heaven. After visiting the tomb of st Francis, we were walking to the place where Francis was baptized. We did not realize the main plaza of the city was shut down for a medieval festival. It forced us to walk around the city. We ran into a small chapel where blessed Carlo Acutis is buried. An incredible kid who died at 15 in the year 2006 - the same year I join the Franciscans. Look him up if you haven't heard of him. I felt in my spirit he had called out to me letting me know that he was praying for me. The festival also caused us to leave Assisi earlier than anticipated. So, we went to visit the incorrupt body of Margaret of Cortona. It was one of the most peaceful churches I've ever been to. She is a Third Order saint who again I felt called to visit. Just knowing we have a family in heaven that is praying for us is encouraging. Moreover they call out to us letting us know they are our family and love us. I am simply overwhelmed. Thank you Jesus. I will leave you with a link to the most underwhelming part of the trip. https://youtube.com/shorts/JBdyBMCSj3c?feature=share Why does our modern culture ruin beautiful things? You can check out my daily YouTube shorts for additional updates https://youtube.com/@Fr.AntonyTinkerFHS
Day 5 - May 5 - Florence
We visited Florence today. The complete opposite of Assisi - busy, crowded, secular. The most palpable difference was felt in the churches themselves. I felt drawn to my knees in Assisi and everywhere I went provided opportunities for prayer. I was trying to find a place to pray in Florence as most of the churches double as museum's during the week. Despite this struggle for a moment of silence, I was struck by a piece of art at the Academy Gallery. This museum house's the famous David by Michaelangelo. In this same room is a painting titled 'Man of Sorrows'. In it Jesus sits on a rock staring at the nails of the crucifixion. The wounds from the cross are visible on his hands and side. It is clearly a post resurrection painting yet Jesus looks totally dejected. His sorrow is visible. As I stared at it, I recalled all the suffering Jesus endured and still not everyone believes. He suffered everything and even his own disciples doubt after His resurrection. The pain He must have experienced in His heart knowing that He has offered everyone a free gift through the cross and yet not everyone believes. Not everyone will believe. In the midst of a day I found it hard to pray, the Lord pierced my heart once again through His suffering and through His love. Take a moment today to be grateful to the Lord for what He's done through the cross. May God give you His peace in the midst of whatever difficulty you may endure. A final reminder to send prayer requests for the Camino to [email protected]. I have every petition I've received written down and with me. I am holding all of them in my heart at every church I visit.
Day 6 - May 6 - Siena
Today we went to Siena to visit the basilica that houses St. Catherine of Siena's incorrupt head. (I still don't know how I feel about the fact that the people of siena cut off her incorrupt head and stole it from her burial place in Rome). We also saw the cathedral of Siena, which is one of the most beautiful churches I've seen - you can take a look at it on my YouTube shorts. Additionally, we visited the basilica of st Francis at which a eucjaristihlc miracle occurred. Hosts were stolen from the tabernacle in the 1700's. The pastor called for a day of prayer and fasting then the Eucharist was returned. The hosts have remained fresh and in tact since then - 250 years later. But, the place that struck me the most was the home of Saint Catherine. I've felt the presence of God in many places - the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi... I now need to add the home of Catherine of Siena to that list. Pictures were not allowed, so I cannot show you the simple beauty of the place, but I felt a profound peace. It seemed to reside in the walls, which is saying a lot because she died almost 700 years ago. In the midst of all the chaos and noise of the world, it is really nice to find a place of peace. St Catherine is an incredible saint who spent her life serving God and saving the church. Life gets busy, and I get anxious. I need to imitate St. Catherine and stop more often to allow the peace of Christ enfold me. Let's all take a minute today and give Christ some room in our busy lives to show us true and lasting peace.
Day 7 - May 7 - Naples
The blood has liquified!!! Three times a year the blood of St. Januarius miraculously transforms from a congealed state to a liquid state. This miracle has occurred for the past 300 years. The dozen or so times it has not occurred foretold impending disaster for the city of Naples - earthquakes, famines, plagues... Little did we know that the first Saturday of May each year his blood liquifies and stays liquid for up to 8 day.s. We did not plan to be in Naples for this event. We are here to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, but the Lord who abundantly blessed his children allowed us to be here to witness this incredible miracle. God worked out the timing so that we arrived just in time to see the rector of the cathedral walk through the church with this holy relic and display this miracle - see attached video - https://youtube.com/shorts/GVILaIUVm9w?feature=share. I am simply overwhelmed and at a loss for words. This fourth century martyr has reached out to me on my pilgrimage to grant me such a favor. May he intercede for all the intentions entrusted to me throughout this pilgrimage. I encourage you to look up St. Januarius and this incredible miracle when you have the chance.
Day 8 - May 8 - Pompeii
Sometimes things don't work out as planned, and that is ok. We had a great day planned going to the cathedral of Pompeii - a shrine to our lady of the rosary built by blessed bartolo longo. We were then to go to a museum in Naples to see a famous statue of the veiled Christ. As it turned out we went to the cathedral of Pompeii on the 147th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone. This of course meant a huge Mass with half a dozen bishops, dozens of priests and thousands of people. We did not have the peaceful, prayerful experience of the church we hoped for. At the same time it was beautiful to see the faith of the people alive and the rosary being emphasized. Then we tried to go to the capella sansevero to see the veiled Christ by Sanmartino, which is one of the most remarkable statues in the world. Of course the museum was sold out. This disappointment allowed us to visit to some other churches and chapels with beautiful art and a lot of silence. It was nice to have some peace and get some extended prayer after all the craziness of the past few days. We also saw a beautiful poor Clare monastery with spectacular gardens. The Holy Spirit led the pilgrimage despite our worldly disappointments. Remind me of that truth the next time I say things are going according to plan. Tomorrow we head to Rome.
Day 9 - May 9 - Rome Day 1
After a morning drive from Naples we made it to the eternal city. We saw The Basilica of St. Mary Major in which is housed the crib from Bethlehem. We also saw St Peter in Chains which has the chains from St. Peter's imprisonment and Michaelangelo's Moses. We saw the outside of the Coluseum. Finally, we saw St. Clement Church which is built on top of both a Roman temple of the first century and a church of the 4th century. It is incredible to walk down through history. Thinking of all the Masses said at all these holy places over the past 2000 years I reflected upon all the Masses I've said and all the locations I've said them at over the past 10 years. From the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, to St. Peter's in Rome to small reservation missions in Arizona, God has blessed me with the privilege of celebrating 1000's of Masses over the past 10 years. I am grateful for each and every one of them and for each and every person I've had the privilege of celebrating those Masses for. Thank you Lord for the great grace and blessing of the priesthood and the Mas. May I have the privilege of celebrating 1000's more.
Day 10 - May 10 - Rome Day 2
Our first full day in Rome and we took advantage by visiting lot of Churches. We went to St. John Lateran - the cathedral of Rome, St Fraces of Rome -where she is buried, the Sistine Chapel - where the pope is elected, St Peter - the largest church in the world, Our Lady of Wisdom - where st Catherine of Siena's body is buried though her head is in siena - the Pantheon, and the Gesu - where st Ignatius of Loyola is buried. I went to confession today at St. John Lateran. I did a general confession last month in preparation for the Camino. A general confession is where you confess every sin from your past life in preparation for some major life. Doing a general confession was a wonderful way to look upon my life and see patterns of sin that I need to lay down on the Camino. I went today to once again beg for the mercy of God before I begin the Camino in a few days. I need mercy. I am walking to beg for mercy upon myself and upon all the intentions entrusted to me. I encourage you all to take some time and do an in depth confession this month. See the patterns of sin that have emerged in your life and ask the Lord to break those habits that you can live in deeper freedom.
Day 11 - May 11 - Rome Day 3
Today was a day of death. I have a bad feeling I'll be saying that a few times during the Camino. Luckily this time I am simply referring to what we did and not how I feel. We took a leisurely morning of prayer at St. Mary Major before we went to the Capuchin bone church, the catacombs, and St Martin Church. Most people are turned off by the Capuchin bone church because it houses the bones from over 3000 skeletons which have been arranged to represent death. It certainly is jarring to see all those bones stacked up, some are in habits leaning against the wall. They used some to make light fixtures and an hour glass. After getting over the initial shock, I was in awe. A plaque reads: 'where you are I once was, where I am you will one day be.' There is a painting of St Francis holding a skull by Caravaggio. It is a reminder of death. Religious are called to live a white martyrdom. We die to this world and live for the next. In the midst of all the joys of this trip I am reminded that I will one day die. Am I truly living for heaven? Have I given my heart completely over to Christ? May God give me the grace to do so in all the ways I have not.
Day 12 - May 12 - Lisbon
I thought I was wandering, but Jesus was holding my hand the whole time. I flew into Lisbon today. I am going to Fatima tomorrow to offer the pilgrimage to Our Lady on her feast. (I can't believe I start walking on Monday). I arrived and headed for the cathedral. I knew the general direction I was going but was in no hurry. As I wandered through the streets, I came across three churches - the joys of Catholic Europe. Each one was a great blessing. The first was quiet and offered a great chance to pray. Also, an employee let me use the restroom even though it wasn't open to the public - fyi it's really hard to find a restroom in Europe and you usually have to pay. The second church was dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows - the patroness of our community. The final was the birthplace of Anthony of Padua. They call him Anthony of Lisbon here. He was born in Lisbon and became a priest here. One day he saw the bodies of seven Franciscan martyrs returning from Morocco. He wanted to imitate their example. He is my confirmation saint and we both took our religious names after Antony of the Desert. It was an incredibly blessed experience though I simply turned of the GPS and started wandering.The Lord was leading the whole time, I just needed to let go of control and let him lead. Another important life lesson I hope I put into practice.
Day 13 - May 13 - Fatima
I cannot explain the great grace I experienced being in Fatima on Our Lady's feast day. At the place of her first apparition to Jacinta, Lucia, and Francisco you can walk on your knees to get closer. I was emotional and overwhelmed by her presence at that moment. I felt her reaching out to FHS and all the intentions I am bringing on this pilgrimage. I also felt great peace at the 'cave' where an angel appeared to the visionaries. No surprise since the call of Fatima is to pray for peace. The final grace was when a man called out to me to ask if I was a CFR - A Franciscan community in the Bronx with a similar habit. We talked about St. Anthony for a while then as I was leaving he said, 'The Immaculate Heart will be your refuge on your Camino.' Mind you he had no idea that I am about to start the Camino. He probably meant the Camino of life, but I took it as an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Mary's Immaculate Heart will triumph. She was reminding me to take refuge in her heart when things get hard over the next five weeks. Looking at all of your intentions - which I read aloud today in the Basilica at Fatima - there is a lot to offer up. I must continue to take refuge in her heart to find peace when the way gets hard.
Day 14 - May 14 - Pamplona
We make our plans and God laughs. I had a plan today to travel from Lisbon, Portugal to St Jean Pied de Port, France the traditional starting city for the northern route of the Camino. I did not realize I was basing my plans on the weekday bus and train schedule not the weekend schedule. So, after flying to Bilbao, I adjusted and ended up in Pamplona, Spain. I will make the trip to St Jean Pied de Port tomorrow. This delays my start date one day, but am at complete peace. I have this sense that I will have a very important encounter on the Camino and starting a day later allows that to occur. It also gives me a much needed rest day after being on the go for two weeks. Most importantly it offered fruit for a lot of reflection. I'm stuck with the choices I've made. Some have been really good, others pretty bad. Most of the time I make an ok choice, but I could have done better - ie my travel plans today. This leads me to tell myself what I should have done differently. Then I start the repetitive thinking and obsessing over the decisions I've made. Then shame takes over and I live in self doubt and self hatred. God doesn't want that from me. I simply must live with my decisions - repent if they're sinful - and trust in the Lord despite the fact that they are usually not perfect. Most of the time they are not that big of a deal anyway. Big God, small problems.
Camino Day 0 - May 15 - St. Jean Pied de Port
I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port, and I am ready to begin my 500 mile trek tomorrow. The tourism office said it is busier than ever and it is hard to get places to stay. They told me to make reservations ahead. Now, instead of walking the typical 16.7 miles over a 3000 ft climb, I will be walking 21 miles because there was no where to stay - prayers needed. That being said, I had some fascinating conversations today. People come from all different place, political backgrounds, and religious backgrounds. They are all walking this pilgrimage for different reasons. I spoke with a fallen away Catholic who was struggling with an image of God as this Zeus like figure who demanded we beg for love and forgiveness. She was turned off by this conception of God from her childhood so began to think God just wanted her to be good. She was really open to hearing that Jesus became man and died out of love so that we could be forgiven. He freely offers love and mercy, it is we who have to open ourselves up to the love He desires to give. We will never be good enough, but the good news is we don't have to be. We must humble ourselves and seek to follow the Lord and His commands. It was a blessed conversation. I also spoke with a woman who recently lost her husband and wondered how such a young man like me =) could have faith. She struggled with doubts. We talked about having doubts when suffering occurs and trying to persevere through them. I as a priest have doubts. They come to us all. I'm sure those of you who are married have had doubts about your spouse. We seek to love and trust through them holding to the deepest truth we know in our hearts despite the storms we are going through. Finally, a woman told me the Camino is like being in a washing machine, it will whirl you around but you'll be all clean when you get out. As with all things, I'm looking forward to the end result, let's see if I can endure the washing.
Camino Day 1 - May 16 - Espinal
I made the 21 mile walk over a mountain after 9 hours of hiking. One foot in front of the other. I met some wonderful people and had some great conversations. First, I met three girls in their early 20's as I left St Jean Pied de Port. One had a huge pack that looked really heavy. My first thought was you are going to suffer greatly. I met a woman in Pamplona who had to ship a bunch of stuff back to the USA because she packed too much. I reflected on the things we carry. There are the physical things, but also the emotional, spiritual, and psychological weights that we carry through life. They tend to weigh us down. We walk through life with burdens that we hold on to thinking they will be helpful or we can't live without them. Then we reach a mountain and that burden becomes impossible to carry. We can become stubborn and refuse to let go or humble ourselves and let go of the things we carry that are not of God. I met an Italian woman who did the Camino in 2004. When she went home she threw away half of her things. She said if I can live out of a backpack for a month then I can be free from a lot of this stuff that burdens me. I'm refelcting on what weighs me down and what God is asking me to let go of.
