Sarria & Portomarín or “The Roads are Paved with ... Wait, Is That...?”

With ankle supports girded like armor (sorry, I’m reading a fascinating history of the founding of the Knights Templar) and my alternate change of clothes (the clean ones) ready for a day of absorbing the smells of a train cabin, I set out for Sarria to begin the first/last stage of my lurch to Santiago.  I’m not certain that my tendons will last the 100 kilometers without snapping like that ancient rubber band holding your recipes together (I’ll put them in a book one day!), but onward I press.

The trek from Sarria to Portomarín wasn’t an easy one, because the order of the day for the next four days is about 17-18 miles of climbing and descending. Today, the strenuousness of the climb was softened a bit by the way the little villages seemed to bleed together one after the other. Honestly, I’m sure there’s some sort of backstage Disney road system to get delivery trucks, the recycling trucks (that must at some point come by to dump the giant fiberglass gumballs full of glass, paper, and plastic), and the personal vehicles of folks that look to be more Honda Civic rather than Land Rover in terms of ruddy, off-road excitement. But, most of my climb (and drop and climb again) was on uneven rock, intermittently cobblestoned, and sand covered dirt road.

Today also boasted the longest stretch ever in my life that I have both seen and had to intentionally navigate pathways filled with cow, horse, and woodland critter excrement. There were whole villages I traipsed through whose road system really just seemed to be where the cow pies joined up in a pungent merge with the horse droppings. Now, I’m not attempting to impute my own city-fied wisdom on this situation (i.e., “Can’t you let them do that over there, off the road?”), but I just mean to say the sheer volume of it would rival that in most legislative assemblies! I can’t say I avoided all of it, but I did attempt to steer clear (oh, yeah. Pun.) of the mushiest demon yogurts.

I was also able to see how the people of this rural region of Galicia go about their day to day. As on much of the Camino, the locals use the Pilgrim Way to take their own exercise, let their dogs (of which there are many, and explains the multiplicity of poo formations) roam and play, and sit and wave (and perhaps laugh at as we pass) at folks like me. There was a farm that I passed where an older gentleman was watching his grandchildren (I presume, of course) play in the lane. They were using small reeds like golf clubs, which seemed to amuse him. His wife was in the cow pasture pulling up fence posts, for a reason that is unknown to me but, boy, was she getting after it. The cows seemed to know that there was a fence post in it for them if they tried anything; like me, they gave her a wide berth.  A little further up the road was a man of between 70 and 80 years old who was wielding an honest-to-goodness sickle and clearing the brush along the road with great vigor. It was obvious that it was just a day’s work for him. “Buen Camino!” he called mid-swipe. How could I not return the greeting? “Buenos Dias! Mucho Trabajo?”  A lot of work? He just shrugged and kept going.

It got me to thinking about the spreading confusion at this moment in the history of Our Holy Church. Right now, no matter where you try to walk — attempting to go in the right direction — there’s crud everywhere. It’s impossible to try to step on a bit of cobblestone without smelly runoff attached to it. But, just like on the Camino, the only way out is through. You and I know the direction to go. Even while the popular media tries to spin what’s happening as a political game (the only jig its band can play) and some of the leaders of The Church are both being conspicuously silent while speaking is warranted and egotistically blustery when their voices should be infused with the Holy Spirit’s counsel.

The destination is heaven. That’s what the Spirit’s gift of Counsel helps us to discern wisely: what is the way forward, who are the ones that can help me get there, and by what means shall I take the next step?

The Sacraments of the Church are the quickest, surest way to heaven. Regardless of the many deluded souls that try to fabricate their own path so that God can be free to do His own thing and I can pretend to be God, Jesus founded a Church to give us the helps that we don’t just “get to have” but absolutely need to spiritually survive in a world that shifts in ideology more often than tectonic plates in Iceland.  The Sacraments and The Church aren’t an ideology, they’re a sure-fire gift of God’s grace to help us navigate streets filled with ... well, crap.

Who can help me get there? Just like the folks secretly, dutifully clearing the path for pilgrims, find those wielding the spiritual scythe in their daily battle against sin and so giving an example for others in the world. For every priest, bishop, or cardinal gorging his own appetites for power, sex, or riches (Come on, let’s not pretend anymore that there are some who don’t. No matter what their original intent was when they entered formation, we must admit the harsh reality that some have not been good shepherds.) — for every bad priest, there are more than a dozen good ones. They far outnumber the bad.

Find those priests and holy folks whose good fruits are plain: find the ones who are fighting to get to heaven and they will gladly take you with them. Finally, become that woman digging up rotten fence posts. Don’t be afraid to double down on your own walk towards heaven. Help to uproot the rot so that stronger posts can mark out the right path. Don’t give up on your ultimate Camino just because the road is rocky, filled with crud, or you need to reach out to another and ask which way the arrow points.  I promise, you’ll give God glory as you become an arrow for others.

I can only hope that I prove to be a good shepherd when I return. It’s easy to pontificate from a café in Northern Spain. But, make no mistake, Satan is attempting to fabricate a reason for you and me to put down our rosaries, step away from the Eucharist, and stop listening to pastors of souls. Don’t give him the satisfaction and endanger your soul for eternity.  You and I must continue to walk daily, no matter what the road ahead is covered with, because the destination isn’t the road.

As I make this physical walk, imperfect though it has been and filled with many (many!) unexpected twists (of the ankle) and turns (of these exceedingly weird European door locks), I keep your spiritual walk in my prayers. As you keep telling me in your emails, posts, and comments, so I tell you: Don’t Stop Walking!