The Power of the Rosary. October 28, 2016

Praying the rosary has been a powerful experience of prayer for me on this Camino. In the dark, cold morning as I hit the trail, I make the sign of the cross and start praying the rosary. The five joyful mysteries start my immersion in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. And the mysteries of JOY, LIGHT, SORROW and GLORY,  and all the Hail Mary’s,  create a beautiful blanket of prayer that surrounds me as I walk. So many of your names, families, petitions and hopes surface, giving color and texture to this  Spiritual blanket. 

I don’t use the rosary beads because both hands are grasping the hiking poles, without which I could not make this journey. And so, I just keep repeating the Hail Mary’s, creating  a mantra that slowly opens my heart to the mercy of Christ’s love for us. Learn the rosary as one way of praying amidst of many other forms and methods. What’s wonderful about the rosary is you don’t need a book, nor do you need any training or formation. You learn it by doing it. And their is NO correct way to pray the rosary, all you need is to memorize the Our Father and Hail Mary. If you can’t remember the mysteries, no problem…Mary doesn’t care, and most certainly, Christ doesn’t either. Just think of a moment in Christ’s life and pray over that event or “mystery.”  

I have expanded the Sorrowful mysteries to include Jesus standing before Pílate; Jesus in front of the crowds as He hears the name “barrabas” being shouted; Jesus waiting alone in the “holding room” before he receives the cross. These have enriched my prayer of the rosary. Most often, I don’t think about any particular mystery, I simply keep repeating the words as a mantra that allows God to inspire me  in ways known only to God. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

Relentless Day on Camino. October 26, 2016

The weather today was spectacular, the scenery was beyond belief, but the physical hardship of  the walk was absolutely relentless. The road just kept going higher and higher and the rocks and bolders that made up most of the path made walking treacherous. This was a hard day for everyone on the  Camino…it never seemed to end. 

Within this journey I learned about the life journeys of several of my pilgrim walkers. Their pain and anxiety were much like the road, seemingly endless and tiresome, just like the physical terrain. How much this journey is a metaphor for life, symbolizing the often unchosen suffering that just appears in one’s life, like a large stretch of bolders on the Camino. You can’t avoid them, at least not for long. Losing a loved one, seeing a child face illness or addiction, ending a marriage, not finding the right person, losing a job or hating one’s current job…loneliness… these are the many realities that make the road rough and the journey tiresome. 

The Camino teaches to live in the present, accept the help that comes your way and it will, LET GO of plans that won’t work or relationships that don’t bring life, surrender to God and faith. These last two realities are rarely spoken about on this Camino, which is gradually being transformed into a walk with a purpose of finding one’s self. Religion, pilgrimage, Eucharist, Christ, community rooted in a common prayer…these are losing significance, which is ever so sad, in my opinion. When I asked about the religious value of the Camino during a conversation in the albergue,  a wonderful pilgrim from Spain said quite openly, that the Camino was no longer religious,  it was just “spiritual” for each individual pilgrim….or walker. I’m not even sure what being “spiritual” means, perhaps believing in some form of God or believing something on my own terms and with no defined teaching or doctrine. If it feels right to me and speaks a truth grounded in something outside of myself, I guess that is being “spiritual.” 

And so, the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago is being transformed from an infrastructure created by Catholicism to a modern infrastructure created by UNESCO. All religions welcomed or no religions, it just doesn’t matter, as long as one respects whatever anyone else believes or not believes. Religion and spirituality need to be personal and very private. The Camino is clearly reflecting this new, secular attitude. 

As I celebrated the Mass at the Cruz de Ferro, many people speaking Spanish clearly saw me celebrating a Mass but acted as if nothing special were going on. Their laughter and photo taking went on as I prayed the ancient prayer of the Eucharist with a wonderful fellow pilgrim. No big deal. After the Mass, I began talking and laughing with those around us, until a young woman approached and very politely asked us for silence as she was trying to pray. I was moved, and a bit embarrassed, by her sincere request. Four years ago when I prayed the Mass at this very spot, there was a certain solemnity in the atmosphere. Strangers paused and even prayed along, regardless of the language. 