Sidenote: walking for 21 miles in 9 hours over a 3000 foot incline is really hard. I thought of every workout I'd ever done, every miserable football practice, every workout I did when I didn't want to, every time I chose to eat healthy. I did not regret a single one of those choices on the hike today. Those years of being a gym rat paid off today in a big way. Sometimes we go through a hardship and in the moment it seems terrible and we want to give up. In the longterm the Lord will use all of that preparation to help us make the pilgrimage of life.
It was raining and cold on the top of the mountain. I couldn't feel my hands for a while. Along the path there are puddles and muddy spots. I tried to avoid them because getting your feet wet is terrible. There are certain areas in which it is impossible not to get wet or muddy. I reflected on life and how there are certain times that you just can't avoid getting wet and muddy. There are no steps which are good. You do your best and get dirty in the process. That dirt does not remain. It is not a part of you. It washes off by the grace of God and you find a new freedom in Jesus despite the difficulty.
Second side note - met an 85 year old woman doing the Camino and crushing it. Very inspirational. I got to the place I'm staying and the host offered me a beer. I teared up as I took the first sip. You really come to appreciate the little things when you are pushing your body. A piece of chocolate. The sun piercing through the clouds. Makes me very grateful to God.
I had two great walking partners for most of the day at different times. Tom from Australia and Catherine from Maryland. They like most people I've met on the Camino are just getting over a difficulty - Tom a divorce and Catherine a terrible job situation. They've come to the Camino to encounter God and help them through this transition. As Tom said, he's opened a lot of doors from his past woundedness and allowed the Lord to heal them. It's time to open another door and let the Lord in. Amen to that. I pray God I can do the same.
Camino Day 2 - May 17 - Villava
Arrived in Villava just outside of Pamplona. Hiked another 20 miles today, but it was not over a mountain and it was sunny all day, so it was much easier. My legs are now very sensative to every incline and decline. Inclines are harder on the lungs but declines are harder on the legs. My feet are also sensitive to the path they are walking on. They love soft dirt paths. They hate rocky terrain. This is especially true because I had to wear my sandals for the morning while my shoes dried from yesterday. My feet felt every rock. I contemplated how I am not as sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit as I was to the terrain around me. I noticed every incline, every change in the path. This is not something I'm normally aware of when I am walking. Similarly, I don't always pay attention to the movements of the Spirit. It was only in the suffering that I became aware. It made me grateful for the sufferings knowing that they make me aware of what the Lord is doing.
I met two Italian young men from Milan - Manuel and Andre. We started walking together after lunch and the initial conversation began with the basics - why are you walking the Camino, what do you do for fun, what food do you like... After awhile Manuel told me that in the University many of his friends take pictures of themselves in the nude and post them to make money. He knows this is wrong but doesn't know how to talk to them about it. He asked my advice. I talked about getting to the root of why they are doing what they are doing. Far too often people have been treated like objects. They then portray themselves as an object because they feel that way about themselves or because they long for attention. His friends are more than objects and he can do his part in treating them with dignity and respect and seeking to break the lies that lead them to objectify themselves.
As you walk toward Pamplona there is a road that leads into the city. You briefly walk next to this road before winding through the woods again. At one point I walked up and then back down a big hill while looking at the road that is flat and a much shorter route. I longed to walk along that easier path. Then the Lord spoke to my heart. He told me the easier way always seems like the better path, but if I walked that road I would put myself in the danger of being hit by a car and I would miss the beautiful views of nature and the view from the top of the hill. In the spiritual life I often want the fast, easy path while the Lord calls me to the more difficult one. I must always realize that this harder way keeps me safe from many spiritual dangers and draws me into a greater experience of His beauty and love.
At the end of today, I did not want to walk anymore, my feet hurt and I was hungry. I am offering each day for a different person or intention. In this suffering, I thought about who I was offering today's sufferings for and it gave me the will to keep going. I hope to begin offering each days suffering for someone when I get home as to strengthen me to endure suffering.
Two final sidenote: my parents pledged $500 to FHS. A dollar for each mile I am walking. We will put this towards evangelization. If you'd like to offer 10 cents or a dollar or more for each mile I walk please go to becomefire.faith and click on the donate button and in the notes write 'for the Camino' fund. This will certainly also motivate me on the hard days. It will also go to help fund many of the intentions for which I am offering the Camino.
Finally, I am still posting YouTube shorts each day. I don't always link them but they can be found at https://youtube.com/@Fr.AntonyTinkerFHS
Camino Day 3 - May 18 - Puente La Reina
Walked to Puente la Reina today which is just under 17 miles from Villava. Started the walk through Pamplona and really appreciated all of the sign posts that point you towards the right path while waking through the big city. I don't know how St. Francis figured out the right path to get to Santiago. I met a couple from Ireland who wandered around for an hour lost in the city until someone helped them get back on the right track. The sign posts in our spiritual life are so important. They help us keep on track. Maybe it's a verse of Scripture or sage advice from a spiritual director. The Lord gives us those signs to keep us going in the right direction, if we will only pay attention. Sometimes we get lost. The Lord will send someone into our life to get us back on track, if we will follow them back to the right path.
People who've walked the Camino say is takes a week for your feet to adjust. In many ways I'm really blessed. I have no blisters, no problems with my pack, no injuries. But, my feet are sore. Every step is painful. My feet are asking me why I keep walking. They are begging me not to. I know that if I persevere through the pain they will adjust. I also know that the journey involves pain if I want to complete it. The Lord calls me to persevere through my sufferings knowing that they will lead me closer to Him if I don't let them take over.
I had a few wonderful conversations on the walk today and many brief interactions. Everyone walks at their own pace. I tend to walk a little faster than others uphill but slower than others downhill. We all have to walk our own Camino. One brief interaction was with a lady from New Zealand who said the Universe called her to the Camino. I only mention it because I have no idea what she means. How does the Universe call out? She didn't want to admit God had called her to the Camino, so she personified the Universe. It was a brief interaction because she was walking slower than me but it made me really sad. It also made me really grateful for my faith.
I had a long conversation with a girl from the Netherlands. She said that she couldn't believe because she couldn't see. I said she couldn't see the vast expanse of the universe yet she believed what scientist told her about the size of the Universe. She couldn't see history yet she believed what scientists told her about the development of the world and the beginning of human existence. Why couldn't she believe in God though she couldn't see Him? She couldn't respond. Hopefully a seed was planted. All that to say I've met very few Catholics. Most people are on the Camino because they are searching. The Church has a lot of work to do.
Finally, I had a long conversation with Leona - a Catholic girl from Germany who wants to stay Catholic but is questioning if she can. She hopes God provides some answers on the Camino. Her dad left the faith over clergy abuse. Her mom calls herself Catholic but is in to New Age stuff. The church in Germany is really confusing right now. Her priest seems to say the mass without any faith. Her story was really sad. I answered a lot of her questions but more importantly I tried to be an example. She needed someone who really believed in the Church and in the Eucharist. There were few good examples in her life of strong Catholics. At the end of our conversation she wanted me to talk with her dad as well. How many people in our lives simply need someone who is strong in their faith. They want to believe but as they look around they see so few who actually do. You can be that person for someone. It's a call to fall in love with the Church, with the Eucharist, with the Lord and let that manifest in your life. You never know who all that will impact.
Camino Day 4 - May 19 - Estella
Today, I planned a 'regular day.' I've been walking about 30 kilometers a day. Most people do just over 20. It just worked out that way based upon available places to stay. A lot of people are walking the Camino right now. Today, I was supposed to walk the typical route just over 20 kilometers. Things were going great, when I met two locals with 4 kilometers left to walk. They wanted me to visit their church, which was on the way and I was glad to do. Little did I realize that leaving their church led to two options on the Camino. The usual route or a longer alternative route through the woods. This is the more ancient path that skips the city I was staying in that night. I walked out of the Church and went left seeing a sign for the Camino. When I'd walked for an hour, I hit a crossroads and checked Google Maps Only to realize I still had an hour to go. The worst part was I was an hour closer to tomorrows destination. It sucked the wind right out of my sails. So, I made it an offering. I honestly don't know how people motivate themselves to keep going through such difficulties without having some deeper meaning and purpose to the walk. Our faith gives meaning to our suffering. We can unite it to the cross and offer our suffering for the sake of others. My hour of walking in the wrong direction while tired and in pain was hard but it did not discourage me. It became a gift from the Lord for the sake of the intentions I carry.
It was also encouraging to meet some faithful Christians who are walking to deepen their relationship with God today. I've had dozens of interactions on the Camino so far. Out of all of these, I have met two guys who are walking for a specific intention - their friend with serious health issues. I have met maybe a dozen more who are practicing Christians who are seeking a deeper faith and a closer relationship with God, most of whom I met when I concelebrated a Mass at the local parish. Most people I meet along they way are not practicing any faith. Some like the outdoors and are using this trip for a holiday. Others want some kind of spiritual experience but in a New Age kind of way. Today, was a breathe of fresh air. I had a lovely conversation with two evangelicals from England - Steven and Mark - and later with a Catholic couple from Florida - Mr. and Mrs. Long - all of whom are seeking to grow closer to God and deepen their faith. I did also speak with Leona, who I met yesterday, and her father Uri. Though he is struggling with his faith, he went to a church yesterday and just started crying. He doesn't usually cry and has no idea why that experience made him cry. The Lord is working. A real boost to my spirit. It's just nice to be journeying with people who are on the same page. We all need people to walk with us on our spiritual journey and to know we all have the same goal. Even if we are not walking right next to us. Simply to know we are on the journey together for the same purpose is encouraging.
I was asked to share a typical day. I get up about 6am, I celebrate Mass and try to start walking by 7am. I then walk for about 8 hours. I start by praying along with an audio Liturgy of the Hours. Then I pray all the mysteries of the rosary. Early on I walk past some people. Others walk past me. There are some brief interactions but we are not walking at the same pace. At some point, I start walking along with someone and we talk for an hour. Then one of us stops for a break and the other keeps going. This happens a few times a day. I usually take a brief break to stop and pray in churches we pass, which occurs a few times a day. I take about a 15 minute break around noon for lunch. Between 3pm and 4pm, I arrive at my accommodation. I usually stay in a Pension which is a step above a hostel - which is a big room with a bunch of beds. A pension has a private room but a shared bathroom. I take off my bag and go to the store to get supplies for lunch the next day. I then spend a couple of hours doing the blog and planning for the next day. After some prayer, I visit the local church and grab some dinner - usually around 7. Then back to my room to journal and pray before heading to bed around 9 or 10.
Camino Day 5 - May 20 - Torres del Rio
They say there are three parts to the Camino. The first part is about 190 miles and goes over a lot of hills and mountains. They say this part breaks the body. You're feet are sore and blistered and your muscles ache. If you are able to fight through the physical pain then the next part is around 120 miles through monotonous desert. This breaks your spirit. Your body has adjusted to the pain of walking, but you must ask yourself why am I really walking this path and do I want to keep going. Days are hot and long with little in between villages. The final 190 miles is the resurrection. If you have allowed yourself to be broken physically and spiritually yet still persevered then the Lord can bring you resurrection. I took over 42,000 steps today according to my fitness app. Each one was painful. It felt like Chinese water torture. No step was so painful that I could not go on. Yet, each step was painful enough that I did not want to take another. I am generally a slow walker, but it was still embarrassing to be passed by older ladies who are cruising along while I painfully make another step. In the middle of all of this when I could only think of my pain, I asked God is this what life is? Do I simply have to keep enduring pain and suffering and keep walking along the path you've set before me until I die? He said no. I asked Him to explain because it certainly seemed that way. He told me that there was joy in the midst of pain. He reminded me of a hospital visit I did for a man who attempted suicide after shooting his girlfriend. He hasn't died initially and his family was gathered with him in the hospital. It was one of the most heart wrenching experiences I've ever had. The sorrow I experienced being with the family. The anger from what he'd done. The helplessness I felt being there. Yet, on the way home I felt peace and joy. It was an honor to be present and to anoint this man despite what he's done. He'd been raised by a native I was very close to whose since passed. I felt her thanking me for being with her adopted son as I drove home. God reminded me that there is peace and joy even in the midst of suffering. I can feel that even now as I write this post. I had some wonderful interactions today in the midst of it all. Also, I have no blisters or injuries. I just have sore feet - but I can keep walking. The blessings are endless and the suffering is small in comparison. I loose track of that sometimes. It is something of which I often need to be reminded.
A 30 km day with some great conversation. I should say last night after I posted I met a wonderful English woman who was really spiritually sensative. She's been hurt by an evangelical church and had fallen away from God but was walking in hopes of encountering Him again. Almost as soon as I started walking I spoke with a German man about my age who was really searching for God. He's been lost in the world for a long time and recognizes how empty it is. He had a lot of really good questions about God. Basically we talked about getting out of the head and into the heart without leaving reason behind. Seeds were planted. I walked with an Australian couple who are walking for a holiday. Not religious but they've had positive experiences with priests which was good to hear. It was great to learn their story. Had a brief walk with an Australian woman who was raised by a scrupulous Catholic father and left the church because of her upbringing. There was a lot of hurt there which was really sad. She was not really open to God. Finally, I walked with a Brazilian doctor who was raised Catholic but left the Church. He wants to have an experience with God on the Camino. He heard my story and said this is what he also wants. I offered up some prayers for him while walking. I bring all of these encounters up because I remain shocked by how all over the place people are on this journey. Some are open to encountering by God and some are not. Our openness allows God to work. I have seen God work on those who are open. It is much harder on those who are closed. May my heart remain always open to whatever the Holy Spirit desires to do.
Camino Day 6 - May 21 - Navarrete
"Buen Camino" is a phrase you often hear on the Camino. Usually from fellow pilgrims as you walk along the path. All of us encouraging each other on the journey. I was struck today as I walked through the city of Logrono at how many locals wished me a buen Camino. I heard the phrase close to 100 times. The locals recognize the blessing of the journey and desire the pilgrims persevere to the end. They were connected to the journey and the blessing it is to their country. It makes me think of all of you. You are connected to my journey. Though I am walking it, you all are joining me in thr blessings of every step I take. My perseverance affects all those I carry with me. The people encouraging me today gave me a new found strength. This was important because it got hot this afternoon. It is a much different walk moving from the the cold, wet, windy mountains to the hot plains. It is a great blessing to encourage someone along the way. Be like Barnabas and be someone who encourages others on their spiritual journey.
