Santiago de Compostela or “It’s Just a Rest Stop, Really.”

I had read about this, but didn’t fully appreciate it until I passed through a construction zone just outside the city where a stone pillar saying “SANTIAGO” greeted me. There comes a point in the Camino where the pilgrim doesn’t really feel pain anymore. It’s there, of course, but there’s only one thing on the brain: get to the cathedral.Once at the outskirts of town, there’s still about a mile and a half to the “old city” where the cathedral and its final shell set in stone lay.

I suppose if I lived in a city where there was a steady stream of men and women of every age lugging 20 pounds on their back hour after hour, it would become “normal” and I’d be kind of desensitized to it. I was really rather shocked at how the people of this university town of ancient significance just kind of look down and ignore these disciples of St. James. Arguably, it is the Camino that gave their city its first breath in the 900s. Not that I wanted another “Buen Camino” at this point; I simply wanted a little pathway through the crowded city. (A crowd! This is something I hadn’t seen in several weeks!)

There were a few kind souls that registered the pain my feet were in, even though my internal sensors had ceased to process it, and gave a little smile as they stepped aside to let me cross the chessboard of taxis and scooters. Finally, I arrived in the square of Santiago de Compostela and beheld the façade of the grand church not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim. Now, I didn’t start from St. Jean, as you know, and my path has included more than one “time jump”. But, to arrive at the place that has only been at the end of the guidebook and realize that it is here that St. James the Apostle welcomes the weary pilgrim in the name of Jesus is quite overwhelming. In fact, I can only describe it as I have the first time I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica. I felt an absence of emotion. There wasn’t a scale I could place it on, no metric to measure this ultimate arrival. I was simply there. There was relief.

Of course, part of the issue with it being difficult to register anything other than “my feet are numb” are the swarms (I mean, think of a busy hornet’s nest) of touring groups itching for their chance to get in line to embrace the statue of St. James, which is one of the things the pilgrim usually does upon arrival. I didn’t get to do this (yet!) and didn’t get to pray before the relics of St. James (yet!) because the lines were so long. After wandering about the square trying to get my bearings, I attempted to find a way to get into the church for The Pilgrim’s Mass. This is celebrated daily, and by the time I walked around the cathedral to find a place to store my mochilla (not allowed in the church!), locate the pilgrim’s office to obtain my Compostela (the certificate of completion)after Mass, and find my way back up to the side door (“that side, pellgrino, not this one”) to get into the church, I had about two minutes to spare before the doors closed. Naturally, I didn’t want to crash into the sacristy and demand to concelebrate the Mass. So, I managed to find a place to stand (gahhhhh!) in the back row, but I had a kneeler for the kneely bits of the Mass.

As exhausted as I was, as long as the homily was (sheesh, Father.), and as pandemonium buzzed around me —tourists filled all the pews because the “main event” for many is the swinging of the giant botafumiero at the end of Mass—, I still experienced a great calm and sense of peace and recollection. I was able to fall into the prayers of the liturgy and found a deep anticipation for The Eucharist. Once again, I was home after a grand sojurn. I had arrived at every altar, every tabernacle, the place where heaven touches earth and Jesus beckons even the tourist, “Come”.

Home is where The Eucharist is.

Indeed, at the end of Mass, before the final blessing, the organ begins a great swell and the red-robed attendants process to the crux of the church where a great censer is suspended from arched beams. It is loaded with scoops of incense which would make even the most “sensitive” of parishioners hold their breath. Then, like the chandelier in The Phantom of the Opera, it takes flight under the power of the six shoulder-caped (with shell!) acolytes. Back and forth it swings, to glorify God —the sweet smoke is a symbol of all the intentions carried by the pilgrim rising to The Lord — and to ...ahem... cover the nosedeaf pilrgim’s affliction.  Following Mass, there was a Filipino priest hearing confessions. Two weeks’ worth of little arrows fired by me flooded into my conscience and I spilled them forth before the patiently listening confessor. Spiritually fed and healed, I stumbled, still partially swooning from meeting God anew, to the bag pickup and a taxi bound for the hotel.

I look back and unto my arrival with its climbs, descents, rocks and sandy paths; the asphalt and the mud; the unexpected excrement along the way; all the adjustments to the schedule; in all of this, God was speaking. And as he whispered “Walk” a few weeks ago, He now simply says, “Rest”.

It’s a nourishing homily to my soul, and presumably to the pilgrims with whom I shared part of the Way. While I can’t say I was a lost soul searching for the “next step” like many young people out of work in Europe who find themselves in an “in-between” moment of life, The Lord still managed to find my heart and pierce it once more with a Word of Love.  For that, I’m grateful.

It’s very much like this is the spiritual life, isn’t it? After the tumult, continually showing up for prayer and the the constant daily battles, the words of Jesus beckon: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Now, as the bruises begin to form on my ankles and the copious amounts of medicines, balms, and unguents begin to do their part to heal my body, I will heed this word: rest.

Thank you for your prayers along The Way. There are still three months of sabbatical here in Europe, and Fr. Ryan (who, by the way is doing fine and has had a Camino of his own! Visit for the whole story!) and I will begin our pilgrimage to various sites around that grand continent where Our Catholic Faith began to breathe life into Western Civilization. There will be periodic posts, to be sure. Know that your intentions will continue to be remembered at these holy sites and at the altar.

For now, I’ll sign off. I’ve got work to do, remember? My work right now: “Rest.”

Let it begin!