Do we walk this Pilgrimage of life alone? Or perhaps alone with God? On the Camino in Spain, I frequently hear young and old people say “Well, everyone has his own Camino!” Indeed, St. John Paul II said that each person is a particular image and likeness of God. So, yes—that means everyone’s pilgrimage through life is equally particularized and beautiful. But I think the phrase “Everyone has his own Camino” would have confused JPII a little since he came from a tight-knit Polish family and group of friends, seminarians…notwithstanding the tremendous loss he suffered.
Furthermore, that phrase would have never been heard on this Spanish pilgrimage 800 years ago. Why? Because they always went in communities and families. This Protestant-individualization of walking through life “Me and Jesus” is actually relatively new. Even in the early Church writings I see the Church mentioned as much as Christ was mentioned.
I’ve made some serious mistakes of thinking I could walk through my priesthood in lone-ranger mode. For example, I was betrayed by a brother priest. When people found this out, he quickly ascribed his own decision to his superiors, and later to his subordinates. I had no defense system against these lies because I didn’t control the communications. I wimped out in self-defense.
But my bigger mistake was having jumped-in alone years ago. St. Thomas Aquinas defines pride as biting off more than you can chew. This was exactly my sin in waiting so long to join a community that believes the same things as I do, which I’m finally seeking.
Archbishop Chaput would always say, “Your faith is personal, but never private.” So also, everything on this Camino of Life remains communal—personalized but not private. I now want to live a public witness of faith—not just helping others—but in need of others I can trust, too. This I have learned, being sick on pilgrimage.
Yes, even the disciples were sent out only two by two.
In Luke 24, Jesus is found walking the way to Emmaus not with one, but with two “Cleopine” disciples. There is a particularization to each person’s “Life-Pilgrimage,” indeed—but never a total isolation…not even for those called to the hermetic life. (Hermits must be those who live in the deepest communion with the Church triumphant, militant, and suffering.)
This communal aspect of our “Life-Pilgrimage” is seen in the painting above, Road to Emmaus, by Jan Wildens. Notice that Cleopas is not walking with Jesus alone. It is three of them, just as in Luke 24. Some believe Cleopas’ fellow disciple of the Lord was Cleopas’ wife!
In any case, Emmaus starts this way: Christ is already risen from the dead, but the couple is in a state of despondency. Christ reveals Himself and their hearts burn. They long…but only later are they completed in Him.
One of the strangest lines in the account is when Jesus “acted as if He were going farther, but they urged Him strongly, saying, ´Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.´” (Lk 24:28-29) Why did Jesus act as if He were going to keep going? I haven´t read the Church Fathers on this, but I’ll give my own guess:
He could go far beyond us. He could leave us in the dust, but He chooses to remain in the Eucharist and in the saints to walk this path with us. He shows us we have to wait for others.
Jesus shows the apostles the means not to stop suffering, but to suffer well when He sends the Holy Ghost. He promises to walk with them, not to give them all the answers about why they “have here no lasting city.” (Hb 13:14) Since mankind’s fall out of paradise, it never was meant to be lasting, anyway.
This is why St. Peter reminds us strangers and sojourners that we shouldn´t get attached to a titillating, crumbling city on earth: “Beloved, I urge you, as sojourners and exiles, to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul…Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (1 Pt 2:11,21.)
That word steps is so important for pilgrimage theology. The avoidance of illicit pleasures isn’t just extinguishing desire, à la Buddhism, so our hopes for more, say, chocolate don’t go unfulfilled. Rather, it’s about the simple avoidance to attachment to Babylon when the Heavenly Jerusalem awaits. Yes, have children in Babylon! Enjoy the fruit of the land! But Jerusalem, not Babylon, is your home.
To launch from Babylon to Jerusalem, we ironically need to go about it with friends—despite the danger of attachments to unhealthy friendships. Yes, we must walk it with Christ and others in order to not become attached to the sweet, ephemeral, glittery rivers of Babylon (read: Madison Ave., or our own egos.)
What is this Heavenly Jerusalem? That will be part 5…A few more steps before we make it there (scheduled for our arrival in Santiago.)
This is a series not on my current pilgrimage, but on the Theology of Pilgrimage. A priest-friend from Denver once said to me: “Pilgrimage isn’t just another analogy for the Christian life. Pilgrimage is the reality of the Christian life.” That may not sound too profound at first, but the more I meditated on the Old and New Testament, the more I realized that every book of the Bible fulfilled these words. It is no wonder that he had walked the Camino a few times.