I spent the morning walking with Ronya from Berlin. She is an atheist and we spent a long time telling our stories, what we believe and why we believe it. It was not apologetics, simply telling our stories and listening to each other. As we were going our separate ways, I told her I wished she believed as I did. Jesus has meant a lot to me, but I cannot convince her of that. In fact, I don't even think it's my job. I am called to love her where she is and listen to her. I can tell her about what God has done in my life and pray that she come to experience His love as I have. Only the Lord can bring her to faith. We don't often take time to truly listen and be present to others. We come with an agenda and loose track of the person of front of us. I saw this ring true in my next conversation, but before that I must say that Ronya and I are both Lord of the Rings fans, which led to a great conversation. I feel that my journey is much like Frodo's. There are many things I am carrying that God is asking me to let go of. Some of them have power over me. I must lay this burden down and allow those things in my life to be destroyed so I can truly be free. Also, the Lord is putting people along my path to help me let go of these 'rings' I need to let go of. I have a Fellowship walking with me.
Back to my day. A man from Spain wanted to talk to me. He was also an atheist and had a lot of issues with God and the Church. Just to give you a taste, he does not believe in free will. I listened to his arguments then responded by nicely telling him how wrong all of his arguments were. He didn't really want to listen to that, so he told me he wasn't explaining it well and tried to bring up some other points. I really tried to listen to him, but it was simply a frustrating conversation. I did not feel heard in what I was saying. As I said yesterday, some people are just closed off. I hope I am not one of them.
The Lord took care of timing today. I showed up in Logrono just in time to concelebrate the 11am Sunday Mass. I did not plan this. I just showed up at 10:50 and asked when Mass was. It was actually perfect because there is no evening mass in the city I am staying in. God took care of things once again. It was certainly His timing because he woke me up and had me walking with Ronya most of the morning who was a bit quicker of a pace than I am.
Finally, walked into Navarette with a lady who was afraid she would get heat exhaustion. We didn't stay together the whole time but I kept an eye on her to make sure we were safe. The Camino is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter how much money you have. It doesn't matter where you are from or what you believe. We all just help each other get to the end of the journey. It is really beautiful to be a part of.
Camino Day 7 - May 22 - Ciruena
‘Tienes alcohol?’ ‘Do you have alcohol?’ I walked past a group of Spaniards this morning and one of the men asked me this question. They only spoke Spanish, and I was wondering if he thought all priests were drunks and carried liquor with us wherever we went. Maybe this was just a prelude question and he was going to offer me a drink. In any event I was confused. Then he showed me his friend who cut his foot and was bleeding. He was asking for rubbing alcohol. I told him I had an antibiotic while I pulled it out. They were very grateful. The guy who cut himself was in a good mood jokingly telling his friend he needed an amputation. We all long for community. No man is an island. I continue to be amazed how everyone just helps each other get through to the next stage. His friends might have adjusted their plans to take care of him. He may have taken a taxi. It doesn’t matter. It isn’t a competition. Life isn’t a competition. It’s not a dog eat dog world, at least it shouldn’t be. We are all on the journey together and are called to help each other each and every step of the way.
Almost every day I’ve encountered this Asian girl from South Korea. She is suffering. Her feet are blistered. You can tell she is in pain when she walks. Yet, she gets up early every day and starts walking. She walks slowly and takes a lot of breaks. It takes her a lot of time but she has walked every stage. I get emotional even thinking about her. She is one of the most inspirational people I have met thus far. If I was in that much pain, walking that slow, I might have given up or taken a taxi. Her English is not great so I have not gathered why she is so motivated to keep going but I hope I can endure such pain and persevere. One bad day is one thing. Stacking up bad days often becomes too much. May I have the grace to persevere in the Lord's will when life starts stacking up bad days against me.
Also, I have great sympathy for her because when you are in that much pain, you can’t think of anything but the pain. It’s hard to have conversations with others, it’s hard to pray, it’s hard even to pay attention to directions. Your mind is just focused on the pain and the next step. Luckily, my body is adjusting so I’m not in that place all day like I was but I have this newfound sympathy for those who are in pain. Not just physically but emotionally or otherwise. It’s hard to do anything but focus on the pain. It’s hard to keep going. This Asian girl inspires me because the pain did not rule her life. She had to adjust because of the pain but is making the same journey I am. I don’t want to pain to rule my life anymore.
I learned the Camino technique is to zig-zag downhill so that your knees don’t have to deal with the steep descents. It is more steps but an easier journey. I reflected upon this in my spiritual life. The straight path is not always the best path. I am goal oriented. I tend to put my mind on the goal and focus on accomplishing it. But, how I get to the goal matters. I am responsible for the path I take to accomplish my goal. I must especially think of others and how my decisions affect them as I head towards my goal. Have I put the goal ahead of the path and the people along the way.
Camino Day 8 - May 23 - Castildelgado
My feet were in open rebellion when I woke up this morning. I had a feeling they would be. I pushed them pretty hard yesterday. I knew I needed to take a shorter day today, so I planned an 18km hike - short compared to the 25-30km hikes I've normally done. I went to bed early and slept in. When I got up, my feet did not want to cooperate. It felt like all of the muscles on the bottom of my feet were cramped. They were not happy with me when I first started walking, but when they started going, the pain lessened. Often in life we have these times when we just don't want to. We don't want to pray, we don't want to go to work or go to church or cook dinner. We don't want to do the thing we know we must do. The first step can be the hardest but when we start to pray the rosary we find ourselves entering in. When we get to church we are glad we made the effort. The Camino reminds me to always take that hard first step. It is worth it.
This painful first step also makes each break seem like a blessing from God. Sometimes they are short breaks while I stop to take off my jacket. Sometimes they are longer breaks while I sit and eat lunch. Each one is a blessing and my feet are grateful each time I give them a rest. I have to take time to rest in the Lord especially when life gets busy. My soul is grateful every time I do.
There are not of highs or lows on the Camino. I have had some nice conversations, enjoyed a good meal, felt my body ache. There are blessings and trials but none so high that I will never forget it or so low that I can't keep going. No profound spiritual experience. No dark night of the soul. I'm just on the pilgrimage itself. I am in the Father's will, and He asks me to keep going. In this I feel great peace.
I mostly walked alone today. Just on a different hiking schedule from most people. I ended the walk with two women from Israel. One was a lawyer and the other a psychologist. The three of us walking together is the start of a good joke. Maybe one will come to me by the time I reach Santiago. They are culturally Jewish but not practicing. Yet, they understood how much i felt the presence of God in Jerusalem. The truth of God was so deeply ingrained by their family and their culture that even though they were not religious there was still a faith their. It made me think the importance building a culture centered on truth. I see it in Spain. Catholicism is a part of the culture. There is a deep love for our lady of sorrows here. She is represented in every church. What am I passing down to my spiritual children that is now ingrained within them? Can I help create a culture that transforms people through the love of Christ?
Camino Day 9 - May 24 - Cardenuela Riopico
I had my best day on the Camino thus far. I hope I keep saying that throughout the trip. In one sense, I am shocked that I am saying it. I should be saying it was my worst day. I walked for too long today both in terms of distance and time. I walked for 11 hours and almost 30 miles (about 47.5km). I was also attacked by dogs this morning - I guess it doesn’t just happen on the rez. One tried to bite me - saved by the habit for the second time from a dog bite. Also it rained all morning. But, it was an awesome day.
Last night I set up a date and place to meet my brother James and my sister in law Isabel. I then booked rooms going backward to ensure I got to where I needed to be on Sunday. Nothing was available for tonight so I decided to start walking and figure it out when I was done walking. I was well rested after my short day yesterday and ended up waking up just before 5am. I had Mass and got going by 5:30am Glad I brought my headlamp. I spent the first two hours praying and reflecting. One of the ladies I met from Israel yesterday lived in the USA for a time. She loved it. Yet, she moved to Israel because she thought it was a better place to raise her children. She found Americans too independent. She had friends but not really community. I reflected a lot about that statement. I am very independent. There are values to this but also problems. I reflected a lot about my independence in community life. There are ways it is good but there are ways it hinders me from living fully the life God has called me to. I hope to let go of aspects of my self-will and independence from which I need to be free when I return.
I then spent a couple of hours walking with ulrich. He and I met when I slept in an albergue. He was in the top bunk. He walked in with a Budweiser and we hit it off immediately. We’ve talked each day since as we’ve seen each other here and there. This was our first extended conversation. His parents divorced and he went with his father. He then had a distanced relationship with his mother. He got married and 10 years into the marriage he was also divorced. He described it as being in a black hole. He didn’t want to eat, or drink, or work. He felt he had no reason to live. He reconnected to his mother and she saved his life. She gave him hope again. He said she was like a light who helped bring him out of the darkness. I thought of our blessed mother as he spoke. The souls in purgatory call her the star of the sea. She is a light that draws them to heaven. She has been my guiding light for a long time especially when I am overcome by darkness. I ask that she continue to enlighten my path that I may follow the Lord more closely.
Ulrich left his walking poles at his albergue. We’d been walking and talking for about half an hour when he realized it. He didn’t go back for them. They were 30 euro and for him it was not worth the walk back. I spent a long time reflecting on what I would or would not ‘go back for.’ After a brief reflection on things in my bag, I thought about people. Am I willing to turn around and go back to get someone and help them on the path. What lengths would I go to in order to get a parishioner back on the path towards God? I guess I realized I would go through great lengths if it meant someone would get back on the path. The problem is that is really hard to determine. I also reflected that I will leave someone behind if they don’t want to walk along the path towards God anymore. I need a lot of grace to help figure out when to ‘go back’ in order to help save a soul. I also need grace to stay in a relationship when paths diverge to help people get back on the path.
I spoke with a man from California who is walking for his son who is an alcoholic. I am always inspired by those who walk for others. There are only a few of us it seems but I feel a deep connection with those who are able to reach beyond themselves and walk on behalf of another. Hopefully the Camino can become once again what it once was.
I walked with a 19 year old from Denmark who truly blessed me. He is managing a movie theater and was just offered a promotion. Something inside of him told him not to take it and he had no idea why. He asked for a month to make a decision. He is walking the Camino to figure out his life. He is walking alone to think and pray. The first few days were really hard for him but now he loves it. He is Lutheran and just started going to church every other Sunday. He said he feels peace at church and wanted to talk about God and my vocation. He was truly searching. I don’t see that often with kids his age. We talked about that too. There is hope for our young people but we do need to invest in them.
I walked with an Englishman who I'd met on my first day. We’d interacted a few times, but never really talked. He is a Baptist strong in his faith. We talked about God for a long time, which was another blessing because I have not met a lot of strong Christians along the way. We opened up to each other and experienced that bond that can only be felt between members of the body of Christ. Again very refreshing.
I’d been walking for a long time when I felt the Lord tell me to keep walking until 4pm before figuring out where to stay. This was a hard word because i knew I’d be between villages at 4pm. But I obeyed. About 3:45 I started walking up this hill which was exactly like the apparition hill in medjugorie. After 15 minutes I got to the top and a cross had been planted there. No one was around so I got a beautiful reflective moment of peace. It was a moment designed by God I would have missed if I'd not been sensitive to the Spirit.
I reached the next town an hour later. There were multiple options for albergues but I knew exactly where to go. I got a room and dinner in a beautiful place where I met some wonderful people. The Lord took over the day and I pray he takes over every day for the rest of my sabbatical.
One final reflection. They say your feet adjust in a week. I know what they mean now. It’s been a week and my feet still really hurt, but they don’t bother me anymore. They’ve learned how to live with the pain. It was a beautiful offering because I know a lot of people who’ve had to learn how to live in pain. I was able to connect with them in a deep way today and make some beautiful prayers on their behalf. Sometimes we just have to live with pain. It is comforting to know that we are not alone and that the Lord gives us the grace to sustain us.
Camino Day 10 - May 25 - Burgos
The Camino is interesting because you travel through different landscapes and stay in vastly different places. I prefer the small towns because almost everyone there is a pilgrim. You have dinner and meet with people on the journey and find out why they are walking. In the city there is more to do but the pilgrims are a small stream in the river of people going about their day to day lives. The city also means walking on sidewalks along busy thoroughfares. Not the scenic dirt paths through beautiful forests. It takes away from the contemplative aspect of the walk. Yet this too can open the heart. Here is modern man with all of his technological advances. We get so busy we lose track of those places of encounter with God. Yet along the busy road I walked along there was a church. I walked in at the end of Mass. A surprising number of people were in attendance. Once the crowd cleared there was peace and quiet in God’s presence. Though I knew the business of the city surrounded. In that place there was quiet and peace. It did not surround me as it did in the mountains, but it was there if I was willing to step away from the busyness and search out the Lord in the midst of it all.
After I did a holy hour, a French couple asked if I’d celebrated mass yet. I had not. I celebrated one with them in the church then heard their confessions. It was nice to be in a church for mass. It’s not always easy in the small towns. Masses tend to be in the evenings, if they have one. And I am ready for bed by the time mass starts. In the morning, the churches normally are not open. Also nice to do some pastoral ministry.
I ended up walking along this gravel path next to a highway and got some really small pebbles in my shoe. It was a busy road, so I decided to walk with the discomfort until I got to a safer place to sit down and remove them. I walked with the discomfort for about an hour. It is shocking how some small pebbles can cause such discomfort. I hesitate to even call them pebbles. It was just some rocky dirt in my shoe. Yet it was terrible. Even the smallest sins affect the soul. They can begin to rub against my soul and draw me away from God. Distracting me from the journey ahead and putting my focus on all the wrong things.
You can pretty much eat whatever you want, as much as you want when you put in 40,000-50,000 steps a day. I am trying to eat a lot of calories but my body told me I did not eat enough yesterday. You have to feed the body to keep it going along the journey. Sometimes you don't notice it immediately. But, the body will let you know. Prayer is food for the soul. You have to feed the soul with enough prayer to keep it strong for the journey. You may not notice it immediately but your soul will let you know it's starving if you're not praying.
In the afternoon, I did something which was hard on the body but good for the heart and the soul. That kind of sums up the Camino doesn’t it. I walked three kilometers to see the cathedral which added six kilometers to my day and kept me on my feet for a few hours. It was also a three kilometer walk I will have to make in the morning which will be discouraging. The feet are very sensitive to such decisions. But the cathedral was absolutely beautiful. The architecture was amazing and the interior was filled with chapels each one of which was masterpiece. I was overwhelmed thinking of all the people and all the hours it took to build that place and make each piece of art. All of it done for the glory of God. All of it still glorifying Him hundreds of years later. May our lives and the things we build do the same.
