We arrived in Los Arcos about noon to the sound of explosions. Of course we were warned along the way that something like this would happen.
“¡Oye, Pellegrinos!” the little old and a rather dapper mustachioed man on a horse interjected, “Are you heading to Los Arcos?!”
“Yes,” we replied innocently; the horse munched disinterestedly at the side of the road.
“Then you should know that there is great activity in Los Arcos today!”
I was thinking it might be a political demonstration or general unrest. Hmm, I was thinking. Will we need to divert? (Even though there is no place to divert!) Then the little old man began to wiggle his hips and shake what was left of a 70 year old samba out of his legs.
“It is the Fiesta de San Ròc!”
Sure enough, the canon blasts at midday punctuated a day of penance and feast for we pilgrims, a mini Lent rolled into a day.
You’ll remember I told you yesterday about the wine fountain. Well, as you can imagine, if you’re a monk running a public-facing wine spigot, you know that if you leave it on 24 hours a day, the town would never have to go to the market for a bottle and probably never be sober! So, when a pilgrim is up and out of the albergue early in the morning to try to catch the last of the cool pre-dawn air, he might discover that Brother Tapmeister is still at his prie-dieu for Vigils and will wait until sunup to begin to fortify Camino-goers.
Indeed, this was our lot this morning an hour or so before sunrise. Arriving at the fountain, I considered not pouring myself a drink as a small act of penance. But, then again, I said to myself, when will I have the opportunity to do this? Silly me, my guardian angel was already on top of things to make sure I had the opportunity to make (mostly) good on my intention.
I switched on the lever briefly to test it and the wine began to flow, much to the surprise of another pilgrim who had just tried without luck to have a drink and was beginning to walk away. Incredulous, she looked at me. Que? Como? “What? How?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but it worked for me. Go ahead.”
She placed her hands under the tap and turned the lever. Ruby tinted wine flowed freely and she drank with a big smile on her face from cupped hands, wine running down her cheek like a vineyard vampire. After she moved over to the water spigot to wash her hands and face, Fr. Ryan ponied up to the tap. He filled the bottom bit of his bottle had a sip. I figured I’d have a go next, since it was my “discovery” after all. I placed my bottle under the tap and .... nada. Apparently, what I had “discovered” was the dregs of the day before. It was the very last at the bottom of the barrel before it would be filled up for the day.
Fr. Ryan offered me the equivalent of an eye-dropper full, since I now was the incredulous one. I let it touch my tongue. I don’t know how efficacious my little sacrifice was since I attempted to sabotage it, but if it’s any consolation, the wine tasted as if it had been mixed with gall ready to be offered at the cross. It was definitely bottom-of-the-jug bitter! My guardian angel had a chuckle as he sat upon the tap winking at my mostly-good effort.
From there, it was a day of moderate climbing and going around one of the mountains rather than up its face (don’t worry, there are plenty more mountains high enough, to paraphrase the song) with fewer towns to encounter and refill bottles (with water!). After a nice little tortilla on bread at one of the pilgrim bars hugging the base of the mountain, we walked for several hours and were just about to begin listening to our grumbling tummies and parched lips when what should appear, but a food truck and pilgrim rest area!
The truck is run by Eduardo, who himself is a pilgrim, proudly displaying his traverse of several of the different Camino routes. With a boisterous laugh, a ready smile, two cold taps of local beer and a refrigerator full of chorizo ready to be seared on the grill, I couldn’t help smiling as we placed an order as Bob Marley blasted his encouragement over the speakers that things would, at least for that moment of feasting, be alright.
That was the last real “rest stop” other than a few lone benches in the middle of ... well, nowhere without even a water well tap which usually appears just when you need it. It was a mostly even trek with only a few challenging foot holds to navigate, but nonetheless a good time to remember the intentions for which I’m making the Camino and offer the pains in my feet, shoulders, and back to The Lord for them. I’m glad it’s being put to good use!
