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