Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday, April 28 - from the city of Sarria in Galicia

I mentioned in my last post that on Wednesday we made it to the Cross of Iron, a cross on the highest point on the Camino - about 5000 ft hight - where pilgrims leave a rock and other momentos from their home country.  It was so cold and rainy on that day.  Upon leaving there, we made it to the village of Acebo where it seemed like every pilgrim on the road that day was seeking refuge and something hot to drink.  Lyons, Claudia and I hot some hot coffee and some good laughs before we headed back out on the road for our destination that evening, the village of Molinaseca, making it about 25 km we had gone that day. At dinner that night, Hallie, one of the ladies in our group, decided she would become a priest after being on pilgrimage here in Spain.  We had a good laugh about that around the dinner table. 

The next day, Lyons and I walked about 35 km most of the way up the most grueling climb of the pilgrimage up the mountains.  We spent the night in the village of La Faba where the German volunteers who run the rest site provided us a warm place to spend the night and welcomed us with a warm cup of herbal tea - very welcoming indeed.  The views from the mountain hike have been incredible, but the trails have been muddy and slippery and very rocky.  Lyons thought this has been much more difficult than he imagined.  He said that I must have been the head warden at a gulag in my previous lifetime.  All kidding aside, I think that all of us are gaining so much from this challenging and blessed pilgrimage.

We are in Sarria tonight.  Lyons and I met up with the ladies after we went at different paces for the last several days.  It is so nice being with them.  We are celebrating Celia´s birthday today.  Tomorrow we start the last five days of the pilgrimage, as we arrive in Santiago to hug St James on Thursday afternoon.  My prayers go out to everyone.  I feel like I am taking so many people on pilgrimage with me.  We saw a huge group of Stanford University students in Sariia today on the pilgrimage as well.  Buen Camino everyone!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday, April 25

Greetings everyone.  We are all progressing on our journey across Spain.  I told you all about the wonderful stay we had at Carrion de los Condes last Sunday where we stayed at the albergue run by St Augustine nuns - one from Spain and two from Peru.  I got the great opportunity to celebrate mass that evening in the local church, an incredible building from the 13th century.  Father Julio, the pastor there, was very welcoming.  The nuns also had me give all the pilgrims a blessing in a welcoming service they had for us in which they gave us all a colorful paper star symbolizing the light of Christ, the strength we will need for our journey, and the hope all of us Christians should carry in our hearts along our pilgrims´journey both on the Camino and through life.  The next morning, we said goodbye to many of the friends we had made along the journey, including a wonderful young actor from Germany, a couple of young women from Germany and France, and an adorable couple from Korea.  Many of us had tears in our eyes.

The next day we traveled to the large city of Leon.  The cathedral there is one of the most beautiful in Europe.  The indigo, royal blue, and vivid red colors in the stained glass windows were the most incredible I have seen.  I attended mass there at the cathedral.  After I met Lyons Walsh from St Richard at the bus station, we went to a night prayer service held by the Benedictine nuns where we were staying.  The mother superior explained to us how we are not primarily walkers or runners or tourists on our journey as pilgrimage.  We are pilgrims who must take in God´s beauty in the nature we see, who must process in our interiors the sights, sounds, relationships, and other experiences we have along the way.  The nuns gave us a traditional pilgrims´ blessing.

We spent the night at a wonderful little albergue run by the British Confraternity of St James.  It was nice interacting with the British couple who served as our hosts.  The husband, originally from Scotland, knew of the small town of Newborough, Scotland where my ancestors originated on my dad´s side of the family before they immigrated to the US in the early nineteenth century.  I concelebrated mass in the old church there with the German Benedictine priest there.

We went to the Cross of Iron today, an emotional moment for me.  It was frigid and rainy.  I placed my rock, given to me by parishioner Sally Davis of Yazoo City, a rosary made by the ladies orf the Knights of Columbus of St Richard, and my prayers.  I cried the minute I saw the cross from the distance.

