El Camino

26 June 2008

Tom - Reflections

Olympics Connections: By the second week of our Camino pilgrimage I started to realize that the Camino offered amazing similarities to what I experienced over 30 years ago with my Olympic and world bobsled competition experiences.
1. In both settings we were a distinct group of people set apart to accomplish a goal that we had been planning, working and striving for.
2. There was a distinct feeling of oneness and camaraderie. On the Camino interactions throughout the day were friendly and encouraging. Even though the weather was terrible at times we were all going through it together and everyone was quite positive.
3. In the evenings, at dinner, you may be eating and interacting with individuals from several different countries. It was a great atmosphere.
4. Most of us felt privileged and humbled to be undertaking the Camino as we did to participate on the Olympic and world teams.
5. In the evening, at the albergue, we were again interacting with people of many different nationalities. I made a list of the countries we met people from while on the Camino. I counted 28, which is similar to the interaction in the Olympic Village in the evenings after competition. This part of the Camino experience was a pleasant surprise and a nice reliving of a very positive experience of over 30 years ago.

Perspectives: I think that the pilgrimage put the realities of life into clearer perspective. Our everyday life pilgrimage is often confusing, distorted and often hard to see clearly. Frequently we can’t see the forest from the trees so to speak. The pilgrimage, simplified our life, while being a microcosm of life. We knew specifically the direction and distance we were going every day because we planned our destinations. It seemed very simple but that didn’t mean it was easy and we did have some apprehension about what was to come, like life. We had to deal mentally, physically and spiritually with life on the trail including even the monotony and drudgery of walking at times. We had our highs and lows but the directional arrows were always pointing us to our joyous destination (Santiago). I pray that my pilgrimage to Santiago helps me focus more clearly on the final destination of my life, the eternal joy and happiness of heaven with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and with all the angels, saints and other people, the real pilgrimage destination of my life.

Pray Unceasingly: For me prayer came easy and often on our Camino pilgrimage. Colleen did an awesome job with leading us in prayer including praying all four mysteries of the Rosary, the Angelus, Morning and Evening Prayer, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Examination of Conscience as well as St Louis DeMonfort’s Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the evenings. The Chaplet, however, was rarely done because by the 3 o’clock hour, when we like to pray it, we were busy getting an albergue, showering, doing laundry or some other activity. I often said extra rosaries especially before I lost all three rosaries that I had brought with me. I had planned on giving the extra rosaries away but instead I ending up loosing all three. I figured it was divine providence and the people that needed them got them. I was actually able to do a lot more mental prayer then verbal prayer while walking and the mental prayer was primarily centered around the Universal Prayer of St. Clement the XI (1700-1721). This prayer has 23 verses with each one being a meditation on its own. I thought of this as my pilgrim’s prayer because right smack in the middle of the prayer a verse reads, “Let me love you my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am, a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all those lives I touch, those in authority over me, those under my authority, my friends and my enemies”. By the 29th day, because of such frequent repetition, I had the blessing of having this prayer memorized. When the weather was bad and uncomfortable it was very comforting to meditate on the many verses of this prayer. The admonition to pray unceasingly is a vary challenging one, but one that I came much closer to on the Camino than any other time in my life which was and is a great blessing to me even now. I can also say that I felt the graces from the prayers from all the resident pilgrims, family and friends over all the long miles walking especially on those difficult days with all the rain, wind and cold.

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09 June 2008

Ruth - Reflections from the Camino

Thank you!  - I want to thank everyone who supported us in prayer and with blog comments while we were on pilgrimage.  Both meant a lot to us.  We felt your support and prayers. 
Personal & Spiritual Reflections -  I share the following thoughts because several people have asked us when we will post our personal reflections. My thoughts may or may not be of interest to anyone but I feel called to follow through with this because of your support. 
#1:  Backpacks and Burdens -  Just about every morning we arose at 5:30, donned our backpacks about 6:00 and started walking. When we stopped walking for the day it was such a relief to take the pack off and put it aside for the day. While walking and reflecting one day I thought of our packs as the burdens we carry through life.  As pilgrims we knew at the end of each day and at the end of the pilgrimage we could set aside our pack/burdens but so many people go through all or part of life with burdens they will not be relieved of until the end of their earthly pilgrimage. I though of Donna, a friend with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), who each day will awake with her "pack" and she is unable to put the "pack" aside.  I thought of Paul, a physically and mentally disabled young man who passed away while we were on pilgrimage. He carried his pack each day and had a smile for me every time I saw him.  When I thought of the packs that Donna, Paul, Stevie,  Jessica, David and many others carry each day it made my pack seem much lighter. 

#2:  Faults follow us -  We had only been walking a few days when I realized I did not leave my personal faults and struggles behind.  It did not take but a few days of walking to start to feel the effects on our bodies including swollen ankles, over-tiredness, impatience, etc. At home when I am overtired I try to stay home, relax and go to bed early. On the Camino there was no getting away from others when your are traveling in a group. I therefor felt like I had to apologize to the group more than once for my moodiness. 