Camino Day 11 - May 26 - Honatas
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference" -Robert Frost. Yesterday I had the opportunity to travel the more popular river route inside of walking through the city of Burgos. It is more peaceful and more beautiful. Yet, I felt in my heart I should take the city route, so I did. Today someone asked me why I did this, and I had no answer other than I felt led to do so. As I brought this to the Lord, He reminded me that I had a peaceful holy hour and mass for a French couple. This never would have happened if I took the other root. He had a plan all along. I sensed the Lord say once again that I must always follow His still small voice when He speaks to my heart. I must listen and follow. Easier said than done, but I hope that I can always do so.
I speak Spanish too well. I live in a place of ideals where I think in another country you should always speak a greeting in the native tongue. This repects the locals. That ideal is great except on the Camino very few speak Spanish. When I first meet people they all think I am a native speaker and so they don't engage me. English is the language everyone speaks. I've adjusted how I greet people so they know I speak English. This has opened the door for many conversations. I bring this up because I had a great conversation today with a man from Australia. I passed him and greeted him and though I said hello after my Spanish greeting he didn't realize I spoke English. Only later when I got off the path did I we engage each other and learned we were both English speakers. We then had a great conversation. This is his seventh Camino. He loves all the friendships he forms and people he meets. The Camino is addicting and I see that more and more. It is perfectly balanced. Each day I have wonderful conversations meeting people from all over the world who are willing to be incredibly vulnerable, and I get lots of alone time to pray. Sometimes you have to let go of your ideals even if they are objectively better because they stand in the way of what the Lord wants to do.
I did get off the path a bit. Praise God a Spanish man saw me and put me back on track. Costi from Australia - the man who thought I only spoke Spanish, was following me so I was leading him astray as well. Watch your step because when you go astray you don't know who all you will take with you. Also, if you see someone astray do something about it. Often they want to get back on track but need someone to guide them.
I spent the day with Oscar, my 19 year old friend from Denmark who I met two days ago and with DJ from South Korea. There was a television show about the Camino in South Korea which is why is it is so popular there. They both have big decisions to make and hope that the Camino can help them find peace in the right decision. Someone who is not very religious told me he feels God stirring in his soul on the Camino which is so true. DJ said that one day here is like a year because of the insight you gain. Another beautiful metaphor. God is working. I have a profound peace. I miss people, but I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be so I am not yet ready to return. God is not done working on me yet.
Final note: there is another friar on the trail from the UK. I have heard about him from others but haven't met him yet. I hope I get the chance. Very few priests and religious here, so it will be nice to see what inspired him to walk.
Camino Day 12 - May 27 - Castrojeriz
Yesterday, I was asked to celebrate a morning mass at the local church. So, this morning I was privileged to offer mass for at a small village church. The people were grateful though slightly annoyed because it takes me a while to navigate the missl in Spanish. They didn't mention it but I don't think they are used to a 45 minute daily mass - even without a homily. It was a very relaxed day. I got up, prayed, celebrated Mass, and walked to the next village. Just over 10km today. I met some Americans who are walking what I call the highlights tour. They are here for two weeks. Each day a bus drops them off and they walk about 14km. They are doing the most beautiful parts of the Camino. At first, I wondered is that really the spirit of the Camino. Upon reflection, yes I think it is. They will walk over 100km and each one brings his or her own burdens to the Camino. Only the Lord can heal them, and if they open themselves up they can receive just as much grace as I do walking further. Reminder the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Even those who work the last hour get the same reward. I find this encouraging. I can’t always walk the whole path, but I receive the reward. In religious life we say the office keeps going. We may not all be there to pray it because of pastoral duties but the discipline of praying the office continues in the friary. This gives me comfort on the Camino. Our way of life continues on despite the fact that I am away from it. I still receive the benefits of the brothers praying on behalf of the church and the world.
I visited a Catholic Church this morning which is in the midst of restoration. They’ve spent over six million euro and are raising more to restore their church. A volunteer gave me a tour and explained all the restorations they were doing. As good as my Spanish felt yesterday, I was humbled today as my guide spoke way to fast for me to keep up with. Sad to see these beautiful paintings in such a sad state but encouraging to see the efforts to restore the church. I pray the Lord restores me on the Camino. I often feel like a rundown church. Formerly beautiful but now in disrepair. The Lord can use even this to draw people to Himself.
I think I have the Camino bug. I’m already thinking about how each of the brothers in my community should walk it and how we could send some of our natives to walk it. As I’ve said it is perfectly balanced between quiet contemplation, engagement of people throughout the world, physical offering, beautiful churches…. I’m in love with the journey and what the Lord has done thus far. I am excited to see what else He has planned.
Camino Day 13 - May 28 - Fromista
Never listen to a 19 year old. That is generally good advice but especially good advice on the Camino. A couple of nights ago I was having a glass of wine with Oscar, my 19 year old friend from Denmark, and Costi from Australia. Drinking age is 18 in most of Europe fyi. We were talking about going downhill and Oscar said people go too slow downhill. It puts more pressure on muscles to hold back than to naturally let the path propel you. I knew this to be sound advice so I heeded it as I conquered 'the pyramid' today. The pyramid is a hill on the Camino which is a steep 100m incline followed by a steep 100m decline. I felt really good going up so I opened up my gait and went quick down the hill. My ankles did not like this decision. Some muscle in my ankle was mad at me the rest of the day, which is never fun but especially not on the Camino. I'm not 19 anymore. My body often reminds me of that reality. They say athletes get better in their late 20's not because they are physically better but because they are mentally better. When I was younger I could fast more and do harder penances, but now I understand the right time and place for spiritual discipline in a way I did not when I was younger. I can't walk the Camino like a kid. I shouldn't do the spiritual life like a kid either. I need to know when to push myself and when to hold back.
I am in the part of the Camino that breaks the will. It consists of deceptively long roads. You see a town in the distance and think it is not that far away. An hour later you are still walking towards it wondering if you will ever get there. A lot of people skip this part of the Camino. I am enjoying it thoroughly. It is peaceful, quiet and filled with wheat fields and wildflowers. I am not having as many conversations with people because less people walk this part and their are fewer towns in which to meet people along the way. That has been tough. Yet, I'm encouraged because I am about halfway through. Barring an injury or sickness, I can do it. It did not physically conquer me. I am motivated to continue for personal reasons, the intentions I carry and to meet my brothers along the way, so I don't think it will mentally conquer me. I feel like I'm over the hump. There is something really peaceful about that. Once our mind gets over that hump that says I can do this and I want to do this then we can keep going no matter what comes. I pray the Lord always keep my mind right to keep going along the path He set before me.
the Lord set up perfect timing once again. I wanted to go to a church for Mass for Pentecost. I saw online there was one in Fromista at 1pm. I knew if I left at 7am and kept walking at a good pace I'd be there in time. This is what happened. I had a few brief conversations, but was mostly reflective. Pentecost is such a beautiful feast. I marvel at the mystery of it. Too few people at Mass. a European I met marveled at how many people go to mass in the USA. They are often smaller, older crowds here. It is a stark reminder of what can happen to the church if we don't pass on the faith. May the Spirit stir up a new Pentecost.
My brother James and his wife Isabel will join me tonight. It will be nice to walk the rest of the journey with them. I'm realizing how much I love shared experiences. It's why I keep doing the blog. I want to share this experience with others. We are called to share life together.
Camino Day 14 - May 29 - Carrion de los condes
'Slow down.' 'It's not worth the pain.' These were thoughts going through my head as I watched a younger couple limp past me on the hike today. They were clearly in pain and struggling through it. I know once sense, I find this admirable. The body hurts on the Camino and you have to fight through that pain to make it to the end. The issue was they were going too fast. When you're in pain you just have to slow down. Listen to your body. They will get to the destination quicker but at the cost of being in much more pain. Sometimes we push through a difficult situation thinking it will all be better when it is over. At what cost? We can get so focused on getting through the pain that we stop listening to the Lord who is trying to work in our hearts in the midst of the difficult situation we are going through. Sometimes you just have to slow down to give the Lord the room to work.
I saw Alice once again. I met her on day 0 in St Jean. I haven't seen her since. Her Camino has not been what she anticipated. In one sense it was busier than she anticipated which was hard for her. I think especially trying to find places to stay. At the same time all of the silence along the path was hard for her. She decided to bike through the flat part of the trail and actually switch routes to avoid all the busyness. Hopefully she does not avoid the silence, though we can easily distract ourselves if we want. Sometimes the journey is not what we anticipate. When reality does not meet our expectations what do we do? We must ask: Why was I on the trail in the first place? If it was a call from God then persevere and ask for the grace to endure even though the reality is not what you anticipated. If you were on the journey for the wrong reasons then what does God want. He may be calling you to switch paths to get in line with what He wants. That decision can be hard, but it is always worth following the Lord's lead.
My brother James and his wife Isabel have joined me on the trial. It is great to have them. We are each walking our own Camino though we do the path together. It is interesting to reflect upon being on the same path and yet a different journey. What the Lord is doing with each of us is unique because we are unique. Loved as we are and called to respond where we are. Millions have walked the Camino yet each journey is different. Each of us is called to union with God yet each in our own unique way. In fact, we met a Hungarian girl who had such a profound spiritual experience last year that she is walking the Camino again this year. It is different this time because she is different. I don't have to be anyone else or walk anyone else's journey. I must walk the journey the Lord has called me to.
I had a terrible stomach bug last night. I guess pride comes before the fall based on my post yesterday. As I lay there in cold sweats I wondered if I would have to taxi today. Luckily, I felt good enough by morning to walk. How quickly we can be humbled. It was a nice walk today. We were beside a river for most of the day under the shade of the trees listening to the frogs croak. Peaceful. I continue to put one step in front of the other and God continues to work. Thanks once again for the prayers.
Camino Day 15 - May 30 - Ledigos
I’ve been away from the friary for almost a month now. I have intentionally limited my communication with them. We have not talked any business. Just updates from me on the trip and greetings from them. Today was a long, boring day. In that sense it was the hardest thus far. A long straight gravel road with little shade and wheat fields on both sides and no villages. So, it led to a lot of reflection. Life goes on without me. That is not something people like to admit. It’s not something I like to admit. I have no idea how the friars are doing but based upon their Pentecost message to me, they are doing just fine. I know I have a role to play, and the friars and people love having me there but life goes on without me. I’m not that big of a deal. It’s both humbling and freeing to realize this. As I walked the long road of the Camino today, which this part of the Camino the Romans built thousands of years ago, I realized I’m really small and insignificant in the midst of it all. At the same time, I am loved infinitely by God. Despite my insignificance, I am incredibly loved. I don’t mind that I am not that big of a deal. It brings true freedom and peace.
This part of the Camino is deceptive because you sometimes see a city and think ‘good, a place to grab a bite to eat and use the restroom.’ An hour later you are still walking towards the city. It is so long and flat that it becomes hard to judge distances. This can be discouraging especially on a hot day. Why am I walking? Who am I walking for? When you see the goal yet it seems to take forever to arrive there, you must dig deep down inside. What am I truly looking for? Only the Lord can help you persevere to the end. When the journey seems to keep going without end ask the Lord for the grace to persevere. When I finally arrived at a resting place, my brother was waiting for me with a cold beer. There are blessings of we persevere.
We walked by a lot of wheat fields today. In some of them there were also wildflowers growing with the wheat. This made for beautiful pictures. I thought of the weeds and the wheat. It brought a whole new perspective. Since the weeds were wildflowers they seemed so beautiful. The farmers hate them all the same I am sure. We can think the weeds of sin are a good thing for one reason or the other. At the end of the day they are still weeds and interfere with the wheat harvest. The bread of the Eucharist can only be consecrated if it is pure bread with nothing else. We must allow the Lord to purify us from anything that is not wheat in our souls that we can be truly free.
Nothing much else to say about today. Long flat straight and a lot of wheat fields the most boring day by far. If you want to see some pictures of the trip you can take a look at my sister in laws instagram https://instagram.com/mariaisabel.betancurr?igshid=MmIzYWVlNDQ5Yg==
Camino Day 16 - May 31 - Sahagun
Happy Feast of The Visitation. I am officially 15 years a vowed religious today, which is crazy to think about. A short but blessed day on the Camino. I am officially halfway done with the Camino. I spoke with a man from Germany he said one of his eyes was sad and the other was happy. He was happy because he'd completed half of the journey. The pain and suffering of the journey was halfway over. The end is in sight. He is sad because he is enjoying the journey so much. He does not want it to be over. I understand how he feels. I am grateful for the journey thus far. Excited the end is in sight. Sad because it has gone so quickly. Time seems to work differently here. Days go quickly and slowly at the same time. I feel similarly about my vows. I can't believe it has been fifteen years. This makes me happy and sad. Happy for the many blessings that God has granted me this far. Sad because time seems to go too quickly. I will soon be an old man. Maybe I already am one. How has my journey been this far? What is left to come? Will it pass too quickly? I am sure it will. I just have to enter into the journey each day recognizing I can learn from the past but I can't change it. I can plan for the future, but I can't control it. The Lord simply gives me today and I must enter into it as best as I can.
I spent most of the day speaking with a women from the Netherlands. She recently broke up with a man after a long relationship. She opened up about her troubles from childhood until today. Because of her life she felt that it was always her fault. She was to blame for every bad thing that happened in her life. This last relationship added to this lie. She is walking to be free from this lie and live in this truth. We discussed how important it is to let go of the shame of the past and live in the truth. I've made mistakes but I can't live in the lie that I am the sum of my mistakes. I must live in the freedom that only Christ can give.
I need to mention that we went to the pilgrim mass in Carrion a couple of nights ago. It was full of pilgrims from all over the world. Some sisters whose charism is to take care of pilgrims helped with the pilgrim blessing at the end of Mass. I was also asked to pray over pilgrims. It was a blessing to gather with all of these people seeking Gods blessing and traveling together on the journey.
Finally, I read a story today at the pilgrims museum in sahagun. An old man was walking the Camino in the Middle Ages. One night he wanted to give up. A young girl showed up to encourage him and walk him to the next village. When he arrived, he walked around the village trying to find out who the girl was. He never found out. He met this same girl a few times along the journey. Finally, he attended mass in Sahagun and recognized the girl when he saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She had been guiding him along the whole way and encouraging him to continue the journey. May she do the same for us each and every day of our lives.