All for now.  My prayers are with all of you.  Buen Camino.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We only have two weeks left in the pilgrimage.  We have made very good progress crossing northern Spain on the way to the town of Santiago.  One never knows what the day will bring.  Saturday was very cold, very windy, and very wet.  We walked about 26 km (about 16 miles) through these conditions.  We walked up a very steep hill, then through a high mesa.  We hit a beautiful canal, but had four sudden rainstorms.  Once my clothing started to dry, then it started raining again.  And the wind kept blowing and blowing.  Arrived in the beautiful town of Fromista in the same albergue (pilgrims hostel) where I stayed with my friend Nancy on the pilgrimage here 9 years ago.

Today, we started off in the wrong direction and lost about an hour.  It was very frustrating.  But what a wonderful day - sunny and no wind.  The most pleasant day so far.  We stopped often - had coffee three times along the way.  A very delightful older man met us in front of his almond grove and gave us some candy and greeted us.  I went to mass in the middle of the journey at a church built by the Knights Templer in the 13th century.  Today we are staying at a convent albergue run by an order of nuns.  I am so blessed to be here in Spain on pilgrimage - my prayers are with all of you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Finished first week in Spain

We arrived in Spain for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela a week ago.  We are now in the town of Santo Domingo.  After having a few challenges, including a bad cough, I am back to feeling better and am enjoying the blessing that the Camino is bringing our way.  We have met people from all over the world - Japan, Korea, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Canada, and Germany to name just a few of the place.  Last night, we stayed in a big room with about 90 people in bunk beds.  The women ran out of hot water in their restroom yesterday afternoon, so they took over the men´s restroom until we ran out of hot water, and then gave it back to us.  I have a smile on my face a lot of days at what goes on here.  But the spirit of the Camino is wonderful.  I enjoy the beauty of nature here. The food is wonderful - had my favorite paella yesterday.  Celia, Claudia, and Hallie, my three fellow pilgrims from Mississippi are all having a good time.  We hope to make it to the city of Burgos in two days, and a week from today we will meet Lyons Walsh from St Richard in Jackson in the city of Leon.  Know that I am praying for all of all and that we are taking you all on the Camino with us.  It is difficulty finding time and access to the internet, but will try to do so at least once a week.  Blessings to all of you.  Buen Camino.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

4/8/2012 - Happy Easter Everyone - Tomorrow I go on pilgrimage to Spain -

A joyful Easter to everyone - what a great day in our lives as Christians, as we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord.  I had masses in the federal prison in Yazoo City and the state prison in Pearl over the weekend.  It was a joy celebrating Easter with the prisoners.  Last night I had Easter Vigil mass in Yazoo City at St Mary's.  And this morning I have Easter masses at All Saints Parish in Belzoni, St Francis parish in Yazoo City, and in Spanish at St Mary's in Yazoo City.

This year I myself am resurrecting with the Lord in special way, as I leave tomorrow for the holy country of Spain with four others - Hallie Clement of Jackson, Claudia Addison of Jackson, Lyons Walsh of Jackson, and Celia Thomason Knighton of Rosedale, Mississippi and also of New York.  We have been planning this for almost two years now.  We will make our way to Santiago de Compostela where the Apostle James the Greater is buried.  We start in Pamplona, and will hike about 450 miles - or at least that is our plan.  I will try to post some things along the way.  I am mentally and physically exhausted today from all of the Lenten and Holy Week festivities, but I am also so excited as well to be going on pilgrimage with such special people and in such a special way.  Blessings to all of you.  I will try to post in the blog along the way, but am not sure how that will work out with our limited access to the internet on the pilgrimage route.  God bless all of you - I will be praying for everyone along the way.

The shoes with the orange insoles are the new ones I will be wearing on the pilgrimage to Spain this year.  The other pair is the pair I wore the first time I went to Spain on pilgrimage.  