As I continue, the Camino will always be, for me, a pilgrimage,  not primarily about meeting people and making friends, but about creating community with people of faith rooted in Christ, on a journey of faith. Of course, ALL are welcome, all or no religion, every race and culture and language can find expression on the Camino, for God loved  ALL. Of course. 

But I have a need to connect with people who share the same faith, the same basic understanding of church, the same ritual of worship and symbols that are revered and venerated by those who choose to commit to this community of the church. Most people don’t need or like or want any relationship with any organized religion. I do…which makes the journey, on and off the Camino, quite lonely. But Christ never promised it would be easy. And so I continue on the journey, facing rough  terrain and endless road blocks, with those who also choose to embrace a religious community rooted in thousands of years of history,  culture and faith openly expressed in ways respectful. The journey is important, but so is the destination: the beautiful cathedral, venerating the bones of St James with people who truly believe in the power of the Eucharist and the importance of Tradition. 

 Buen camino. Fr. Frank 

Brief Pauses. October 25, 2016

Walking such long distances as the Camino demands, it is essential to stop and pause to find inner strength through a café con leche, muy caliente, por favor! The pilgrim finds ability to pause through the many “bars”that appear just around the bend. One brief,  wonderful pause can completely change the mood of the long haul that can weary the soul and tire the body. A small,  not too obvious “bar,” the name given to these rest stops I call an OASIS, appear,  to put a smile on the pilgrim who exhales a sigh of relief. They rarely have a name, just, BAR. 

Jesus compares His Kingfom to a tiny mustard seed or a pinch of yeast. It’s the small things in life that truly matter. The Kingdom is like a small “bar” on the Camino that can strengthen and fortify thousands of pilgrims with a cafe con leche and a slice of tortilla. Without these rest stops, the pilgrim could never make it unless the backpack is filled with food and drink for the journey…weighing down the already too heavy pack. 

I little bit of yeast helps to create a large loaf; a tiny mustard become a huge bush or tree to give comfort to the birds and shade for the traveler. A little bar on the Camino helps to create a THRONG of humanity, give drink and food to whoever enters. These little establishments embrace any human soul,  being places of many cultures, languages and races. These little “bars” provide physical and human nourishment to bind together the pilgrims, transforming them into ONE family, if only for a brief moment in time. The Kingdom is built and strengthened by small, hidden  acts of kindness. Small pauses in small “bars” make all the difference in the world. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

Being Inclusive. October 24, 2016

Last night’s dinner was in a wonderful albergue in a tiny village near Astorga. It was a feast of the nations, of FOUR continents, people gathered around a simple, delicious feast. Everyone was included, and seemed to actually feel included, amidst multiple languages, accents, skin colors and ages. Including people and being “inclusive” is an attitude all seem to welcome and support. But how inclusive are we towards those with whom we disagree? How inclusive are we when it comes to those people who have different political leanings or who worship differently? How inclusive and welcoming  can our church be with those who disagree, but still remain true to her teachings?

Being inclusive doesn’t mean letting go of one’s values and core beliefs,  so as not to offend the other person. I think being inclusive means respecting  the person with whom we are at odds…listening to them and trying to find common ground. HOW we express our divergent views and opinions is key to being inclusive in a way that doesn’t compromise our values, nor demean the humanity of the other. 

The Pharisee in the parable of the two who went into the Temple to pray was clearly not being inclusive. Yes, he was righteous and observed the Law; he followed the traditions of his religion and he no doubt loved God. So far, so good. However, within that Temple, he SEPARATED himself from the tax collector,  also praying at the same time and in the same worship space. But their hearts were far apart…

The Pharisee couldn’t see himself as a part of sinful humanity because his spirit was inflated with pride and hypocrisy. He EXCLUDED the tax collector because he couldn’t embrace this “sinner’s” humanity. The Pharisee was actually denying his own humanity by failing to see himself as INCLUDED in the truth that we ALL are sinful and need healing. 

