Editor’s note: Father Chris Martin made a pilgrimage in September in Spain along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James. Here are some reflections he offered on his pilgrimage.
1) It’s about both the journey and the destination
The final destination of the Camino is Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle St. James are. It is important to always “begin with the end in mind” and to realize where the ultimate destination is. However, if my mind is solely fixed on “getting there as quickly as possible,” I can miss out on the goodness, beauty and graces of the day. We are called to have an attentiveness both to where we are going (heaven) but not lose sight of what God is doing for us in the present moment.
2) Keep looking for signposts
The way of the Camino is marked every quarter mile or so with a signpost showing you which way to go. As part of our spiritual journey, when we come to different life moments or decisions that need to be made, Scripture and tradition, along with the teaching authority of the Church are there to make sure we stay on course. If not, we can get lost and not make it to our final destination.
3) Expect a variety of landscapes
As we walked along the Camino, there were some days when climbed a vertical mile and some days when we descended a mile. Mountain trails, wooded areas, open plains and city centers were all parts of the journey. The journey of life is also going to have different “landscapes” at different times, but it’s all part of the same path.
4) Too much weighs you down
The journey is taxing on the body by itself. Carrying too much not only makes the journey more difficult than it needs to be, it can even make it dangerous. Temperance helps us to use wisely the things of this world in order to hold onto the things that endure forever. Focusing too much on material possessions will make the journey impossible.
5) Something always hurts
Whether it be a knee, and ankle, your back or your feet, something is always going to hurt along the way. I was amazed to see vending machines in every town and village that were filled not with food, but with medical supplies. No matter what stage of life we are in, there will always be pressure points. The important thing is to address them before they become debilitating and to keep moving.
6) Walk at your own pace
There is a temptation for some people to turn the Camino into a competition. “How far and how quickly did I walk today in comparison to you?” Focusing on this takes a journey that is supposed to have us focused on Jesus and makes it about myself and personal achievement. Walking at your own pace with Jesus leads to freedom, health and holiness. Competition and comparison lead to anxiety, fatigue and isolation.
7) We are all pilgrims on a journey
The most common phrase uttered along the way is “Buen Camino,” “Good journey.” There were people from all over the world that we encountered along the way. Sharing the struggle of the path we are on leads to a moment of spiritual encounter. Race, language, political views and religious creed were not the common bond. We were united by the journey. This is an important thing to keep in mind when it comes to life and our call to evangelize. When I encounter people in life, the first step is to just share the journey with them. Love people, earn their trust and be content to walk with them. Then the Gospel can be proclaimed effectively. And if our paths might diverge, if nothing else, we can wish each other a “buen camino.”