Originally published September 1, 2013 on my column “Oswego and Beyond” on the OswegoPatch
ROME COUNTDOWN: 4 days.
Last week, all of the seminarians took a four day retreat with each man’s respective class. Being a senior (finally!), we went with the new men to a retreat center along the St. Croix river in Minnesota and spent four days relaxing and growing in fraternity with both our seminary brothers and with the Lord. This was an awesome way to spiritually prepare myself for the upcoming semester abroad in Europe.
On Thursday, September 5, eight seminarians will board a US Airways flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Rome. When we arrive in Rome on Sept 6, we will be met at the airport by seminarian friends of ours who live and study in Rome for four years at the Pontifical North American College, a seminary for theologians in their last four years of formation that is sponsored by the bishops of the United States. These men from the NAC will then take us all around Rome on what has been affectionately coined the “Death March” which consists of being taken around Rome seeing different sites (of course, St. Peter’s is first on the list! Have to make the obligatory trip to “HQ”) in an effort to keep us awake and avoid too much jet lag.
The next day we will fly to Madrid, Spain and take a night train to the small town of Sarria (also in Spain) to begin our five day hike/pilgrimage, known as the Camino, to the Spanish town of Santiago del Compostela, where St. James the Apostle is buried. This is an ancient pilgrimage for Catholics, Christians of every confession, and those who do not believe. It starts at various locations around Europe but all the roads lead to Santiago. Some far more devout and courageous people than myself even attempt to do the entire trek on their knees! If we were to do the entire Camino, it could take upwards of 3 months! Instead, the eight of us are only going to do the last 100(ish) kilometers and reach Santiago on September 13.
For me, this journey has twofold meaning: First, it will be an excellent time to get adjusted from being away from the States and to cultivate a deeper fraternal bond among the brother seminarians with whom I’ll be travelling. Second, this is an important spiritual experience for me. One of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian life is that it is through suffering that we are led to True Comfort, and through patient enduring of turmoil will we be led to authentic peace. I’m not the most, shall we say, athletic or “outdoorsy” person, so walking upwards of 20 miles per day in the sweltering Spanish heat will likely bring its share of small sufferings and turmoil. But, in the words of St. Paul, I know that when “I am weak, it is then that I am strong” because the Spirit of the Lord is with me and will bring me safely to my destination.
At the end of it all, the Camino is all about humility and trust. Am I humble enough to bend to the needs of my brother seminarians? Can I trust that the Lord will get me through? Will I be able to put my pride aside and speak up when I am getting weary and need to take a break, or if I am in pain will I be able to bring it to the attention of my brother seminarians? If I am corrected by a brother for being too annoying or singing too loudly or having too much wine (just kidding, Mom), can I trust that they have acted out of charity instead of malice?
One of the most important and overlooked factors of the spiritual life is coming to a point where we can realize and accept that a relationship with God IS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE, that the love of the Father is not too deep for us, and that he desires us just as we are. One of my favorite spiritual writers is St. Augustine; at one point in his Confessions he writes, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (emphasis mine) I know that my heart, my soul, in fact my very existence is restless and remains without peace until I can surrender my heart and my will and let it be taken up into the Sacred Heart of the Lord who knows us better than we know ourselves and whose love for us is unquenchable.
I am doing the Camino in hopes of growing in my ability to trust the Lord and to accept his love for me and his offer of a very tangible relationship with him through fervent prayer and authentic ministry to his people. But of course we don’t have to travel to Spain to complete a Camino. Our entire life is just one long Camino, full of strife and turmoil, success and joy. How is the Lord reaching out to you as you travel your “daily Camino”?
One of my favorite saints is Blessed Pope John XXIII; let me share with you the Morning Offering prayer I will be praying each day of the Camino:
“Lord God, I offer you this day the chalice of my soul, hallowed by your anointing. Make use of me in something good, noble, and great for you, for the Church, and for the souls of many.”
Remember that God loves you and so do I.