Two men went into the Temple to pray… only one left truly righteous and INCLUDED in the great sea of humanity. The Pharisee excluding himself from humanity, but he was nonetheless included in God’s love. Only God can be exclusively inclusive. 

Being Inclusive. October 24, 2016

Last night’s dinner was in a wonderful albergue in a tiny village near Astorga. It was a feast of the nations, of FOUR continents, people gathered around a simple, delicious feast. Everyone was included, and seemed to actually feel included, amidst multiple languages, accents, skin colors and ages. Including people and being “inclusive” is an attitude all seem to welcome and support. But how inclusive are we towards those with whom we disagree? How inclusive are we when it comes to those people who have different political leanings or who worship differently? How inclusive and welcoming  can our church be with those who disagree, but still remain true to her teachings?

Being inclusive doesn’t mean letting go of one’s values and core beliefs,  so as not to offend the other person. I think being inclusive means respecting  the person with whom we are at odds…listening to them and trying to find common ground. HOW we express our divergent views and opinions is key to being inclusive in a way that doesn’t compromise our values, nor demean the humanity of the other. 

The Pharisee in the parable of the two who went into the Temple to pray was clearly not being inclusive. Yes, he was righteous and observed the Law; he followed the traditions of his religion and he no doubt loved God. So far, so good. However, within that Temple, he SEPARATED himself from the tax collector,  also praying at the same time and in the same worship space. But their hearts were far apart…

The Pharisee couldn’t see himself as a part of sinful humanity because his spirit was inflated with pride and hypocrisy. He EXCLUDED the tax collector because he couldn’t embrace this “sinner’s” humanity. The Pharisee was actually denying his own humanity by failing to see himself as INCLUDED in the truth that we ALL are sinful and need healing. 

Two men went into the Temple to pray… only one left truly righteous and INCLUDED in the great sea of humanity. The Pharisee excluding himself from humanity, but he was nonetheless included in God’s love. Only God can be exclusively inclusive. 

Patience With the Fig Tree. October 22, 2016

One of the treats in walking through northern Spain is the ability to walk through vineyards, orchards of almond trees, the olive trees, and my favorite, the fig trees! I never knew fig trees grew along the Camino until one of the pilgrims pointed them out to me. But the figs weren’t ripe and these trees seemed to need water and care. 

Today’s gospel tells the parable of the fig tree in the orchard that had no fruit. The owner of the orchard wants to cut it down, but the gardener urges patience. Let the gardener have his way and try to bring life to the tree so that it CAN bear fruit. What a beautiful lesson for us all:

God has patience in our own lives, for oftentimes we are like that fig tree and bear little or no fruit. Why? Our own selfishness and indifference to the Life that IS within us…God, the beautiful Gardener tending the soil of our hearts. God is tilling away, trying to unearth the tangles of weeds and thorns we sow through our sins. God is patient with us; we need to be patient with ourselves. The first metaphor of God in scripture is GARDENER, and the brokenness of humanity begins in a garden. The image of the garden is vital in scripture: Eden in genesis and Gethsemene in the gospels. At the empty tomb, a “gardener ” is present…Jesus?? 

The Waters of the Spirit are waiting patiently for us to release them, settting them free…setting the waters  of the Spirit free to water seeds of kindness, mercy, peace, JOY, and yes, patience in the garden of our souls. Talk about baring good fruit!!! Could I go for a magnificent cucidati, the Italian cookie  filled with fresh, juicy figs!! Maybe  I’ll make them this Christmas with all those cannolis I never made! I need to start baring fruit!

Buen camino. Fr frank. 

Mother of Sorrows. October 21, 2016

I’m sitting in a quiet chapel in the cathedral of Leon, praying before a powerful image of Mary, holding the dead body of her Son on her lap. Her anguish speaks of a mother remembering when she bounced her son Jesus on this same lap. How he laughed and giggled as only a child can. Her memory carried her to other moments etched in her subconscious, but now surfacing into new, resplendent life. 