This is the rock I will carry to Spain to put at the cross of iron on the highest point of the pilgrimage route.  It is a tradition for pilgrims to carry a rock from their homeland to place at the cross of iron.  I got this rock from Sally Davis, a parishioner from St Mary Catholic Church in Yazoo City who lives in the town of Benton in Yazoo County. 

4/7/2012 – Easter Vigil – Genesis 1:1-2:2; Mark 16:1-7

      It is with great joy that I welcome all of you to our Easter Vigil mass this evening.  Easter Vigil is such a joyful and wonderful time for us as Catholics – there is really no other mass like it in the rest of the liturgical year.  I was speaking to some of our office staff last week, and we were all remarking how the symbolism of this mass sticks in our minds, how it so very dramatically represents what our faith is all about.  I had Jimmy Shipp build us the Easter fire out in front of the church this evening, symbolizing the light of Christ that is brought into our world and into our lives in our very special way through tonight’s celebration of his death and resurrection.
       Our very first reading tonight brings us back to the very beginning of the world, where there is this formless darkness covering the abyss, where wind is sweeping over the waters, and God announces: “Let there be light.”  As we hear this reading in the midst of the darkness of our church, the symbolism is striking.  The lights of the paschal candle – the lights of the small candles that we held which were lit off that paschal candle – they are all lights penetrating the darkness of the world. 
       We celebrate Christ’s resurrection today as we hear about the women who go to the tomb to anoint his body, but to amazingly find that the tomb was empty.  It took awhile for those women, the apostles, and the members of the early Church to figure out all the implications of what resurrection meant to them in terms of their faith. 
       And that is for us to figure out as well.  How does Christ’s death and resurrection affect our journey? How does it the ways we live out our faith.  There is a painting in the dining room of our parish house here in Yazoo City that is entitled The Cross of St John of the Cross, a print of a famous painting by the Spanish artist Salvador Dali.  Dali was inspired by a drawing that the mystic St John of the Cross made from a vision he had.  The painting shows Jesus on the cross from the point of view of God watching what is going on from the heavens, watching the completion of Christ’s mission here on earth. Since this crucifix is shown from the point of view of God the Father, Dali is depicting Jesus as the bridge between God and humanity, with the crucifix hovering over a seascape on earth below. 
       And that is the thing that we can never forget about Easter, that we can never forget about our faith.  The resurrection is intrinsically tied to the cross, and the cross is intrinsically connected to the resurrection.  We had 40 days in the desert during Lent in order for Easter to really mean something to us in our lives of faith.  We live in a world today where our faith is under attack, where our government is taking stabs at the freedom we have to practice our religion and to live out our faith. In order to see the light of the resurrection, we in turn must be lights shining in the darkness of our world.  And while we had 40 days of Lent, we need to be aware that the Easter season does not end with this Easter Vigil mass and with Easter morning tomorrow.  We will travel through the Easter season to Pentecost on May 27.  For these next weeks during the Easter season, we will ponder what the resurrection of Jesus really means to us, we will ponder what it really means to live the resurrection in our lives.    