Camino Day 17 - June 1- Calzadilla de Los hermanillos
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you (Mark 10:48)." Today's Gospel was story of the blind man Bartimaeus. When Jesus calls Bartimaeus, Jesus' disciples tell him to take courage for Jesus is calling him. I spent the day reflecting upon this story. Whenever Jesus has really wanted me to take a step in faith, his grace has overwhelmed me. He tells me to take courage for I am being called. When I felt called to the priesthood. When I felt called to Phoenix. Though I was a blind man at the side of the road, I felt the call and knew exactly what I was supposed to do. Sorry for the repetitive reflection in my blogs, but I want the same assurance for every decision I make. The Lord doesn't give it to me. He asks me to take courage. I have been called. If it's a really big decision He will pick me up and move me. For the rest of the discernments I take courage, take up my cross and follow him.
When Jesus meets Bartimaeus he asks, 'what do you want me to do for you?' To which Bartimaeus replies 'master I want to see.' I am blind. It's hard to admit that, but I tend to see the positive in myself and avoid seeing the negative in myself. I sometimes see the negative in others without seeing the positive. Last night, we attended the pilgrim mass in Sahagun. The celebrant left a lot to be desired in the way he celebrated the liturgy. It was hard not to focus on this negative. I was blind to the fact that he is a missionary from Ireland who spiritually cares both for pilgrims at an albergue and Benedictine nuns. I lost track of the positive because of a negative. I'm blind. Then the Lord questioned if I really want to see. Sometimes, I unfortunately prefer blindness. Blindness lets me sit on my high horse feeling good about myself while looking down on others. Is this what I really want, or do I want to see? Jesus then tells Bartimaeus, 'Go your way; your faith has saved you.' I will only see in proportion to my faith. I have to want to see. I have to believe I can see. Yes Lord, help me to see myself as you see me: one who sins but remains your child who you love. Help me to see others as you see them: sinner who you still love as your children.
Isabel told me today that the Camino is more intense than the silent retreat she did. There is something true about that. I met a Jewish woman who asked me if I minded non religious people walking the Camino. She was feeling like an outsider on this religious pilgrimage. I said no. I said if she was open, God would work. People are so unaccustomed to silence that having a few hours of silence on the road can be a great opportunity for God to work. My sister in law is struggling because the Camino has not been as social as she was expecting. There is a lot of silence. So she prays a lot of rosaries. God is working. There is a call to embrace the silence. Will I be open to it or distract myself from it?
Today was a short hike. When we got to the town where we are staying, I was ready to walk some more, but we have the rest of the trip planned out. Sometimes we have more in the tank, but it is time to stop. It is a long journey. It takes just as much virtue to stop as it does to keep going. I am not always one to stop when I can do more. Yet, sometimes God calls me to restrain myself. To hold back and rest. Work does not define me. My identity is not in what I do.
Camino Day 18 - June 2 - Mansilla de las mulas
I don’t like taking pain killers. I know they have a time and a place, I just try to avoid them until necessary. A week ago I needed some ibuprofen. I was waking up throughout the night because my feet were in pain. At first, I took some at night to sleep. Then later that week, I took some in the morning to walk. But, I realized that if a took a pain killer before I started walking then I didn’t walk as carefully. I would walk a little faster and not be as concerned with the terrain or how I was walking. By the afternoon my feet would hurt even worse. I wasn’t paying attention to what caused pain because I didn’t feel it. My feet reminded me that I needed to pay more attention. Sometimes I numb myself out to emotional pain and don’t pay attention to the root. Because I’m not paying attention to the root, the pain is worse after my attempt to avoid it or numb it out. God wants to work on my heart, and I have to let Him. I can’t numb out from the pain He is asking me to invite Him into.
I forgot to mention yesterday was my 16th anniversary of being invested in the habit. The habit has been a blessing for many reasons on the Camino. It is really practical. It is cool yet it keeps the sun off of me. Also it dries really fast when I wash it - in fact faster than my other clothes. More deeply it has been a great witness. A lot of people are encouraged to see a priest walking with them. Some are convicted that they need to do some soul searching. It is non-threatening especially to single females who have a lot of guys flirting with them. It has lead to a lot of great conversations. Personally, it has helped me tap into my Franciscan identity. Daily I think about st Francis walking this path with little more than the habit on his back. I’ve sought to imitate his example throughout my life and I feel closer to him than I ever have. Each day I carry FHS with me on this journey. I join the many Franciscans who’ve also walked this path. It is my Camino, but I do not walk it alone.
My brother and sister in law’s training as extraordinary ministers came in handy two nights ago. A woman received Jesus in her hand and returned to her seat without consuming. My brother saw this happen so my sister in law asked her to receive. It became obvious she wasn’t catholic and was not planning to consume our Lord. Isabel quickly but respectfully took the host from her and consumed it. I mention that because twice yesterday I had people asking how they could best respect the Catholic nature of the pilgrimage. I mentioned the Jewish lady in my last post. Last night we ending up eating dinner with a woman from Zimbabwe. She was Anglican and also asked how she could best respect the teachings of the Church. Both these women wondered things like if they could attend Mass, receive the Eucharist, attend evening prayer services with religious… I spent some time today reflecting upon respect. Some people either don’t have it or don’t seem to care. Though it wasn’t intentional, this woman at mass did something very disrespectful by taking the host and not consuming. I have no idea what she would have done if my sister in law had not intervened. We saw her later that evening at dinner and she never apologized or even acknowledged her ignorance about the situation. It just added to my frustration. Humility is a seldom practiced virtue these days. To take the lowest place, admit ignorance, ask for help, apologize when we make mistakes, and thank those who help us along the way rarely occurs. Pride sneaks in and we are ignorant of its affect in our lives. Lord grant me the grace of humility on this Camino.
Not much to say about today. We were walking a ‘scenic route’ along the old Roman road that wasn’t very scenic. When we got back to the main road I met an Irish couple who is doing the Camino one week at a time over a number of years, which is a popular thing to do among Europeans. Also, getting more vegetables on this leg of the Camino. Have had two of our best meals so far last night at dinner and today at lunch. Never thought I’d associate best meals and vegetables but when you each mostly meat, beans and potatoes variety really does a lot. We will be in Leon tomorrow and done with this stage of the journey. Back to the hills and what many say is the best part of the Camino after Leon.
Camino Day 19 - June 3 - Leon
You must be fully broken to be fully restored. The Lord used the analogy of a car with me. If the car still runs we are hesitant to do a full overhaul. We replace part by part. It is only when the car is fully broken and stops running that we do a full restoration. The Lord told me I must be fully broken if I want to be fully restored. This is because of my pride. I won't let the Lord in while I think I can do it on my own. Maybe I'll let him into a part of my life where I think I need Him but I won't let Him all the way in. The Camino is about letting yourself be fully broken so you can be fully restored. I hope I am on the restoration part but only time will tell. As long as my self will remains in charge there is work to be done.
I am both a Franciscan and a priest. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that people don't understand this concept. It is just funny to me that some people think I have to be one or the other. Or that if I am both than one is more important than the other. Both being a Franciscan and being a priest are essential to who I am. I don't have to chose between them even though it seems the world wants to label me as one or the other. We can be faithful Catholics and students or doctors... The world wants us to chose and we must resist that.
Today, I felt great. I knew we had a shorter walk. I was motivated to see Leon's cathedral which is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Also, my brother splurged and got a room at an old monastery which is now a nice hotel - thank you Martin Sheen for making The Way. The thought of a hot tub was also very motivating. It was Isabel's day to suffer. She has blisters but worse her toenails are coming out. We are each on our own Camino but we take care of each other and wait for each other. I thought of Charles Lwanga a martyr from Uganda who not only stayed faithful to Christ unto death but also protected others from a pedaphile king and led many to Catholicism. We have to support each other and sometimes that means dying to ourselves. May the martyrs help us live our lives for love of Jesus and love for others.
Pain stacks up. I am not dealing with the pain of todays walk. I am dealing with the pain of the last 500km. The body does not fully recover yet I ask it to get up and keep going. I have not fully recovered from things I have done or things others have done to me. Yet God asks me to take up my cross each day and follow Him. No individual day of carrying my cross is too hard. Day after day carrying my cross becomes exhausting. Only the Lord and His grace can sustain me and keep me motivated to keep walking.
Camino Day 20 - June 4 - Villadangos del Paramo
I walked with an Austrian man this afternoon. He’d been through a divorce recently after many years of marriage. He said his friend got him through this difficult time. He would call his friend and ask if they could have coffee. His friend doesn’t even like coffee but would join him at a coffee shop and have a cup of coffee just to be present to him in his time of need. That relationship sustained him. They share everything - it seemed like agape love. Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity. In Greek there are for words for love. Eros - relationship of use. My banker and I have an Eros relationship. It is a practical relationship, the most common of relationships. Philia - love of friendship. People you enjoy spending time with. This represents our typical friendships. Storge- familial love. The love you have for your immediate family is in this category. Agape - self- sacrificial love where you truly give yourself over to the other and they give themselves fully over to you. This should be the love spouses have for each other.
In John 21, Jesus asks Peter what type of love he has for Jesus. God obviously has an agape love for each and every one for us. What type of love do we have for Him? It’s the question Jesus asks Peter and that He asks each one of us. Do we love God simply for what we get out of Him? Do we simply like spending time with Him? Have we fully given ourselves over to Him? On this feast of the Trinity the Lord asked me to reflect upon my relationship with each person of the Trinity. He has fully given Himself over to me both as the one Godhead and as each person of the Trinity. Have I given myself over to Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
In the midst of this reflection, I spoke with Rich a Hindu Yoga instructor living in Cambodia. He shared that a few days ago he was really suffering. This girl walked up and asked how he was doing. He opened up in a moment of vulnerability and told her he was really suffering. She didn’t ask how she could help. She simply said take it one step at a time and walked past him. He struggled not to resent her. I reflected that it is hard first to recognize when I have a need. I tend to just keep pressing on and not pay attention to my needs. Next it is hard to be able to express that need to someone else. I tend to keep it to myself. Finally, it is hard to know what can be done to help support me in my need. This becomes even more difficult when we get rejected in sharing our need. I used to think I had it together and knew a lot. The older I get the more I realize I don’t even know myself or how to take care of myself let alone to think I know others or how to take care of them. There will be people in my life I can fully open up to in agape love to support and help me along the way. There will be others who reject me in my needs. Each of these is a gift from God. Rich said that when the girl walked by him he recognized that he could not turn to others to fulfill his needs. His alone satisfies our hearts and we are restless until we rest in Him. We must give ourselves fully over to Him in agape love to enter into the most important relationship in our lives.
We went to the church of the virgin of the Camino today. This image is the pieta - Mary holding the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. I reflected upon this for a long time today. The image of our lady that Spain gives to look over pilgrims is Our Mother of Sorrows. Particularly Mary holding the dead body of her son. The only true pilgrim is one who dies. When he or she dies then and only then can the Father rebuild that person into the image of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this process from death to new life, Mary holds us. I must allow her to hold me so that God can do the work He desires. It will involve death but will lead to resurrection.
The church that houses the virgin of the Camino is built where our lady appeared to a shepherd and told him to throw a stone and build a church there. Which is just an awesome sidenote.
Yesterday we went to the Leon cathedral which is spectacular. It claims to have the second best stained glass behind Chartes. It was spectacular. Beautiful churches draw you to God. At the time the cathedral was built, Leon was a town of 5,000 people. Yet, they built one of the most magnificent cathedrals in Europe. I’m at a loss for words - inspirational.
Saw an eagle today as I was walking. I tried to get a video but he was gone before I had the chance. He was majestic. Eagles symbolize courage and strength. I hope that I come back from the Camino a different person with a new strength from God.
Camino Day 21 - June 5 - Astorga
On certain parts of the Camino you tend to walk in a straight line even though the path is wide enough for three or four people. This is because one part of the path is well worn and easier on the feet. You walk in a line and continue praying or having a conversation. It’s just easier to walk the path that has been laid out before us. It’s the beauty of the church who has given us the sacraments and the tradition to follow. Many saints have walked this path before me to show me the way. I seek to follow the path they have laid before me.
Had a beautiful conversation with Kelly from Atlanta today. A strong evangelical Christian who felt God call her to the Camino. There are many alternative scenic routes along the way. Some I have taken and some I have not. She and I discussed this because yesterday she took the scenic route and I took the normal route. We both mentioned our regret for the choice we made thinking the other path must have been better. It made us laugh. The grass is always seems greener. I then told her I knew at the end of the day we took the right path because we were able to help a fellow pilgrim yesterday. We got to the only open restaurant in a small town yesterday afternoon. They were done serving lunch but made an exception for us since we were pilgrims. Rich showed up half an hour later and was only able to get some finger food at the bar. The grocery store was closed and he was hungry. We were in the middle of lunch and able to share what we had left with him which was more than enough for all of us. God put us in the right place at the right time. His path is always the best one. The grass is not always greener.
Today is the feast of St. Boniface an English Benedictine who evangelized Germany. He is famous for cutting down a scared tree dedicated to the pagan god Thor. The people thought that their gods would strike him down. When nothing happened, the door was opened for him to tell them about Christ. Interestingly, Boniface was not successful on his first trip to Germany. He was exiled from the country. Instead of giving up, he went to Rome to get the popes blessing then went again, this time to great success. We often give up too soon. We get discouraged or have a setback and say that’s enough. Boniface is an inspiration in his perseverance through difficulty. The Camino makes you want to give up. The question of why I am still walking has definitely come up in my mind on this journey. I don’t always want to keep going. I don’t always want to persevere. Yet, I felt a renewed faith today. I feel like I’ve been on spiritual cruise control for awhile. Faith is a gift, and I was not nurturing mine enough. Today as I walked I recognized a renewed faith. It was like a deep part of me was coming alive again. A part that was there but needed to be refreshed. This happened because I persevered. The journey keeps going and I am called to keep walking. As I persevere the Lord will work. At the same time the ability to make the journey is a gift. I must fan the flame of the gift of faith so that it always blazes in my heart.
Good day today. A longer walk. Spent the early morning praying then the late morning and early afternoon talking first to the previously mentioned Kelly who quit her job to walk the Camino because she felt God calling her to do it and knew it was time. Then with an Australian couple that wanted to talk about the differences between the indigenous peoples of Australia and America. I learned the other priest walking is an Anglican Canadian who works with natives. I haven’t met him yet but many people I meet say o I’m glad to meet you, I’ve heard there was a priest walking with us.