I’m in Spain now, but when I wrote this post, I was flying from India to Spain. Flying over the Red Sea, I look at the computer map of our location and I notice we’re directly south of the spot where Moses miraculously crossed with half a million Hebrews.
That was 3300 years ago. As I look through the plane window, I see the most majestic, mysteriously-straight clouds lighly separating me from the greatest Old Testament miracle. I can even see the shores of the sea that God miraculously parted at the lifting of the hands of Moses…and then closed upon the armies of Egypt.
So, I have to wonder: Why did God have the Israelites wander in the desert for so long before getting them to the promised land? Of course, Scripture is clear it was a punishment for rebellion. But there was also something to be learned within the pilgrimage: It was to divest Israel from treating Adonai like another addictive-idol.
The book Grace and Addiction, although written by a non-Catholic, has an important commentary about loving God in freedom:
Full and freely chosen love for God requires searching and groping. What would happen to our freedom if God, our perfect lover, were to appear before us with such objective clarity that all our doubts disappeared? We would experience a kind of love, to be sure, but it would be love like a reflex. Almost without thought, we would fix all our desires upon this Divine Object, try to grasp and possess it, addict ourselves to it. I think God refuses to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction. Love born of true freedom, love free from attachment, requires that we search for a deepening awareness of God, just as God freely reaches out to us.—Grace and Addiction by Gerald May, p. 94
This is the theology of pilgrimage: What it takes people of every vocation to die in sanctifying grace so as to experience the beatific vision. It’s not all pain, but we’re going to see how detachment is God’s surgery in our life to remove idols of comfort so that He can have us behold Him forever.
In the next sections released on Saturdays (if I can find hostels with computers so as to write posts as I trek across Spain) we’re going to explore this detachment, this journey and the final destination.
I got debilitated by some Indian food poisoning, so I let Ryan start the Camino without me. I got some good time in adoration in Pamplona. Let me be clear: I love seeing people of all backgrounds and ages in adoration. No one who claims to be pro-life should even begin to bothered by crying babies in adoration chapels. At the other end of the spectrum, let me say that I love seeing the more “mature” generation in adoration, too. However, someone needs to tell them how not to use a cell phone before the Blessed Sacrament. Who will do it? Ok. I will do it in a top ten countdown:
10) You don’t have to go running out of the chapel to answer your cell phone. Voicemail comes free with every plan.
9) Vibrate is not off. Vibrate is not off. Vibrate is not off.
8) If you actually expect phone calls (yes, assuming you’re going to run and answer them) please don’t put your phone at the bottom of your purse.
7) If you’re actually expecting an emergency to the point that the world won’t continue without you answering your cell phone in adoration, then that’s okay. Short of that, please turn it totally off, not vibrate, not airplane mode. This is an exercise in humility for arrogant people like me to remind ourselves that no one needs me as much as I need Jesus in adoration. If your daughter really needs you, she’ll leave you a voicemail without considering if she should leave the family, just because you didn’t pick up.
6) If you plan on your phone ringing in adoration, please pick a different tune than circus music. This happened with an older woman in an adoration chapel in Pamplona today, so I realized this isn’t an American-only-problem.
5) Two accidental phone calls in the same adoration session is probably a sign you shouldn’t own a cell phone. This too happened with the circus-woman in Pamplona today.
4) If you’re actually going to adoration in order to screen calls, although this approach is ridiculous, here’s some concessionary advice: Please figure out the button needed to reject a call. That’s better than panicking, answering it, and immediately hanging up on the caller.
3) Whatever you do, do not answer your cell phone in adoration, whispering “HELLO!?” into your phone. This does not help anyone, in the chapel or on the other line. Adoration is a special place, different from all the rest. How different? I once heard an older man in adoration clipping off his fingernails. I looked. He was actually using metal toenail clippers right before exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I turned and asked if he could please attend to his personal hygiene at home. True story.
2) If you must have throat lozenges to talk on your cell phone, fine, but could the candy wait until home? There are children in there you’re supposed to be setting the example for.
1) If you can’t remember any of these, here´s the best part: Just don’t bring your cell phone into the adoration chapel.