4/8/2012 – Easter Sunday – John 20:1-9

     While Christmas seems to be the Christian holy day that gets all of our attention in our modern world, especially the message of Christmas that our commercial, secular world want to tell, it is Easter that is really at the heart of what we believe as Catholics.  The Triduum of masses, of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, are called the culmination of our Church’s liturgical year.  Holy week and our celebration of Easter morning mass today connects the cross of Jesus to his resurrection, a connection that we need to make in order to truly understand what our faith is all about.
         Last night we had our Easter Vigil mass.  The symbol of that mass is so striking.  Diane, Mary Sue, and Helen were remarking to me how especially for children, sitting in the dark church with the lights from the candles penetrating the darkness around us is such a strong message that will stay in the memory bank of a child throughout his lifetime.  The Easter fire starts out in front of the church, symbolizing the light of Christ that is brought into our world and into our lives in our very special way through his death and resurrection.  We have our candles lit by the light of Christ, symbolizing the source of the true light for us in our lives.
         Mary Magdalene was still in the darkness of night when she came to the tomb that morning.  You can just imagine the spiritual darkness that consumed her that morning that overshadowed the darkness of the night.  Full of remorse and pain, anger and frustration, she now believes that our Lord’s body had been stolen from the tomb.  It was bad enough that he was put to death; now his body could not even be anointed.  This is a first sign for Mary Magdalene, for Peter and the beloved disciple, of knowing that something very special and very unique was going on .  But they still no idea what all of this was about, about the full implications that the resurrection would have on their lives and their faith.
         There is a lot for us to figure out as well, isn’t there.  I think a lot of us have taken our faith for granted, we have taken for granted the religious freedom we have in our country to practice our faith.  Maybe what is going on in the world and in our country should be a wake up call for us.  And even though it is Easter when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection, we can never forget that it is intrinsically tied to the cross, to the sufferings that Jesus endured on the way to his death and resurrection.  And although we will have 50 days of the Easter season up until the celebration of Pentecost on May 27, it looks like we as Catholics will still have our crosses to bear as we need to stand up for our faith and for the freedom to practice our faith in the world.  Indeed, in order for us to truly understand the light of the resurrection, we in turn must be lights shining in the darkness of our world.  For these next weeks during the Easter, we will ponder what the resurrection of Jesus really means to us, we will ponder what it really means to live the resurrection in our lives.    

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rosaries from the ladies auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus -

Martha Fisher and the ladies auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus of St Richard parish in Jackson made these beautiful rosaries for me to bring to the prisoners and to the sick and shut-ins of our community.  They are so beautiful.  I am so grateful to them.  I have given out a ton of them already.  The devotion to the rosary is really growing in our Church - truly the work of the Lord.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

4/6/2012 – Good Friday – John 18:1-19:42 -

       I’ve recently been reading a book called The Last Week by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg about the events of Holy Week from an historical perspective.  Borg and Crossan call this day of Jesus’ crucifixion “the most solemn day of the Christian year”.   On the surface, calling this day that Jesus died “Good Friday” might seem to be incongruous, to be a contradiction in terms. In Spanish, today is called “Holy Friday”, while in German it is called “Sorrowful Friday”.  But we Christians know that calling today “Good Friday” is not a contradiction, because even though the horror of Christ’s death occurred today, it is also the day that the redemption of the world was accomplished. 
         I think we are able to better make the connection between the death of Jesus on Good Friday with his resurrection which we celebrate on Easter due to the Lenten observances we have been practicing these last six weeks.  By praying the Way of the Cross these last weeks, we can make the connection between the sufferings that Christ endured and the sufferings and sacrifices that we endure in our own lives here on earth.  One of the prayers that is prayed at the ninth station, when Jesus falls the third time, states: “Almighty and eternal God, you permitted your son to be weakened, crushed, and profaned so that he might rise from the dead freed from the ravages of sin.  Help us to accept our weaknesses and failings as forerunners of our glorious resurrection in union with your son.”  Hopefully, uniting our sufferings, our weaknesses, and our failings to journey of Christ will help us grow in our faith and help find meaning in our journey.
         It is easy to say that we have faith and to praise the Lord when things are going well in our lives, isn’t it?  But when we go through those dark moments, we probably want to cry in pain and agony in the words of the psalm that we heard on Palm Sunday: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  In the passion that we heard today in the Gospel, there were those who abandoned Jesus and who only thought of themselves.  We saw Peter deny Jesus.  We saw Judas betray him.  We heard the crowd shouting to have Jesus crucified. Yet, we also saw the Blessed Mother, Mary of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala standing by the cross of Jesus out of love and loyalty.  We saw Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea give Jesus’ body a proper burial. 
         We have journey with Jesus through Holy Week and we now honor him on this day that he died.  We venerate his cross out of our faith, out of our humility, out of knowing what the cross really means.  I will never forget an image from my first Good Friday liturgy as a priest.  That year, at St Richard parish in Jackson, we had all of our parishioners carrying rocks during Lent, to symbolize our sins and all that is keeping us from God.  We had everyone come an place their roots at the foot of the cross as a part of our Good Friday liturgy.  One young lady from our parish had been very ill for several years, had not had anything all of that time, and had her nutrition brought into her body through tubes.  She rarely came to mass due to her medical condition, yet she was intent on coming and placing her stone at the foot of Jesus.  As she came up, one of the last to do so, dragging the box that contained her IV tubes and drips with her, there was not a dry eye in the entire congregation.  I thought – what a testimony it is to see this young lady united her suffering with Christ’s suffering, to find meaning in her faith in the cross of Jesus and in the redemption that it brings to us.  Today, as we connect our lives with Jesus’ passion and his death on the cross, we have hope in the resurrection that is come.  