A final note is there are a lot of people who have moved to Spain simply to help pilgrims. Each day we meet someone who sets up a table with some water and fruit that they give to pilgrims. Donations are welcome but not required. Today, we met a former drug addict who got free from his addiction and walked the Camino. He needed something to give him meaning and purpose. He now lives a simple life helping pilgrims. His sacrifice is a huge blessing because he offers respite on a part of the pilgrimage in which there is nothing but the hot sun and plenty of wheat fields. May we all find meaning and purpose in helping others on their pilgrimage to heaven.
Camino Day 22 - June 6 - Rabanal
Today the church made it abundantly clear that your true character comes out when you are suffering. In the first reading at Mass we hear of how Tobit’s true character comes out when he is blinded. Though he could previously provide for the family, after he is blind and his wife is earning money, he yells at her and falsely accuses her of stealing. She tells him that now his true character is coming out. In the Office of Readings, we hear from St. Dorotheus that our true character comes out when a brother speaks unkindly to us. How we respond to him shows who we are really are. On the Camino, this fact is on full display. I spoke with a Canadian man. He asked me what I had learned about myself on the Camino. I gave him some of the reflections I had. You can read them in my previous posts. I asked him the same question and he said that the Camino showed him that he was a jerk (slight exaggeration). He thought he was more charitable than he was. He’s recognized on this trip that he has a lot of work to do. He is traveling no with a friend and often lacks charity towards him. We often dismiss suffering and avoid it at all costs. Are we really just avoiding our true selves? Are we putting a bow on the package of our life so it looks good on the outside without doing the true work of the heart? Will I allow God to teach me who I truly am through suffering? Further, will I allow him to work on the part of my heart that needs to be transformed once it has been revealed?
Of course with such a lesson to be taught, I had to suffer today. Not anything terrible but my stomach started acting up again. For about an hour I walked in pain. I asked myself who I was at that moment. Would I be charitable to someone who walked by? Would I be short or sarcastic? Who am I? Am I willing to change? The suffering passed but hopefully the lesson it taught remains.
I reflected on a conversation yesterday with an Australian couple. They were telling me that the Australian government is trying to set up law to help the indigenous population. These tribes all have different opinions about what the government is doing. I reflected on the principle of subsidiarity, which means what can be handled on a local level should be handled on a local level. Every tribe is different. You cannot make a blanket policy at the national level to care for all of the tribes and their needs. Yet the Australian government and the BIA and other organizations try to do this. The same is true for our souls. God operates with the principle of subsidiarity. He knows exactly what we need and ministers to that need exactly as we need. He allows things so that He can use them to draw us to Him. I can’t walk anyone else’s spiritual journey. There is no blanket policy for the spiritual life. I must respond to grace. I also shouldn’t hope that I am treated the same as others. I should only hope I am treated exactly as the Lord desires.
A good walk today. Finally back into the beauty of the hills and mountains. A short day today - I need to take advantage of the chance to rest because we have three straight longer walks over the next three days. A spoke with an Australian couple who is walking the Camino for the fifth time. This is the first time they are walking the whole thing. They wished every country had a Camino because it is so good at bonding people together.
I walked with rich from Canada for a long time. He is an evangelical pastor and hospital chaplain. He had a political disagreement with the evangelical church and is now also questioning their theology. He had a lot of questions about the Catholic Church. Many churches are built like a house of cards. When one card fails the whole structure crumbles. The Catholic Church isn’t like that. There are foundational pillars but there are wide wings of the church. We should be grateful that there are various opinions that are all orthodox. We all hold to the same pillars but we don’t live in a structure that falls apart when one card fails.
We went to Gregorian chant this evening with the Benedictine monks in rabanal. I love music. In high school I remember taking a survey that asked if I would rather own a great movie or a great cd. I chose a great cd. Music speaks to the soul. It is incredible that Gregorian chant continues to speak to the soul 1500 years after it was written. There is something majestic about it that draws one to God. Some music is like candy that tastes good for a minute then fades. It is because it tinkers with an emotion. It has no substance. Some music speaks to the soul and draws one to God. This is what I want to feed my soul with. This is also what I want to feed others with. I get a lot of theological questions on the Camino. I want to feed people with something that lasts not with a temporary fad.
Camino Day 23 - June 7 - Molinaseca
Had one of our most beautiful days on the Camino. It was drizzling and foggy to start the walk, but it cleared up and left us with scenic views. The fog reminded me that every day of the Camino is different. Not just that the path is different, but the elements are different. They say you never see the same river twice. You never walk the same Camino twice. The path is the same but the elements change. The spiritual life is the same. The mass is always the same yet always different. As is the rosary or the Bible. I’ve read the same passages hundreds of times and still gotten new insights. Ever ancient, ever new. Walking through the fog I realized once again that I can only focus on the next step. So often I want to know where the Lord is leading and he only tells me the next step. I can’t always see what the Lord wants. I can just remain faithful.
On the path today is the highest point of the Camino Frances. Even higher than the path over the Pyrenees which is shocking. At this highest point of the Camino there is a cross at which pilgrims are encouraged to lay down a rock or some other symbol of their burdens. They now walk to Santiago free from the burdens they brought with them on the Camino. I laid my burdens down at the foot of the cross and am ready for a new freedom in Jesus Christ.
I had a number of wonderful conversations today. I reconnected with Bob from Connecticut who helps train CEO’s of new companies. He said the hardest thing to teach A young CEO is when to pivot and when to persist. The tendency is to want to persist. So much time and energy has been invested it becomes hard to pivot. But like a good poker player you hav to know when to fold them even if you’ve put a lot of money in the pot. God asks me to pivot many times even though I’ve felt led along a certain path. This pivot is usually hard and demanding but I see his providence in the end. There are times to pivot on the Camino. I have a certain idea or plan and God shifts it. Am I simply focused on the goal or am I willing to take the journey he desires? Am I willing to change is God asks simply because He asks? Or do I need an explanation as if I could somehow understand His ways.
I spoke with a fellow cursillisto today. He is an Anglican from Australia. He is hoping the cursillo will bring renewal to the church in Australia. Ultrea! I asked him what is different walking the Camino now than when he walked it five years ago. He told me more practicing Christians are walking it now. I find that surprising since I have met so few practicing Christians but also beautiful to hear.
I met a woman from Arizona. She walked up and said ‘there you are.’ My initial reaction was I have no idea who you are, but that being a common occurrence for me I said hello. She then told me we never met but that she had heard all about the priest from Arizona. She is a professor at university of Arizona in Hispanic studies. She’s been teaching the Camino for 20 years so figured she should actually walk it. I thought we all often do that. Recognize the importance of something but never do it. Don’t wait twenty years to do the important things. Don’t wait until the right time - the perfect time never comes. We often times just have to jump.
I spoke with a Swedish man was was raised Lutheran but is no longer practicing. He wanted to talk about Martin Luther and my thoughts about him. He struggled with the church. I’ve met a lot of people on the Camino who do. Hopefully we can all be a witness to help draw people back into the body of Christ.
I’ll end on a reflection about a Hispanic man I met this morning. He was walking faster than me up the hill so we briefly greeted each other and I let him pass. There are a lot of narrow parts in the Camino and you have to step aside to let someone pass if they are walking faster than you. Later in the day I was walking with an Australian couple who I’d met a couple of days previously. This same Hispanic man was walking slow downhill. We clearly were walking faster and wanted to pass. He apologized for being slow. Initially it was so narrow he couldn’t step aside but when the path opened up he still did not step aside. We had to go off trail to pass him. I know I am making a big assumption but I think he never let go of the fact that he was walking so fast in the morning. He couldn’t think people would be passing him now since he was passing everyone on the morning. The first issue we often struggle with is pride. It prevents us from recognizing when it’s time to step aside. There are times we must recognize our limitations. When we don’t it actually makes it harder for other people. Our pride stands in the way of their progress. Humility helps us and opens the door for those around us to grow.
Camino Day 24 - June 8 - Villafranca
People cannot get their head around priestly celibacy. The Catholic Church is counterculture, as is priestly celibacy, and the religious habit. So, it should be no surprise these are the topics I discuss the most on the Camino. Before further reflection let me be clear, most of my conversations are personal: centered around questions like what brought you to the Camino? What do you do? Tell me about your family? Aside from these personal discussions, people want to know about celibacy. Some people are confused, some in awe, some in disagreement. Last night a convert to Judaism wanted to talk about celibacy. He thought Jesus was disobedient to the Torah by not getting married and having children. He felt the same about catholic priests. I won’t bore you with the details of the discussion, but after making biblical arguments from the Torah I talked about the call to serve God’s people. I could not imagine doing what I do and trying to care for a wife and children at the same time. Yet, I realized today that I missed a deeper argument. One he could never understand. I am married to the Church and have lots of spiritual children. (Sidenote to my family - my spouse is mom’s favorite daughter-in-law =). I have the gift of a beautiful, intimate relationship that I get to tangibly experience every time I celebrate the Sacraments. They say that if you walk the Camino with your spouse you will either have a deeper more intimate relationship or end up getting a divorce. I feel closer to my spouse the bride of Christ on this journey, and I am grateful to God for the gift of my calling. Most people will never fully understand the counter cultural life that I live. I wish they did. For now I will live it faithfully and go from there.
It was a long walk today, around 30km. This is about 7.5 hours of walking. James and Isabel wanted to stop for longer break and lunch in the early afternoon then finish the walk. It was nice to break up the walking but it led to a longer day from start to finish. It was a day of forgetting hats. I left my baseball cap in a restaurant last night and it wasn’t open this morning so I pray it blesses whoever picks it up. I dropped my full brim hat this morning. Luckily, Dave and Milly, an Australian couple recognized it and picked it up for me. But, I didn’t know this because I was ahead of them on the trail. It stated to drizzle. Rob from Canada, who was sitting at a cafe as I walked by, told me to pray that the rain stayed away. I told him I needed the sun to stay away because I’d lost my two hats. Five minutes later Rob comes running up to me with my hat saying Dave and milly walked by asking if anyone had seen me. He decided to run and catch me so I had my hat. Reminder that everyone’s feet hurts really really bad by this point on the Camino. I’m amazed at people’s charity. We’ve formed this bond and community that cannot be replicated. I saw two friends from a few days ago and we hugged each other like we were reunited relatives. It’s the bond of doing something hard together and knowing that we all have to support each other to persevere.
Spent a long time walking with Izzy and Madison this morning. They are best friends who live in different states. Both are strong Christians. They are walking to spend time together and draw closer to God. They’ve loved the silence and meeting so many interesting people. They asked my to join in an an ongoing discussion they were having about church hymns. Another sidenote: we all agreed that ‘The King of Love my Shepherd Is’ sits at the top of the list of great church hymns that are not sung enough in church. Izzy is Anglican. Madison is Baptist. Music is a huge part in how they relate to God. Music speaks to the soul. People are still commenting on how much they enjoyed the monks Gregorian chant a few nights ago. I’ve been feeding my soul a lot of silence on the trail. Often restaurants and grocery stores have secular American music playing. It starts running through my head but I don’t want to feed my soul with it. I start to sing a hymn to God and it puts my mind and heart back towards God. This once again leads me to silence. I encourage you to take some time and listen to some sacred music this week: Gregorian chant, old church hymns… then let them lead you into silent contemplation of God. He will draw you to a deep, intimate place with Him.
There are a group of student here from Bucknell getting a college credit for walking the Camino. Seems like a really good experience for the kids. They get cash each day and are told to figure out what they’re going to eat and where they’re going to stay. Even though it is a rather secular program I trust God will work. If we open the door even a crack He will come rushing in. Some students will keep their hearts closed, which is sad. It make take others some time to unpack all the God is doing. But for those who give Him the space, He will work. We have to give God time and space in our lives and trust that if we do, He will work profoundly.
Had lunch with Jefferson and Elizabeth, a wonderful couple from North Carolina. We’ve talked about having a meal together for awhile and they waited for us so that we could eat lunch together today. We had a great conversation but my main reflection is we just connected. God brought us together. I am wondering was this simply a one time occasion so that we could fellowship or will this be a long term friendship. I could see myself becoming long term friends with a lot of people I’ve met here. I can also see the scenario where I never speak to a lot of these people again. God simply allowed us to meet so we could be mutually edified. I’ve surrendered it all into the Lord’s hands.
Another long day tomorrow. My last hike over 30km. It ends with a long uphill so I am sure my feet will be in rebellion. I am offering Friday’s sufferings for the family, friends, and benefactors of FHS so a lot of suffering will be offered for you tomorrow. I’ll meet up with my other two brothers John and Jeff on Sunday and Monday. His is so good. I am overwhelmed by his blessings.
Camino Day 25 - June 9 - Linares
James and I conquered a big, muddy hill today. God’s timing worked out perfectly. He was going to leave at 5am this morning, but it was raining. I was going to leave at 7am but I got up early. We were in separated rooms but we ended up both leaving at 6am, which worked out perfectly. God often works out timing despite our plans. We walked for 20 kilometers along a beautiful road then we walked up 700 meters over an 8 kilometer span. Most of this was up a steep, muddy path. We were in a lot of pain going up the hill. Our legs hurt, our lungs hurt, we were sweating, it was muddy. But, as we were walking up that steep, muddy path we had to put all of our focus on making the right step so we didn’t slip. This consumed all of our mental energy. We forgot about the pain while we were making the ascent. Our bodies clearly reminded us of the pain when we were done, but in the moment the pain was not noticeable. When we focus in on the path and the next step the Lord had for us. We entered into a beautiful moment with God and forgot about everything else. It was like deep contemplative prayer. When one really enters into contemplative prayer an hour goes by and it feels like five minutes. Time slips away in His presence.
When you’re on a steep, muddy path there are times you want to give up. Everyone tackles this part differently. Some people take lots of breaks along the way. James and I just kept walking. When we stopped our legs tightened up, so it was easier for us to keep going. Whichever way you choose, you want to give up at some point. But, you can’t really give up. There is no taxi on those muddy paths. No one can carry you. You can walk up or walk down but you have to keep going. I often feel this way in life. I may want to give up but God doesn’t give me any choice but to go forward or go backward. I can turn around but I can’t give up. I don’t want to say I have no choice but in the journey of life it’s forward or backward. I can’t make no choice. I can chose to do God’s will or walk away from it. To choose neither is still to make a choice.
