Estrella or “A Juice Box, A Cardboard Box, and A Square Like Me.”

It’s amazing what a bit of BioFreeze ointment, a few good local beers, and a good night’s sleep (thanks melatonin supplement!) can do. The folks at the albergue were extremely friendly and made their best efforts to communicate in English. Sometimes, a smile and a free coffee make all the difference when one’s world is mid-rock. What a day it was, eh?

Both Fr. Ryan and I decided to send our packs along by car (a steal for €5!) to give our ... well, everything...a chance to recover ate. After a simple breakfast, we made our way to Estrella, stopping periodically at the little towns that have sprung up over the centuries along the Camino route. Figuring up the math, that brings our total to around 28 miles on foot since Pamplona. Blimey, that’s about the distance from my parish church of St. Frances Cabrini in Livonia to the Catholic Life Center in Baton Rouge! It’s only the third day for us living the life on foot, but today was a bit less strenuous, which was a great mercy. Nevertheless, the trail becomes very uneven and seemingly without warning does indeed meander up that steep mountainside you were wondering in your head if you’d have to climb as you saw it in the distance.

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But there are so many encouragements along the way. The shell dangling from your backpack (or in my case, my much smaller, “essentials only” day pack today) designates you as a pilgrim, so the standard greeting becomes “¡Buen Camino!” instead of “Buenos Dias.” It’s kind of like being called “Father,” actually. It reminds and encourages my life’s vocation. As my sub-vocation this month is to be a pilgrim without name, that salutation is like a cup of water offered to a triathlete. Speaking of drinkable water, there is something like that out here, too. Almost every town and village along the way has a flowing water fuente where the thirsty pilgrim (or child on the soccer pitch) can refill his vessel or hold her head under the font. Some are quite ornate, some are very simple.


Also, a little collaborative “rest area” popped up right on the route. And on a table under a little tent were all sorts of refreshments that a pilgrim might want! Water, orange juice, peach juice (which I juice-boxed the heck out of), fresh pineapple, melon, and other fruits, local beer, a few assorted candy items, and a little donation box. After a water, the juice, and a few coins dropped in the makeshift till, we were ready to take on the next giant hill – which was waiting for us, of course!

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As we made our way out of the last village and into Estrella, which is a slightly larger town with several more restaurants, pharmacies, orthopedic surgeons (Please, O St. James, may I not need one of those!), and a Mailboxes Etc. shipping store. It’s nice to know that, on some level, I’m not the only one who ... slightly overpacked for my Camino.  After checking into a very nice albergue run by the Capuchin Franciscans (with a private room which feels like an extreme luxury in the usual co-ed bunk conditions to say nothing of the BLAZING fast internet connection), I unloaded everything that wasn’t absolutely essential – which admittedly was most of what I was carrying– into a mesh packing cube and hoofed it to the shipping store. I practically skipped into the office and pirouetted the cube onto the counter.

I’m reminded of St. Francis being so filled with joy as he shed his last vestige of connection to the opulence of his family business (all of his clothes!) before embracing the life of holy poverty. The irony that I’m also staying in a converted Franciscan cell this evening is also not lost on me. While I don’t think God is laughing hysterically at me, I do think He’s giving me that knowing smile that fathers give their sons when we finally get it.  Now, there’s still a pack on my back, and it still has items in it, and I’m not going to become a mendicant (a beggar like St. Francis) tomorrow as there are still some Euro in my bank account. But, there was a grace given today and I’ll spend this evening bringing it to the Heart of Jesus tonight. With that, I‘ll bow away from the keyboard for the day and simply thank you, intrepid reader, for your prayers for Fr. Ryan and myself.

Tomorrow looks to be a tough day, but there’s a wine fountain. You heard me.

A Psalm is worth a Thousand Pictures

 

 Psalm 84  How lovely is your dwelling place, *  Lord, God of hosts.     My soul is longing and yearning, *  is yearning for the courts of the Lord.  My heart and my soul ring out their joy *  to God, the living God.     The sparrow herself finds a home *  and the swallow a nest for her brood;  she lays her young by your altars, *  Lord of hosts, my king and my God.     They are happy, who dwell in your house, *  for ever singing your praise.  They are happy, whose strength is in you, *  in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.     As they go through the Bitter Valley †  they make it a place of springs, *  the autumn rain covers it with blessings.  They walk with ever growing strength, *  they will see the God of gods in Zion.     O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer, *  give ear, O God of Jacob.  Turn your eyes, O God, our shield, *  look on the face of your anointed.     One day within your courts *  is better than a thousand elsewhere.  The threshold of the house of God *  I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked.     For the Lord God is a rampart, a shield; *  he will give us his favor and glory.  The Lord will not refuse any good *  to those who walk without blame.     Lord, God of hosts, *  happy the man who trusts in you!     Glory to the Father, and to the Son, *  and to the Holy Spirit:  as it was in the beginning, is now, *  and will be for ever. Amen.

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, *

Lord, God of hosts.