#3:  God's care - At the end of the first week of walking we were wet and cold (like usual). Temperatures were usually in the 40s and low 50s. It had been raining most of the day. My legs were aching and I felt like crying. I quietly told Tom that when we arrived at our lodging I did not want to go out again even for dinner. I joked about having "pizza delivered" which was not an option but was an example of how I felt. I knew there was no chance of "eating in" but I also knew I just wanted to get out of the miserable weather, get warmed up and sleep until morning. In my heart, I even struggled as to whether I would go out again for evening Mass, if it was available.  Did I say that I was miserable and tired out?  When we arrived at the alberque (lodging) the Lord filled the desires of my heart. First of all this was the first and only albergue, that we stayed at, that provided it's pilgrim residents with dinner and breakfast. They had a warming fire in the fireplace and Mass was available in the attached church prior to the evening meal.  We did not have to leave the building for anything.  In fact, because we were late arrivals, the albergue was out of beds so we had to sleep in the church that night.  I fell asleep, in the back pew, within minutes of finishing dinner with tears of exhaustion. The Lord had filled both desires of my heavy heart.

#4:  Walking the Camino - People walk the Camino for a variety of reasons. I walked it as a pilgrimage, as a physical challenge and as an opportunity to do something really unique with my husband and friends. Although most people seemed to be walking it for secular reasons, there were many who were touched by witnessing us pray together while walking.  When we were walking to Astorga we were covering a lot of rough terrain. My legs were hurting. As a group we were praying the rosary while walking. I was crying and praying not even noticing that a man was walking close behind. We finally arrived at a large cross overlooking the city. It was noon so we stopped to pray the Angelus at the foot of the cross.  When we finished praying the man came over to Tom and I and thanked us (our group). He said, "Thank you. I was having a really rough day and you were just what I needed.  The Camino has a way of giving you what you need."  The man, who seemed like an angel to me, had really been touched by our praying together. So even when we are overwhelmed by our own discomfort we can be helping others without realizing it just by living our faith. 

#5:  Joining us in prayer - We had 3 wonderful men who, on separate days, walked with us and joined us in praying the rosary. Two of the young men, Brendan and Francois, are discerning a vocation to the priesthood. (Please keep them in prayer.) Another man, Bernie, a devote Catholic, was walking the Camino alone in memory of his wife. They had planned to walk the Camino together but she died six years ago.  All three men were a blessing to us and were thankful for our public witness of faith.    
Manfred was a man who witnessed to us.  At the end of evening Mass, in one of the churches, Manfred and two friends, quietly walked to the front of the church and began to sing a Taize song. At the end they slowly left the church.  We witnessed this again, another evening, when Manfred invited us to join them which he also did on several other occasions. This was an example to us and actually called us to do the same. After that, after Mass or when we visited a church or chapel on route we would sing, Immaculate Mary" at or near a statue of Mary.  Many times people joined us in their own language or stood there smiling in awe some with tears in their eyes.  It was a gift to many and a close moment to Christ for me. I like to picture Mary smiling down at us for this witness of love.

#6:  Doing what we are called to do -  I was so blessed to have the opportunity to walk the Camino but also blessed to walk it with my husband and committed Catholic friends.  We often heard from others that they had heard of the "American" group that was walking the Camino.  We prayed throughout the day and before we began our day and we attended Mass whenever possible but we also had lots of fun times with all kinds of people along the Camino.  One man we met on our first day of walking, Karl, shared with us that day that he was walking the Camino in memory of his deceased wife.  We kept crossing paths with him throughout our pilgrimage and we ended up having lunch with him and his new friend, Manuela, in Santiago.  So we saw him our first day and at our destination.  It was great fun.  People are often hesitant about the public "witness" of their faith but we found many people really appreciated it.  Some people even joined us in prayer in their own language.  There was even a man in the airport when we left who, sitting diagonally across from us, was praying the rosary with us without our knowing it. We talked to him in the boarding line and found that he was an American missionary priest who has spend most of his priesthood working in Spain.  He was really uplifted and graced by our witness of prayer.  I hope that the Lord used us to touch many souls who we may never know about until we meet them in heaven at the end of our earthly pilgrimage.

Well that is all for now.  I know that I will continue to reflect on what I did and failed to do on the Camino.  I know that just as my legs and feet are still healing from the stress of the Camino so my heart is still reflecting on the experience. I hope that those who read this don't think that you have to go to Spain for a month to make a pilgrimage.  There are shrines located within a few hours of most of us.  The principles are the same for a short or long pilgrimage.  Prepare yourself spiritually for the pilgrimage, make your pilgrimage, and reflect on it but I think the best pilgrimage we can made is to our local church for Eucharistic Adoration.  We don't have to travel the world to find Jesus, to grow in our faith or to be a witness to others but I do thank the Lord (and my wonderful husband) for my Camino experience.

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