When you’re walking up a muddy path you look for the rocks. The rocks provide stability so you don’t slip. Pretty easy contemplation of St. Peter and the church as the rock providing stability on the midst of the wide slippery path to destruction in the world. I also contemplated how I avoid rocks on most of the other paths. They hurt my feet. Yet today I sought them out. I could have walked on the softer path and slipped. The church might ask us to make hard choices. Ones that rub against our flesh. But she will provide stability to help us walk the path to heaven. Also the last part of the day was the hardest. In the spiritual life it often gets harder not easier. The journey is a struggle but in the struggle we draw closer to God.
There is a great sense of accomplishment when one conquers a hill like we did today. There is a joy that overcomes the sorrow. But we have to walk again tomorrow. The joy is beautiful but I can’t rest in that joy. I have to keep walking. I can’t say I was a good Christian yesterday. I have to keep striving.
It’s funny that we laid all our burdens down at the highest point of the Camino. (See earlier post). They say we now walk in the resurrection until Santiago. Then today we walk a huge hill. Even the resurrection has its trials. In my times of consolation I have to persevere through the difficulties. It’s never a smooth road. Today I thought we were at the top of our climb when I realized it was a false peak and there was more to go. Times of blessing have struggles and times of trial have joy. It’s never a smooth path in the spiritual life. Take advantage of the flat times on the path.
Not many conversations today. We left early and you don’t have many conversations when you are walking up a steep path. It was a blessing to have quality time with my brother. We missed Isabel for the first part of the day. Her feet are covered in blisters. She has been suffering like a champion. She claims there are no more souls in purgatory because of her suffering. Today she took a taxi and joined us for the last five kilometers. I have no problem with that. She has walked over 300 kilometers. Everyone’s journey is different. Her few kilometers in extreme pain might be more efficacious than my many kilometers in less pain. The Lord does what he wills on our journey. It is His Camino. We simply walk the journey He sets before us and be as faithful as we can along the way.
Camino Day 26 - June 10 - Triacastela
Today was a miserable day on the trail. It was raining. My ankle hurt. I didn’t have any meaningful conversations on the road. I was ready to be done soon after we started. Despite saying all this, it was actually only a small portion of the day that was miserable. The walk started well and ended well. It was a short walk - 18km. There was a two hour window when I was miserable. Yet, my impression of the day was misery. I find that so interesting. I was reflecting upon it at the end of the walk. One portion affected my whole attitude toward the day. Maybe there is nothing I can do about it, but I don’t want that to happen anymore. I want to say today the walk had some high points and some low points and the low points were so bad that they seem to outweigh the high points in my mind. I walked from point A to point B and had some really good prayer time. Further, I don’t want to view people this way. I’ve had some negative interactions with people. I often have a negative view of these individuals. I don’t want people to reminder me for my worst moments. I don’t want to remember other for their worst moments. Though some people prove over and over again that they cannot be trusted. My viewpoint should be affected by all of my interactions and not based on one interaction. My overall judgment of the Camino is not based on the worst parts. I take it as a whole. I want to better do that with others, and I hope they do that with me.
The office of readings gave us the last chapter of Job to reflect on today. To sum up Job, God strips him of everything. He questions why God would do this. All his friends claim this is punishment for sin. At the end God tells Job not to question him. His friends are told they were wrong to judge Job. His friends are all called to make a sacrifice to God and ask that Job pray for them. It then says God restores Job’s fortune after he prays for his friends. I’ve never noticed that line before. God required Job to pray for his friends who had falsely accused him before his fortunes were restored. I’m offering Saturday’s on the Camino for FHS. I was offering today not just for our current members but also for those who have left - probably why I was suffering so bad. The line from Job was another reminder to pray for my friends. There were a lot of insights and reflections on theirs passage, but I will leave it at the reminder not to hold on to judgment and grudges. We are called to pray. We were not there when the world was formed. God’s ways are much higher than our ways. We also shouldn’t be like the friends who accuse Job. We are called to pray and submit to God as best as we can.
Speaking of FHS, as I was suffering for the community today, I remembered that this month we celebrate our 7th anniversary. It’s been a wild ride. I feel like every summer when we gather, I tell the guys we’ve turned a page. We’ve finished a chapter and now we can write our current story. I mean the we can settle in and work on the current chapter of our community history for many years. Then something else happens and we once again have to turn a page. I realize that the story is written with many chapters and we will keep turning pages. Hopefully this won’t happen every summer, but it will continue to happen. Also, I asked myself have I turned a page this year? Am I closer to God than I was last year? Usually it’s a yes, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I spend a year in neutral. Maybe I can point to more maturity and experience in my life, but I cannot say I am spiritually closer to God. This is something I can focus on and work at. I cannot control FHS. I cannot control what chapter in our history we are in. I can simply work on my relationship with God and allow that chapter to be written as best as it can be. If each of us do that individually then a great book will be written with our lives for the glory of God.
Camino Day 27 - June 11 - Sarria
It was a beautiful walk today. My ankle was in pain when I started but it loosened up. I took it slow, which was smart. I spent a long part of the walk talking with Dan from Australia. He is a miner. He did a lot of work with the natives in Australia. There was a lot of racism his company. He has to combat that in his job. We ended up discussing the desire we have to form groups. We want be accepted. We often want it so bad that we put other people down in order to belong. I am again amazed that the Camino is the great equalizer. We walk from all parts of life with all different beliefs. Yet we all support each other on the walk. I ask myself: do I have a sense of belonging? Am I trying to be accepted so bad that I put other people down so that I can fit in with a group? The church is a great big Camino. We can all find acceptance in the body of Christ.
I wear the same backpack with the same stuff in it every day. Yet every morning I find myself adjusting my bag in little ways. I tighten this shoulder strap and loosen that one. I can’t believe that each morning I have to readjust my bag. It’s kind of like life. I have to continue to make small adjustments in my spiritual life. Even though things are going well there are little ways that the world rubs against me. I have to adjust.
We made it to Sarria. This is a very popular city in the route because it is 100km from Santiago. To get an official pilgrimage certificate you have to walk at least 100km. We meet new people everyday. Many of whom are just getting started on the walk. My brother Jeff arrived, which is very exciting. We got to sarria in time for the noon mass. They had a Corpus Christi procession afterwards. The people decorated the street with flowers. The church was packed. The men carried a canopy over the blessed sacrament. The local band played songs while we processed. People were in balconies throwing flower pedals down as we walked by. I was privileged to walk right behind Jesus. I was in awe the whole time. The amount of effort people gave to honor the Lord was amazing. The faith of the people was palpable. I love being catholic. It was interesting to see the non catholic pilgrims see the procession as they walked by. I hope the beauty of the procession works on their heart.
It’s hard to explain the pain of the Camino to my brother. The first day is fine. Your body does not have enough recovery time. Then you walk again. You don’t notice this on day two or three. After a week your body realizes the stacked up pain. My brother has a fitness app that tells him how much recovery time he needs each day. At the end of the day it tells him he needs to rest at least 24 hours before walking again. Obviously that doesn’t happen. The soreness stacks up. The same it true emotionally. It stacks up. Sometimes we just keep walking. Then my ankle is in pain and my back is in pain. I have to stop and digest it all. I am really glad I have some retreat time after the Camino not just to physically recover but to process through it all. We have to give the Lord time.
Camino Day 28 - June 12 - Portomarine
There are times in my life when God forces me to change my routine. Usually is occurs in a time of transition in my life. Sometimes it is a shift in what devotions I am praying or a shift in what time I do my holy hour. Each of these transitions is hard, but I see the benefit in the end. Today was a change of routine in the Camino. First, we added my brother Jeff yesterday. It changed the dynamics of our group in a good way. We are still waiting for our brother John. That will also be a blessing. I walked with my brother Jeff most of the morning. It was great to catch up with him. An even more significant shift to my Camino was the number of pilgrims who joined us on the trail today. It was the first time that I have not had at least some time on the trail alone. I had to adjust my schedule. I met some fellow walkers who resented all these new pilgrims. They enjoyed the peaceful walks of the previous days. I was happy about the shift. Not because I enjoyed having so many more people, but because it forced me to adjust. I had to break out of my routine. This helped my Camino. Every time I adjust it helps me refocus. When I get into a routine I can tend to just act like a robot - going through the motions. The shift helped me to get back on track. I consider this a gift. With 100km to go I can refocus on my Camino. I have to be extra focused on these last few day. My pilgrimage ends on Friday. I want to be open to all the Lord wants to do as I conclude this pilgrimage. I always want to be open to the Lord when he readjusts my focus.
The Lord spoke to me this morning at morning prayer. The antiphon of the first psalm says, ‘when will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter the presence of God?’ I am on the final 100km of the walk. It was so interesting to pray this antiphon. The antiphon indicates a level of suffering that I am not currently enduring. I am enjoying the pilgrimage and don’t want it to end. Yet, I long for the presence of God. When will my pilgrimage end and what does the Lord have in store between now and then?
The first psalm from morning prayer begins, ‘like the deer that longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you my God.’ I find myself longing for deeper relationship with God. My brother Jeff asked how I would go back different. I named a few ways I think the Lord is asking me to live differently. Nothing major. Simple changes to live a healthier life. A life in which I put more trust in Him. It was a simple reminder from the Lord to make sure he is at the center of my heart and life.
An interesting part of walking today was seeing a number of friends who’ve walked from St. Jean. We normally say hello on the road and keep walking. Today we were going out of our way to say hello to each other and check up on each other. We wanted to know how people were handling the shift from the quieter pace to the more hectic pace. Most of my fellow pilgrims handled it well. Only one I talked to enjoyed the shift. Most were doing their best looking at the positives. A few hated the busyness. We comforted each other. I am in the camp of people who are happy that so many people are doing the pilgrimage. Most are students looking to improve their resume. I wish motives were better, but I trust the Lord to work.
There are four sisters walking with 14 young women. It is not officially a time of discernment but it seems they are using it to introduce young women to their community. One of the girls asked me when her feet will stop hurting. It was her first day walking. I told her that the pain would only increase for the next few days. It will take about 10 days until her feet adjust. She was not encouraged by the news. So interesting to see people on their first day. I did not suffer that bad on my first day walking. I wonder how she will feel on day 5. It makes me wonder if we all persevere through the most difficult part. If she walked longer, the pain wouldn’t bother her anymore. She won’t walk long enough to get through the pain. Do I persevere through the most difficult part of the spiritual journey? Do I give up too early on the Lord?
My brother John’s flight was delayed two hours. He had to adjust his travel plans to us. Luckily we think we have it all worked out now. Looking forward to having all of my brothers together. It was nice today seeing people I’ve met along the trail as I walked with Jeff. Some were so happy to meet my brother. It was a blessing that they were so excited to meet the brother I have talked about for so long. It was like being in a family. People excited that I am happy. It’s truly a blessing when that happens.
Camino Day 29 - June 13 - Palas de Rei
As my brother Jeff and I walked the Camino today, two Spanish men approached us. We began a brief conversation and then one showed us he had a wine skin and offered us a drink. We accepted his offer then he said, ‘Vino para el camino!’ It was a touching moment showing the camaraderie of the Camino. This man was carrying extra weight just to share with others and create fellowship. People are longing for friendship and fellowship. We are made for communion. Most importantly this communion can only be found in God. He also calls us to fellowship with one another in the body of Christ.
I heard a confession on the trail today. I was talking to an individual. We stopped in a church with my family. This person approached my brother and asked if he thought I would mind hearing a confession. Of course I didn’t mind and my brother helped by asking me on her behalf. It was delightful. I guess I should be happy that this person wanted to respect my Camino. But, I am wearing a habit which is a big signpost of who I am. I often get approached by people who want to talk about God or ask me about the habit. They ask if it is ok to talk about it. I just find it funny because I wouldn’t wear the habit if I didn’t want to talk about it or hear a confession. In fact it is a blessing to talk about God and hear a confession. I have so many ‘meaningless’ conversations and interactions. It is nice to have some with substance and meaning.
Happy feast of st Anthony of Padua. A great Franciscan saint. He was a priest in Portugal who saw the bodies of the first seven Franciscan martyrs being brought back from Morocco. He was so inspired that he became a Franciscan and eventually ended up a priest in Padua, Italy. His life was marked by humility. He wanted to be a martyr: he got sick. He wanted to live a life of prayer: he was commanded to preach. He fasted all his life: people called him fat because of his dropsy. My favorite story from his life is that a group of heretics wanted to kill him. They invited him to dinner and tried to poison him. When he blessed the soup the poison rose to the top of the soup. He then told them to prove the truth of the catholic faith, he would eat the poison anyway. He did so without harm and all of the heretics went to confession and returned to the catholic faith. I reflected upon this story on my walk today. Anthony was a very simple man. He humbly did what he was asked. God continued to use Him to work profound miracles and bring people back to faith. He was obedient even to eating poison because he felt led to do so. As I walked today I was inspired by how he allowed himself to be led by God. my brother and I wondered how st Francis and ancient pilgrims figured out how to get to Santiago. They probably asked villagers along the way to point them in the right direction. They allowed themselves to be led. Even today we allow ourselves to be led by yellow arrows pointing us along the right path. We trust that those signs will indeed lead us in the right direction. It takes trust to be led. St Anthony had a profound trust in God which allowed him to humbly submit to Gods will. If I can trust some yellow areas to guide me then how much more should I trust in the Lord to lead and guide me along the way that leads me to him.
Good walk today. Had some good conversations but mostly spoke with my family. Great to catch up with them. I spoke with a Spanish man who is walking the Camino to see if he is still strong enough to do it in his retirement. Am I strong enough? What an interesting question. No. I’m not. The Lord is my strength.
Camino day 30 - June 14 - Ribadiso
There are a number of ‘donativos’ on the Camino. These are tables set up on the side of the trail with fruit, water and snacks. They do not charge for anything. They simply have a basket for donations. Usually someone is manning the table. This person previously walked the Camino. After being blessed by the walk they wanted to give back. The Lord’s love is free. I can have as much as I want. The question is what will I put in the basket? How much will I give back? I don’t have to put in anything. He is asking me to give everything. Will I accept His offer of love? What will I give in return?
