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The Hardest Way Is Always the Best

The Hardest Way Is Always the Best

The third day of the Camino is much easier.  The big mountains are now behind and there are gentle slopes up and down for the whole journey of 23km. Around half way there was a sign pointing to a Church up a hill, about a 200 m steep rise, or you could continue along the low road to Pamplona. All the sign said was that the church was open. I looked up and it was indeed a climb to get there. I chose the harder way and visited the church of St. Stephen, the first martyr, which is situated in Esteribar. 

There to greet pilgrims were the friendliest nuns who were bursting with joy and enthusiasm. They had documents prepared on the history of the church and a Pilgrim Beatitude, which is a great reflection. The one who spoke English encouraged pilgrims to go up to the tower and ring the bell. What a great experience! 

I sat in the church and thanked God for these elderly joyful religious sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart. As I sat to pray they turned on sacred chants and ensured that the place was quiet when other pilgrims came. I prayed and it was like touching heaven while on earth. The joy, the witness of their lives, the availability, the willingness to serve all, evoked images of the heavenly banquet. 

I could easily have chosen to taken the easy road and not climb another hill with sore bones and muscles hurting. Who needed one more hill? But I would have missed out on a surprise of pure joy. As I pondered on the experience I remembered the scripture passage; "Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" LK 13:24  I also remembered the poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken – “Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by…  And that has made all the difference.” 

How often along Life's pilgrimage do we choose the easy way out and are surprised that we get little or nothing out of life? Jesus’ teaching on choosing the harder way should be an inspiration for us on life's pilgrimage. The joy of the sisters was a witness to a life of choices of the road less traveled - the harder way. Their humble service and human touch showed people of deep character.

 

 

The next time you have a choice of two paths, choose the harder path and see what surprise awaits you there. As one pilgrim said to me on leaving the church "The harder path is always the better choice".

 

 

 

+ Bishop J

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Come Let Us Climb The Mountain Of The Lord

Come Let Us Climb The Mountain Of The Lord

 

This morning I was listening to Morning Prayer as I was walking out of Pamplona. This is my fourth day on Camino and I suppose I was having Monday morning blues; just not up and bright and ready to rock and roll. On top of that it was raining so I was trying to keep me and my backpack dry while walking. Maybe ‘under the weather’ is a better description. 

As I was praying Morning Prayer the antiphonal for the third psalm was "Come let us climb the mountain of the Lord." As I heard the Antiphon, I looked up and there it was - the mountain I had to climb today.  It was there, large as life! My whole disposition changed. I began kissing the ground with my feet as opposed to stomping. 

The whole text is:  “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”  What a text! What timing. The very moment I was about to ascend the text came and it changed everything. With Joy I ascended the mountain of the Lord. With a song in my heart I climbed. I wanted to go to God's house, to be instructed in his ways, that I may learn to walk in His paths. 

This is the power of God's Word in the liturgy. It speaks every day! But when we are in particular need it speaks directly. This morning the word spoke directly.  There were two reasons to climb; (1) That He may instruct us in His ways and (2) That we may walk in His paths. One cannot happen without the other. As we climb we are instructed by our sacrifice, our pain, being pushed to the limit, the recognition that life does not revolve around me! The climb is itself an instruction because we are being configured to Christ.  Romans 5:3 says; “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.”  Now that was my experience this morning. So, let us climb up the mountain of the lord!

What does this mean in the inner Pilgrimage? Making time and space for God to be God! Setting time to listen to his word, going to church with an expectation of encountering God! It means making scripture central in our lives and hearing it as God's word in this situation. 

 

The mountain in scripture is the place of encounter between God and His people; Abraham and Isaac, Moses, Elijah, Jesus all encountered God on mountains. We too can encounter Christ on the mountain. The Eucharist is the re-enactment of the crucifixion that happened on a mountain. The end of the text is most instructive - “That we may walk in his paths!”  This is the Camino, the (inner) pilgrimage we all desire to make to walk in His paths. So come with me on this pilgrimage. He is a God of surprises. Look what was waiting for me on top the mountain I climbed! 

 

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Your Life is in a bag

Your Life is in a bag

Have you ever noticed how many possessions we accumulate? We always need something in case of, 0r because we saw so and so with it, or because it was a good idea or on sale…  When you are on pilgrimage your life is in a bag. 

 

For 30 days on the road walking on average 25Km per day all you need has to fit in one bag – a bag that you carry on your back for the full 780 km journey. This definitely brings perspective and clarity.

 

I packed four times, taking everything out and putting it back again leaving out things on each packing. The bag got progressively lighter, but still not light enough. There are some who claim to keep their bag to 7 Kg. This is a task I cannot do. I left with a bag weighing 9 KG and that is without water which is essential and weighs an extra 2-3 kg. 

After walking with the backpack the first day, up and down hills, I realized that some things needed to go. Now a different kind of focus emerged- what I would like to have vs what I absolutely need. You see, you need to feel the pain in order to lighten the load.