My soul is longing and yearning, *

is yearning for the courts of the Lord.

My heart and my soul ring out their joy *

to God, the living God.


The sparrow herself finds a home *

and the swallow a nest for her brood;

she lays her young by your altars, *

Lord of hosts, my king and my God.


They are happy, who dwell in your house, *

for ever singing your praise.

They are happy, whose strength is in you, *

in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.


As they go through the Bitter Valley †

they make it a place of springs, *

the autumn rain covers it with blessings.

They walk with ever growing strength, *

they will see the God of gods in Zion.


O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer, *

give ear, O God of Jacob.

Turn your eyes, O God, our shield, *

look on the face of your anointed.


One day within your courts *

is better than a thousand elsewhere.

The threshold of the house of God *

I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked.


For the Lord God is a rampart, a shield; *

he will give us his favor and glory.

The Lord will not refuse any good *

to those who walk without blame.


Lord, God of hosts, *

happy the man who trusts in you!


Glory to the Father, and to the Son, *

and to the Holy Spirit:

as it was in the beginning, is now, *

and will be for ever. Amen.

Puente la Reina or “Pilgrim, Let Me Guess Your Weight.”

The silhouette of a hunched little man hobbles along towards the town square. He shuffles a few centimeters at a time, slow and steady, and pauses to take in the announcements posted at the parish church and then considers the next direction to point his body. He orients himself and then gingerly plops one worn foot in front of the other making his way onward.

That hunched little man today was me.

There is an old saying along the Camino de Santiago: “The Camino humbles all.” I surely consider myself duly placed among the prideful today as we set out, clothes clean and shoes nearly spotless, at 5:45am to beat the rush and catch the last breeze before sunrise. (I know know the origin of those “sizing-me-up” stares. “Your shoes, they’re too clean for you to have been on Camino” is what they were saying. It was a look of genuine pity. Read on!)

It was quite a nice walk out of the city of Pamplona with the street lamps illuminating the little metallic shells set into the pavement. My pack or mochilla as they are known here, beginning its methodical sounds of motion swaying along with my footfalls. I even made up a little exhortation that seemed to match the rhythm: “Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost...Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost...”

And then we began to climb. You might have to look at the previous blog post to get an idea of what I’m talking about. (Which, by the way, ends the rest of my “pre-typed and pre-scheduled” blog posts that tend to sound so chipper since they were composed inside an air-conditioned, near sea-level, rectory.)

And then we climbed some more.  And we kept climbing: “Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost... Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost...” Eventually, I just cried aloud in my head the shorthand for this Trinitarian formula: “Oh God..Oh God...Oh-my-God”. While it was helpful to have a “mantra” to take the heaviness of time away, it didn’t do anything to ease the sheer weight of my pack against my shoulders and hips. Steeper and steeper, up and up and up.

More than once, I recalled the story of my namesake, St. Christopher, who carried the Christ child on his shoulders across a raging river. He was, as the legend goes, shocked at the weight of this mysterious and small child. Of all the grown men he had hoisted on his back, never had someone so diminutive as a child of about seven ever made Christopher fear that both he and his passenger might drown under the weight. Of, course the story ends as they cross the river and Christopher sees that he indeed has been bearing for a moment the Cross of Jesus Christ and its weight mysteriously present in The Holy Child Jesus.

I named all of those on my intention list and considered the weight of my pack as an opportunity to lighten the load of so many who both suffer and hope. I prayed my rosary for our new bishop and the burdens he will bear as he takes this new office. With each strike of my bastone (my walking stick) upon the extremely loose pebbles of the incline and the decline, I tried to pray for the many souls looking for Jesus today.

But, I won’t lie to you. All pious and well-intentioned prayer aside, I realized that my body was beginning to reach the limit of both what and how far it could carry. At the gym (Ha! Obviously not one of my frequent destinations on Google Maps!) it’s not uncommon to work a muscle group for as many repetitions that causes it to achieve at exhaustion. I’m no physiologist, but the idea is that the exhaustion of the muscle and the resulting tears in the fibers cause new growth as the arm or leg now get stronger to take on more strenuous challenges. Suffice to say, this darn mountain was my gym today.

Practically limping into Puente la Reina, not because of any blisters, but because of muscle atrophy is one of the most humiliating things I think I’ve ever experienced. The pride of thinking “it’s a pack that can hold a great deal, so I should be prepared” has quickly given way (as you’ll remember I mused like a fool) to “what can I shed and send along to Santiago?”

So, that’s the plan for tomorrow. The prideful one has (likely not for the last time) been brought (literally) low. It feels like failure to send my pack along to the next town– a handy service along the Camino for dunderheads like myself– and make for the post office to offload the non-essentials to the end of the journey.

Thank you, St. Christopher, for praying for me today and filling me at wonder with the weight of the cross. Even though I cannot bear its full weight, I long to bear the burdens of the Camino with courage for the sake of the people I carry in my heart.

Tomorrow: Estella!