Often at the pilgrim Masses they have scripture passages typed up on little sheets which they give to pilgrims. Last night my passage was John 16:33 - “you will have trouble in this world. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” This was food for a lot of meditation. An Australian man approached me and asked why some people seem to have it so easy and some people seem to have it so hard. I told him I don’t know anyone who has not suffered. Different people may have it harder or easier, but everyone suffers. I have had trouble in this world. I must take heart for the Lord has overcome the world. The Lord has overcome what gives me trouble. I have had trouble in this Camino. Though my feet hurt and I rolled my ankle and my hip flexers are sore… the Lord has overcome even these troubles. They may bother me for a time, but they have not conquered me. By the grace of God I am able to press on. I can take courage in the Lord despite my troubles.
A good walk today. It is the longest walk that my brother John and Jeff will do this week. We got up and got going early when it was cool. It allowed us to make a couple of stops along the way. I talked with my brother John about a lot of things, but one was apologizing. Recently some people tired to apologize to his family. These people were a part of a decision that really hurt his family. They basically said we didn’t agree with decisions that were made that hurt his family. This made the situation worse. We discussed how much better it would have been to simply apologize. If they would have said we are sorry for the decision and then asked how they could restore relationship a door for healing would have been opened. By saying the decision was someone else’s fault that they went along with, the door for healing was closed. I encountered some rude people on the Camino today. It was not intentional but people are tired and thoughtless at times. Focused on one thing and not aware of how their actions are affecting others. How do they respond when this is pointed out? Are they able to apologize? Am I able to truly repent of my sin? Do I simply blame circumstances or the action of other when I sin? Do I take ownership of my mistakes and apologize? May God give me the grace to truly take ownership and repent for my sin.
We stopped for coffee this morning and spoke with Ronya from Berlin. I met her a few weeks ago, and we have been friends ever since. As we drank a cup of coffee we talked about today’s hike. We are getting near the end and the hikes are not as intense as earlier on the Camino. She said, the real hikes are now over. My brothers were there who are just getting started. She apologized after she said it, but it offered an interesting perspective. Ronya has walked 750km. My brothers have walked 50km. They have totally different perspectives of the Camino. John and Jeff need to look to the more experienced hikers because we know more about the trail and how to deal with its hardship. The more experienced hikers need to be sensitive to the rookies because they have a different perspective about what a long hike or a hard hike is. The same is true in the spiritual life. We must look to those who are further along the path to give us wisdom. Those further along the path must be sensitive to beginners in the spiritual life as to what they can actually do regarding prayer and fasting. We each have our own path and the most important thing is to take the next step.
A state employee who was trimming trees along the path. I could imagine how easily frustrated he could become doing this job. He had to stop everytime a pilgrim walked by. Yet he had a smile on his face and was tossing people cherries from the branch of a cherry tree he just trimmed. The pilgrims became a blessing. He had a choice to see them as an obstacle delaying the completion of his job or as an opportunity for charity. He threw us some cherries and I knew he’d made the right choice. I hope I can always do the same.
Camino Day 31 - June 15 - O Pesrouzo
I finish the Camino tomorrow. I don’t know how to feel about it. Last week, I thought I would be so excited finish after 30 days of walking. Currently, I am feeling sad as I deal with the reality that I only have one more day of this pilgrimage. It has been so much of a blessing that I do not want it to end. Daytime prayer today said, ‘until I was afflicted I strayed.’ The Lord afflicts us with suffering in order to prevent us from straying. This psalm declares that I need to suffer to help keep me on the right track. The Camino has been a time of suffering and a time of joy. It has put me back on the right path in the little ways in which I had strayed. I don’t like the suffering but I am happy with the blessings that come from it. May the Lord always help me to turn back to Him when I stray. May he give me the grace to thank him for the suffering that puts me back on the right path.
It was an interesting day of walking. We left fairly early and ended up between groups so we had relatively quiet, peaceful walk, which is surprising considering how busy the trail is. We all walked in silence and prayer this morning. This silence was occasionally broken by people who walked while FaceTiming their family. You miss so much on the trail when you’re looking at a screen. These individuals missed the beauty of the trail and the movement of the Spirit in those moments. Am I focusing on one thing so intensely that I miss what the Lord is doing? I just walk right by the blessing he has for me.
Spoke with Susanna from the Netherlands. On her first day she walked over the pyranmes and arrived at the first hostal. They had no room, but told her there was one bed for emergencies. She was in so much pain that she was crying. They gave her the room because they saw she was in so much pain. She called her family and told them she wanted to go home. Her father and brother have both walked the Camino. They told her to persevere. She is so happy that she did. She said this camino was the best experience she’s ever had. She struggled with depression. She has felt so free on this walk. Despite all of the pain and all of the suffering, she says it was completely worth it. I’m emotional even thinking about it. She wanted to quit on day one. Now a month later she claims the Camino is the best experience of her life. I hope I can persevere through pain to experience the blessing the Lord wants to give.
This second psalm from Daytime prayer today said, ‘I am bound by the vows I have made you.’ Too often in society people don’t feel bound by their vows. They get married and think in the back of their mind they can get a divorce if it doesn’t work out. I am bound by the vows I have made. It’s not a perfect analogy but I promised myself I would walk the Camino. I get up and walk each day whether I want to or not. Some days I do and some days I don’t. I just keep walking. I don’t find this to be a burden but a blessing. It is an obligation that binds me but not a burden. I am bound by the vows I have made. My religious vows to God are permanent. I keep living them wether it’s easy or hard. May I have the grace to live them out each and every day.
I had a great conversation with Tony from Australia. He is an art teacher. He has been painting every day of his walk. He wants to have a show of his paintings at a gallery after the Camino. At every stop he sets up his easel and paints the city. I am so fascinated by this concept. I would love to see the Camino through his eyes. Art speaks to the soul. To capture the beauty of this place from the perspective of a pilgrim would be fascination.
My brothers just started the Camino. They are suffering just like I did at the beginning. They have to persevere through pain just like I did. Jeff asked me if I knew people who had serious injuries on the Camino. I talked about ankle sprains and knee problems. Some injuries forced people to quit. Some people powered through others. It had to do with pain tolerance. We are all in pain. Who is willing to get up and keep walking? In life we have to deal with pain: physically, emotionally… we are called to take up our cross each day anyway. Can I tolerate the sufferings of this world and persevere in my Camino?
I saw a man today with a backpack on his back and two bags in his hand. One seemed to have a tent and the other more camping gear. They looked heavy. I couldn’t imagine walking the Camino with two heavy packs in my hands. Sometimes you just have to let go of some things so that you can walk in freedom.
Camino Day 32 - June 16 - Santiago
I can’t believe it’s over. I made it. 500 miles. 800 kilometers. 32 days. It was emotional walking up to the cathedral. When we got to the plaza and saw all the people my mind said it is over. My heart said thank you God. He got me through. I was able to walk the whole path. I am honestly surprised. I thought I would have to take a bus or a taxi one day due to an injury or being sick. God got me through. I am so grateful.
We started our day at 5:30am. We walked in the dark through the woods to start the day, which was a little spooky. We walked for 20km. The only note is that we passed a huge music festival along the way. There were a number of tents set up in fields as we passed by. Seemed like the Woodstock of Rome. We finally walked into Santiago. I was overwhelmed, I didn’t know what to feel as we finally walked into the courtyard. I’ve done nothing but center my day around walking for a month. I don’t have to do that tomorrow. I am a little at a loss. This was a lifetime accomplishment. I’m halfway done with my sabbatical, so there is still a lot of time and a lot the Lord wants to do. At the same time I’ve accomplished the part of the sabbatical I’ve been planning for the most. I’ve been planning and talking to my brother James about this walk for over a year. Now we are done. I must turn the page and take the next step. It will be hard but the Lord has taught me to keep taking the next step. Don’t be worried about tomorrow. Take it one day at a time.
The most emotional part of the day was watching the buntafumora swing at the end of Mass. The botafumeiro is a large thurable that swings across the whole church burning incense. It hangs from the roof of the church. Tradition says that pilgrims arrived and slept in the church in the past. Because they smelled bad the church burned incense to overcome the smell. We got up early because we heard the botafumeiro would swing at the noon mass. We got there at 10 to get good seats and go to confession. I was able to concelebrate. They let me put incense in the botafumeiro. I was right in front of the thurable as it swung across the church and the cantor sang. I was almost in tears seeing the beauty of this tradition and thinking of all those who’ve done this before me. I can’t describe what it was like. I can simply say you should walk the Camino.
It is great talking to my brothers about their experience. All of them now want to do the whole Camino. Walking only part of it gave them a taste of how wonderful it is and they all plan to come back and walk again. Will I walk it again? I’ve asked myself that. I’d love to. I won’t be able take the time off to walk whole thing again for awhile. I’m am clay in the potters hand. We will see what He does.
June 17 - Porto
I met a Catholic girl from south korea today on the bus. She also finished the Camino yesterday. I asked her what God did for her on the Camino. She said she loves who she is now. When she looked at the mirror previously she saw all that was wrong with her physically and emotionally. She no longer sees herself that way. What an incredible blessing. When I look in the mirror what do I see? I see myself better than I did a month again. The Camino changed how I look at myself. I am not the sum of my mistakes and problems.
James and Isabel left today. Tear. John, Jeff, and I went to Porto, Portugal, which is another traditional starting point for people walking the Camino. We saw the cathedral which was baroque. I love all the different architecture. We walked a whole lot more than we intended. Porto is a city built on two cliffs between a river. We walked back and forth over a bridge between the river and up and down the cliffs. Not quite a rest day but we saw a beautiful cathedral and enjoyed our time. It is a tourist city. Hard to be here after the calm and peaceful towns of the Camino.
My brothers had one final insight about the Camino I reflected on today. We have all been to places where we were overwhelmed by grace. The Camino does not overwhelm you with grace. It is a daily drip. I just open myself to the Lord working every day. I hope to continue this openness for the rest of my days.
June 18 - Madrid 1
John, Jeff and I went to Madrid for a couple of days. We visited the cathedral when we arrived then I concelebrated Mass in the crypt. It is hard to describe the beauty of the cathedrals in Europe. Each one is a gem and very few churches in the US compare. The most striking piece of art in the Madrid cathedral is a side altar dedicated to our lady. At the top of the altar is a life size crucifix surrounded by panels with paintings of scenes from the life of Mary. This all surrounds a statue of Mary holding the child Jesus - which is the central piece of art. The contrast of Mary holding the child in her arms while just above her he hangs in the cross was stark. She holds the infant out to the faithful. Offering the innocent child to us, knowing that to embrace Him is also to embrace the cross.
There is also a beautiful marble statue of Jesus laid in the tomb. It’s a striking image because the artist has made it so lifelike. The stone seems alive. Even my hardened heart of stone can become alive when it conforms to Christ.
June 19 - Madrid 2
Went to the Prado art museum in Madrid. A very famous art museum; it is said to be one of the best in Europe. Overall it is a great museum. There are many masterpieces. Unfortunately, it is heavily focused on a few artists and styles so it gets repetitive quickly. We walked through whole sections with nothing really standing out. A few pieces struck me. There was a few painting of st. Antony of the desert being tempted. In one St Anthony prays in the midst of some ruins. A ray from heaven shines upon him. There seems to be a fire raging behind him and in its light you see many demons approaching. In one artist temptation you see the desperation on st Anthony’s face knowing that only God can save him from these foes. In another painting st Anthony remains utterly calm and at peace. The artist has captured the line from psalm 23 that thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil.
There were many paintings of st Jerome, but one in particular struck me. He was kneeling with his arms outstretched contemplating a crucifix laid on the ground before him. It struck me because most of the painting of st. Jerome depicted him holding a rock and beating his chest. He is a model of the early church for a life of penance. One artist captures the true essence of this penance. St. Jerome is attempting to confirm himself to the crucified by contemplating the passion. The Lord revealed to st Faustina that there is more merit in meditating upon the passion for one hour than in beating yourself to the point of blood every day for a year. I tend to look at my faults and beat myself up. God is calling me to look towards the passion and the work that Jesus did instead. I am called to offer thanksgiving to God and seek to conform my life to His.
Velasquez’s crucifixion painting is mesmerizing. I’ve seen it on holy cards dozens of times, but to see it in person really was breathtaking. On the Camino I often tried to take a picture to capture the midst flowing between the mountains. The picture never did justice so what I actually saw. I felt the same looking at that painting of the crucifix. Seeing it in person really did make a difference. We see this with video calling. It just isn’t the same over a screen. We need to see each other face to face.
June 20 - Barcelona 1
It is a small Catholic world. I met Danielle and Amaiah Martinez from St. John Mission in Barcelona. Amaiah was singing in churches throughout Spain with the Phoenix children’s choir. Danielle was chaperoning. We spent a couple of days in Barcelona going to the cathedral and La Sagrada Familia. The cathedral was wonderful. Gothic style The most striking piece of art was a statue to our lady. Her right hand is stretched out and open inviting us to come to her. Her left hand points to her pierced immaculate heart. It an invitation into her suffering heart. She loves each of us and knows that we suffer. She has suffered. She sees us. She sees me. There is also a beautiful crucifix above the high altar. Statues of angels are suspended in the air around the cross keeping vigil around the dead body of Christ. Interesting to contemplate what was happening in the spiritual realm while the Lord was dying on the cross.
June 21 - Barcelona 2
La Sagrada Familia is a must see if you go to Spain. It is a stunning basilica. It was the life’s work of a famous Spanish architect named gaudi. He was highly inspired by nature and sought to create the feeling of a forest on the inside of the church. The inside is fairly bare save these massive columns which branch up to support the 18 massive towers on the church. It is intentionally bare so that the stained glass will reflect light to illuminate the church and flood it with colored light. Though the inside is bare the entrances are spectacular. One focused on the incarnation. The other on the passion. There is an entrance not yet finished that will focus on the glorification of Christ. Each entrance has multiple sets of life size statues each depicting a different scene either from the birth of christ on one side or the death of Christ on the other. We spent all day there and enjoyed every minute.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the Gaudi’s cause for canonization has begun. He lived in the late 1800’s. He was struck by a tram one day. He was thought to be homeless and and was brought to the hospital for the poor. When doctors finally realized who it was they tried to send him to a better hospital. He refused saying that he preferred to die with the poor. Work on the cathedral continues to this day and will be completed in 2026.
June 22 - Lourdes
I've reached the sanctuary of Lourdes. I'm beginning some quiet prayer and reflection. I may post occasionally, but it will not be regular. From here, I will make my way to Assisi for a silent retreat. Pray for me as I pray for you.