When I was a scout I was taught two rules:  (1) Be prepared and (2) When on camp, be portable - the patrol must be able to walk with what they carry. These two go in very opposite directions. Portability requires minimal packing; preparedness requires ensuring you have things for every eventuality. We tend to go with being prepared. 

In life what do we really need to live?  I have come down to three sets of clothing - one always on, sleeping gear, towel, slippers, essential medication and water, a bivi,  a mass kit, and an iPhone for maps, guide books and communication for thirty days! This can still be reduced if necessary. The bivi is 7 Kg for sleeping outdoors. If I get stuck, this can go! The mass kit is 1 Kg but it cannot go. This evening I celebrate mass in the Alburgue with another priest and some Catholics who were overjoyed to have mass. This joy lightens the load. This is essential equipment. It is my life, so it is in the bag. Deciding what to dispose and what to keep is about life values.

When on the pilgrimage of life we accumulate because of the fear of “what if?”  Also, because of desire – “I like that”.  Because we have space to fit things we keep accumulating and not weeding out stuff. Have you ever tried to check in for an airline and your bag was too heavy? They make you pay. When you reach the pearly gates if you carry too much load what you think will happen? 

Detachment is an essential skill for anyone on the inner pilgrimage, just as it is for those on the Camino de Santiago. What is in your bag? What useless stuff are you toting around? When last have you gone through your wardrobe and given away clothes to the poor? Or given furniture or paintings or ornaments away? When we clutter, weclutter our minds and our hearts also. We leave little space for God and others especially those who do not have much. Ask what is essential to your life then choose what stays and what goes. 

What is in your bag? What is in your heart? Let us get rid of all the useless things  and all the destructive things - Pride, resentment, anger, jealously, un-forgiveness  etc. Let us fill our hearts with the essentials – love, joy, peace, laughter - everything that is essential to reach God.

Can we examine again what is in our bag? Clear our houses, our offices and our hearts ensuring that there is room in the inn for Jesus. This too is a demand of pilgrimage. Let us journey lightly together to His Kingdom. 

 

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BE MERCIFUL AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS MERCIFUL

BE MERCIFUL AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS MERCIFUL

Why do we have to punish people? Why do we put people in prison? One obvious reason is to deter people from committing crimes. If a person’s conscience does not stop him stealing, perhaps the threat of imprisonment will stop him. Another reason could be to help the criminal himself: prison life should be so constructed that when a man is released he is a better person than when he was sentenced.  

 

But too often our motive is one of revenge. "Let him get what he deserves!" or "Eventually he’ll walk free, but my daughter is still suffering from what he did."   There's something instinctive in us to want to hurt people who have done wrong.

 

I read recently of an army general, a wonderful man greatly respected by everyone, who secretly had an affair with a beautiful young married woman and she became pregnant.   To avoid scandal he arranged for her husband, who was a soldier serving abroad, to be sent home on leave, so that when the pregnancy was revealed it would be presumed that he had fathered the child when on leave.  But the fighting was so fierce that the young soldier felt he could not abandon his mates at that point and turned down the chance of going on leave.  Afraid of the possible scandal the general then arranged for him to be sent on a particularly dangerous mission and he was killed.  The general later married the young widow.

When the truth came out, what would your reaction be?  

 

The general was, of course, King David in the Bible – and his reaction when he heard such a story (not realising that it was about himself) was the same as ours, "The man who did this deserves to die, for doing such a thing and showing no compassion."      Revenge!  Make him pay!

 

If only we could learn from the response of God, who says:

Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

 

Why do we want to punish people?

 

 

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Let Your Feet Kiss the Ground1

Let Your Feet Kiss the Ground1

The first day of the Camino Santiago is the hardest. The ancient trail rises 1200 m over 17km then drops 350 M in 4.5KM. This is grueling and you have 12 kg of backpack all the way most of it walked in fog.

 

 

If a pilgrimage is putting one foot in front of another in the right direction. The question of our attitude and disposition is important. In one of the pilgrim hostels (Albergue's) a sign said; "Let your feet kiss the ground". This is wonderful. It speaks to the disposition of the pilgrim. The touch between the road and our feet needs to be one of tender love or caressing. Today I did 25.11KM with 42,181 steps. That is a lot  of kissing and caressing. 

 

Romans 10:15 says: "And how could anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News". To Christ our feet are beautiful when we are stepping towards him as a disciple.

 

A pilgrimage is another way of speaking about discipleship, which at its heart should be a torrid love relationship with Christ. 42,181 kisses a day is a joke to the number of times Christ makes contact with us offering us Grace and love. What is our Response? A kiss,  pout or an outright rejection? 

 

      

 

 

 

If the voice of conscience is the voice of God the contact between Christ and us is enormous. What if contact was a kiss, a complete acceptance of his intimate love. That is discipleship, that is the inner pilgrimage to which we are all called. Just keep stepping! Keep kissing! Always accept his touch!

 

 

 

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