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I Am The Vine

I Am The Vine

The day started differently! As I left the Albergue at 5:45 it was just getting light. My goal was to walk 30 Km; my longest distance so far. My first thought - why not get a taxi or bus part of the way? Yes, a temptation! I recognized the temptation and quickly understood that it was not about anyone knowing or not, rather, it was about me knowing and God knowing. Character after all is doing the right thing because it is right regardless of who may or may not see. 

This thought left me feeling like the doldrums; like I was focusing on the destination and not the journey; like I was focusing on the arrival and not on all the good stuff to be experienced while getting there. The prayer this morning was wonderful and the Office and the Morning Prayer of the Church was comforting. It was during the Rosary that it all began to tumble together. 

I was walking through vine country. There were vineyards one after the other for kilometers on end. I passed a modern vine dresser pruning the vine with a tractor and the penny dropped, finally! The biblical text jumped out:

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunessup styl="box-sizing: border-box;" data-fn="#fen-NIV-26702a" data-link="[a]">[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15)

 

Wow! God was pruning me to be more fruitful.  He was helping me to see the thought patterns and actions in my life that are not I keeping with His Gospel standards.  We had an intense and wonderful conversation. At the end of it I said, “Father, prune me! I want to bear more fruit for you and your Kingdom”. 

 

Many times in our journey, we experience the negative in ourselves. If we are patient enough and attentive to the inner stirrings, we will hear the still voice of God inviting us to a new depth.  This is God pruning us so that we will bear fruit in abundance. Embrace the pruning and you will be surprised how much growth it allows and how fertile we become. Pruning comes from reflection on our faults, or through others pointing out imperfections, or from our realization we are not all we thought we were. Anyway, our ego is deflated and we are brought back to the truth - we are a complex mixture of Grace and weakness. But more than this, we are incredibly loved by God. That is why He wants us to remain in Him as He remains in us. Only through pruning can we experience the mystical Union to which we are all invited. 

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Companions on the Journey

Companions on the Journey

Today was a different kind of day. Usually I walk alone in silence and stay focused on the presence of God in all the beauty around. The overwhelming experience is gratitude; for the beauty, the nature, the landscape and the silence.

Today was a different day. During the 27 km that I walked I accompanied several people on the journey. This is interesting as word has gone out that there is a fellow pilgrim who is a Ronan Catholic Bishop. This has given me a unique insight into the pilgrims who accompany me on the way to Santiago. It has also allowed me to understand much more the experience of Jesus in his ministry. 

We read the bible and see the many episodes of Jesus ministering in public. When the gospels are analysed closely what emerges is that Jesus spent more time walking alone with the twelve than he spent in ministry in the towns. Many Gospel passages begin, "On the way"

To accompany people on the Camino is an interesting experience. They walk up to you and walk with you and engage in conversation. The exchange begins and eventually a real question arises and then a deep and profound conversation develops. Here is the trick, you have to be available and open and see the opportunity as a moment of Grace and not as a disruption. This means being attuned to Him while on your journey. 

How many times do people called or barge in and we treat them as disruptions because we have our day all planned and have everything tightly scheduled? Well I have been guilty of this many times. Today as people came, because I have abandoned this time to Him, I recognized the opportunity as one of Grace. 

 

Let us try to see the disruptions of life as opportunities to accompany people for a part of their journey. Many times what people crave the most is someone who can listen deeply and reflect back to them where Grace already exists. We are all invited to accompany others.  Let us be open to see disruptions as Grace.

 

 

 

+ Bishop J

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A Little Wine Gladdens The Heart

A Little Wine Gladdens The Heart

 

 

The sixth day of the Camino has a wonderful surprise. As you leave Estella there are two routes, the one that takes you directly away and an alternative route that takes you to the 'Fountain of Wine’.  You heard it right, a fountain with rich red wine flowing in a public space! It is spoken of by some nearly in mythological terms. So as I left this morning determined to confirm the truth or fiction of the fountain, a few of us stumbled upon it together. There was joy and complete delight as we pushed the leaver and saw red wine flowing in a public fountain. We drank it with delight and were filled with joy and gratitude.  As we were the more adventurous of the pilgrims, we went out of our way to take this route so as to experience one of the true marvels of the Camino.

In the Book of Isaiah (25:6ff), the prophet speaks about the “banquet of the Lord” with plenty of food and rich red wine.  Psalm 104:15 speaks about “wine to gladden the heart”. That was the experience this morning for the many pilgrims who drank from the fountain. Imagine placing a fountain with red wine in a public space and allowing all those who pass to drink as they would like? 

This is to me another image of the discipleship.  We are to be wine fountains in the public space that others may drink from to their delight. Drink the joy of the spirit, drink the joy of life, and drink the exuberance of God. In the ‘Joy of the Gospel’, Pope Francis spoke a lot about joy as a key ingredient for the disciple of our time. If you and I were like village fountains flowing with joy, giving freely to any pilgrim who passed, imagine the impact we could have on the world. 

Remember the first miracle of Jesus was producing an excessive amount of excellent wine. This was the first sign that allowed the disciples to believe He was the Christ. This evening we used this wine for the Eucharist, transforming it and us into the Joy of Christ. 

To be a wine fountain is to be a surprise to the fellow pilgrims as they experience and drink from your joy and are surprised by your generosity in giving joy and gladness to all who pass by. In this joy we give Christ.

 

 

 

 

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The Camino: Building Bridges

The Camino: Building Bridges

 

 

This morning leaving Puente la Reina I saw this image of the old medieval bridge lit by the rising sun, and it hit me - this is what the Camino is like. It creates connections between seemingly opposites, it captures the light and reflects beauty making it more glorious.

Every day a couple hundred people begin the Camino. They come from all walks of life, all ages, nationalities, beliefs and educational backgrounds. Somehow these people all find a way to relate and be helpful to each other and walk the way of St. James. 

There are young people who mix and hang out with old; people of different nationalities create communities and bond together. Why is it that on pilgrimage we can come together with one common purpose? Why is it that in the real world we seem to create gulfs rather than build bridges?

One thing I believe is that the identity of pilgrimage is such a powerful experience that it blurs all other identities as secondary. Those who began at St. Jean Pied du Port together have run into each other countless times. We now recognize each other and know the names of many. We are pilgrims, we live in Albergue's where we share dorms, bathrooms, dining rooms and we walk together. Five days into the Camino and we recognize and look out for each other. 

 

The Camino asks a question about the quality of community we build in church. Is this your experience of your parish? Or for that matter your family? So often we create divides between black and white, rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated. We see the external of each parishioner rather than the essential identity of discipleship. If we saw others as disciples first and then saw all other identities as secondary, it may help us to build intentional communities of equals. 

St. Paul, in Gal 3:28 says, In Christ Jesus there is no Greek, no Gentile, no man, no woman, no free, no slave.  Many believe this was a Baptismal formula. It was a primary identity for people entering into the community of Jesus. The early Christians, like the community of the Camino lived as a real community of equals sharing what they had to assist each other. We have lost this experience of community, not just in our churches, but also in our families, our villages and our communities.

What is interesting is that people, who have grown up with all these divisions in their lives, when they come to the Camino, learn to build bridges between all the divisions. 

 

If we want to make the inner pilgrimage let us commit to build bridges and see each other as disciples first and as such brothers and sisters created with incredible dignity specially loved by God. Let us be intentional in our families and parishes to build real communities of equals.

 

                                              

 

+Bishop J

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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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