Jesus, lost in the Temple as he dialogues with the Scribes; preaching in the synagogue, opening the Book of the prophet Isaiah reading words of fulfillment….how angry the people got; first signs of rejection piercing Mary’s heart, just as Simeon predicted; the miracles of healing; multiplication of loaves and fish; telling stories that further angered the leaders;  selling and sending disciples; healing  Mary Magdalene; opening his heart to outcasts and sinners and breakers of the Law; the rejection grew and grew, as did Mary’s anguish; the trial and shouts of Barabbas; the Cross on His shoulders…His body shattered; the Encounter on the Way to Calvary with one last kiss; nailed to the Cross naked, as He came into the world in the stable of Bethlehem; the Cry to the Father begging forgiveness,  ring thirsty, feeling abandoned, carrying for Mary, giving her as Mother to ALL: His last parting gift before surrendering His Spirit; and he breathed His last…

Mary held this tortured body, weeping as these released memories created a portrait of the Artist known as God. Mary did the hardest thing a mother can do: let go!! And she did, giving Him back to the Father Who would breath Spirit life into the God man Jesus vanquishing death and its finality. 

Love wins out…life wins out…for Him…for US…Buen Camino. Fr. Frank

Interpreting the Signs of the Times. October 21, 2016

Those who love Jesus know exactly why: He knows the human situation and predicament oh so well. He says in the gospel that we can observe various physical  realities that can be seen or measured, like the direction of the wind and the formation of the clouds, and make predictions. We easily see the signs of the earth but so easily MISS the signs of the times and the seasons of the heart. The weather is a huge preoccupation for us: the huge weather pages in the papers, the length televised predictions of the weather, Tom Skilling, the weather guru and tech nerd; we can observe and make predictions about the environment based on ocean temps, rising sea levels, the extremes of weather and the ozone level. Yes, but do we SEE the “signs of the times?”

Clearly, Jesus seems to think that we miss these signs, or better yet, are blind to them. We have so much to be grateful for: technology, advances in medicine, material comfort, freedoms, education , and the list goes on. But there is a growing unease in our world and a growing loneliness because people are losing community and human warmth. 

We need each other, we need to see and feel each other much more readily than we see the signs of the earth and atmosphere. Why can’t we see the connection between the growing violence,  brokenness and our alienated spirits thirsting for human companionship? The violence on the streets is connected to the violent rhetoric on display for all to hear, the many clandestine drone attacks in countries we rarely  think about, the gun industry, domestic violence, poverty and injustice, human rights violations, abortion. ALL violence, physical AND spoken ( words can be violent) is a complex web of expressions that divide and crush the human spirit. 

In SEEING these signs, we are not to become discouraged,  or worse, defeated because the answer lies within each of our hearts. God plants seeds of grace,  waiting to take root and burst into life, within each our hearts.NO HUMAN BEING IS LEFT UNTOUCHED OR UNLOVED BY GOD, Who is a powerful presence within the heart. It is this PRESENCE that compels us to respond to these difficult “signs of the times,” in prayer…quiet, deliberate, tranquil prayer. Peace within the heart is the only antidote to these troubling times. It is this peace, a peace only God can give, that begins to build bridges between peoples, softens the tongue, SEES other solutions to our difficulties than endless, violent actions. 

Our laws and government can help, but what is ultimately needed is a change within each of our hearts: conversion to a new vision. All the legislation in the world will never be and can never be the bottom-line solution, only changed hearts. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank 

Christ Recrucified. October 20, 2016

On the Camino, I’m rereading a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis called “Christ Recrucified,”‘about a poor, Greek village that dramatizes the Passion during Holy Week every seven years. The novel tells the story of one particular enactment, in which the people who portrayed the various roles, gradually became their  character in the political reality of Greece in the 1920’s. The Passion of Christ can never be enacted, particularly during Holy Week, but must be lived. And all the political and religious machinations and hypocrisy are in painful relief throughout the story, giving credence to the old adage, ” Sone things never change.” The main character, Manolios, is killed by his own people…Christians no less…for trying to reach out to a group of REFUGEES, who also happen to be Christians living in a decimated nearby village! These “foreigners” were  singled out by the religious authorities of the village to reject them out of FEAR that they might bring disease and rupture their comfortable, established patterns of living. They were specifically called, “refugees.”  