Speaking of which, that’s one of the great things about being a Christian. We understand that when we experience a pain of any kind, be it bodily or otherwise, it can truly be offered in union with the suffering of Jesus. It is a true sacrifice of prayer to Him, a participation in His saving work, which is the offering that all the baptized are authorized to make as sharers in Christ’s Royal and Prophetic Priesthood. That’s all of us! This is the meaning of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1:24): “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...” Neat, eh? And you can try it at home, too!
Okay, sermon over. As I said earlier, when we arrived at Los Arcos just before noon, there was a great commotion starting up. We checked into our Albergue, attempted a nap in between canon blasts, and after some foot care made our way into the square to grab a pizza before Mass. In Los Arcos, today is kind of a triple feast day. It is the feast day of St. Roch (observed here, elsewhere it’s August 16), who is the patron of the wrongly accused, bachelors, and the sick-at-home, to name a few. He’s also the patron of dogs! It’s the conclusion of the Novena to Our Lady of Los Arcos, the local title of Mary for whom the extreme-baroque parish church is named. And it’s of course the vigil of the Solemnity of The Assumption of Mary. All three of these made for some very interesting liturgy as the priest tried to tie it all together in a homily along with some of the local observances. As with many liturgies in Spain and in Mexico, in my experience, it can look a bit chaotic, but they seem to know what’s going on.
It was nice to be able to go to confession, since I hadn’t had the opportunity to go since leaving for sabbatical. The old priest was sitting in the confessional, and I knew this might be my chance for a while. So, I composed my sins into Spanish. It’s amazing how they translate pretty evenly and I sheepishly knelt down, not knowing if I was starting correctly. As a priest, I know that I try to be gentle with those who are confessing after a long time away or are uncomfortable with the liturgy of Penance. I could tell that this was a true pastor of souls behind the screen. “Tranquilo, Tranquilo. Easy, Easy,” he said, “I can understand well enough.” So many times, the Sacrament of Reconciliation blows me away with the palpable touch of the Savior reaching out to dispense the fruit of his death and resurrection for me. How anyone could keep away from confession thinking it to be archaic or unnecessary is beyond my understanding. It would be like refusing a drink of cold water in a desert.
I tearily returned to my pew, prayed my penance (I think I understood what it was!), renewed my Consecration to Jesus Through Mary, and then joined in the prayers of the Mass as it began. Following the Mass, the conclusion of the town Novena was prayed and a priest nimbly climbed up the hidden stairs to place a red kerchief, in which all the townspeople (and one townsdog) were vested around the neck, around the statue of Our Lady of Los Arcos, the child Jesus in her arms, and the statue of St. Roch in the front of the sanctuary. Following the Mass, giant puppet things representing townsfolk, kids pushing bull heads on wheels to “run bulls” at the other kids down the narrow streets, and the local school marching band all bottlenecked at the door to begin part 2 of their festival. (Part 3 is after the Solemnity Mass where it appears a rodeo is going to be staged in the town square! But, we’ll be long gone by then, onward to Logroño.)
I’m grateful for this day, its penances and its hope of restoration and resurrection. There are many miles to go, yet, and many new ways to be open to God’s work.
Finally, as I prepare to sleep on this side of the planet, I see the terrible news breaking in the USA about the hundreds of priests who have victimized the young. Everyone, now is the time to make a Camino in your hearts. Prayer and penance. The rosary and Holy Eucharist. A return on the knees to God. This is the only response that can begin to beg God for mercy for these great offenses against Him. It sickens me, to see this foul, gangrenous, rotting wound festering in the very heart of Mother Church. Now, as ever, I desire my meager Camino footfalls and to join Our Lady’s feet in crushing the head of the Serpent.
O Immaculata! Pray for us!
O Mary, Queen of Clergy, direct rightly the hearts of your sons!
O Jesus Christ our High Priest! Have mercy on us!