Fear is the greatest weapon used by those who have authority and the power that frequently comes with that authority. This “fear” is weilded to unify the masses in a cause to prevent change from occurring. The main religious authority of the village was threatened by the religious leader of these “refugees,” fellow Orthodox Christians, who was truly a living witness to the gospel. He was poor and humble, a lethal concoction of virtue for the one who is jealous and pompous. I’m reading this with amazement at how this morality tale speaks so clearly to events today. 

Christ was “re crucified” in Manolios’ laying down his life through a violent execution. The Passion, the crucifixion of Christ,only happened once as THE event of Redemption, but it is extended in the violent deaths of the poor and those with no power. The humanity of Christ crucified becomes manifested in the humanity of those who suffer injustice in its many forms. The denial of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, the love of Mary Magdalene, possessed by evil spirits, the deep loyal love of John, the fearful flight of the disciples and their silence…are all on trial in our own humanity. We live the Passsion in our own humanities, making us participants and NOT observers. We play our own “part” in this main Act which will go on until Christ returns. 

The Resurrection will be the eternal Final Act which never ends but keeps playing on in endless love. In the meantime,we must become more like the religious leader of those refugee Christians: humble, simple, poor.  Christ calls us to play our own part in the gospel drama, which may very well pit “father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother…” the very words of Jesus in today’s gospel. “I have come not to bring peace but division,” he says in words that can only pierce our hearts and make us think. 

As I walk the Camino in a sea of humanity, closely with Bob, Katie, Tom, and soon to be, Rebecca, Jessica, Anna, Claire, Anastasia and Paolo….and a throng of others, I better sense we are ALL a part of this gospel drama in our struggles, confusions, brokenness and sin. May we embrace Christ who always walks the Way with us on our own unique journeys, leading us, eventually, into the Final Act of an Easter that will never end. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank

Waiting. October 19, 2016

Most of us have a hard time waiting for anything, particularly if it involves something truly difficult. But we are all waiting: in traffic, at the doctor’s office, for a response to an email, for a package to arrive. Sometimes the wait is for a reality that is life changing, or even life threatening, if it involves the state of our health. How do we wait?

Jesus is asking this question in the gospel and tells a parable about a servant who becomes selfish and  self absorbed as he waits for the return of his master. In our waiting, we can become impatient and demanding, losing our focus and sense of priority. Jesus is urging us to reflect on how we are waiting for God to enter our lives, and to see how He enters in surprising and unexpected ways. God has the most remarkable way of being present: in the ordinary encounters of life. We keep missing them because we expect something extraordinary, or we don’t expect God to make His presence known in the “mundane” realities of life. We transform the beauty of ordinary life into the “mundane,” which is nothing more than lifeless!!! And then we become restless, looking over our heads and hearts for excitement in new relationships, new jobs, new friends…all well and done,  if we are being led into these encounters and not grabbing to get them. We need to be led by God, who will show us the way, ever so gradually. God isn’t too partial to those who are always “grabbing” to get what they want, like the wicked servant in the parable. 

People are restlessly moving from relationship to relationship, from job to job in an endless search for the new or the novel.  Once the newness wears off…so are we…off and running on the surface of life. We never enter the “deep waters,” which demand risk and patience. We stay on the shore where we are in control and comfortable and we where are waiting for nothing but self gratification, which must be instant. Just think, in the near future, drones from Amazon will be “dropping” your orders the very same day they are ordered!!! Instant delivery!! And the restlessness deepens…

Jesus is teaching us to wait, not for “something” to happen but for SOMEONE to happen. Let us wait for God to come into our lives in surprising ways or ways we don’t expect: in the ordinary, day to day living of life!!! But it’s always on God’s terms and not our own. Jesus wants us to be good stewards of time and how we “spend” our time: waiting. God is waiting for you to live in the present, to stop running and become aware that the One you are waiting for is right before your eyes. 

Buen camino. Fr. Frank