4/5/2012 – Holy Thursday – John 13:1-15

        Our liturgy for Holy Thursday is so well-known to us a Catholics, isn’t it?  We know that we are going to hear the Gospel about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  We know that we are going to see the priest wash the feet of 12 parishioners just as Jesus washed the feet of his followers so long ago.  Last year, when I worked the Kairos retreat in the federal prison complex in Yazoo City, one of the leaders of that Kairos weekend asked me to coordinate the foot washing ceremony for the team members in preparation for that retreat weekend, using this same Gospel passage.  And, of course, I took our very Catholic approach.  I had myself and a couple of the ministers there wash the feet of the lay people.  Later that afternoon, a Methodist minister came up to me, telling me how the different spin that I took on the washing of the feet really opened his eyes and touched him.  I was intrigued by his comment; I asked him what he was talking about.  He told me that he had never seen the foot washing done only by the clergy on this Kairos weekend – usually the clergy and the lay people took turns washing each other’s feet.  What I had done made sense to him in light of the Gospel, but he never looked at it in that way before.  Very interesting, I thought, because in our Catholic view of the Gospel, in the context of our Holy Thursday liturgy, I would never have conceptualized it in any other way.
         Jesus washes our feet.  Jesus is the servant whom God sent to us for our redemption.  It could not be any clearer.  Yet, sometimes we are uncomfortable having Jesus wash our feet.  I think I would get a lot of volunteers to be the foot washer in this foot washing ritual, but you would not believe how uncomfortable it is for so many of our parishioners to have their feet washed.  Perhaps having Jesus wash our feet makes us feel vulnerable and uneasy.  Perhaps it is still so shocking to us even after hearing this Gospel so many times.  I don’t think the point of the Gospel is to see Jesus wash the feet of others, but rather to see and feel and perceive the way he washes our own feet the feet of each one of us. 
         One of my favorite poets is Gabriela Mistral from Chile, a very devout Catholic, a third order Franciscan, and the first person from Latin America, man or woman, to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  One poem of hers that really sticks out in my mind is entitled “Piecasitos” or “Little Feet”.  “Piececitos de niño, azulosos de frío, ¡cómo os ven y no os cubren, Dios mío!”  That is the first stanza of the poem in Spanish.  It says: “The little feet of children, blue from the cold, how can they see you and not cover you, dear Lord!”  Gabriela Mistral saw the cold, uncovered feet of the children of the poor on the streets of Chile, seeing them with no socks and no shoes, seeing them dirty, cold, and bruised. The poem “Piecasitos” addresses the reality of these children from the compassion and love that both the poet and God would have for such a sight.  And although we might be uncomfortable having Jesus wash our feet, just as we would be uncomfortable seeing the cold, uncovered feet of poor children in the middle of winter, we have compassion and love for Jesus, knowing that he is here to serve us, knowing that our Lord is getting close to end of the journey that will culminate in his death on the cross.  Holy Thursday and Good Friday are just a part of the story.  The resurrection of Christ, the new life we have in him, is the rest of the story that we celebrate at the Easter Vigil mass and during the rest of our Easter season.  Those feet that are washed by Jesus today, our feet, are the feet that will continue on the journey of faith, the feet that will be put into the service of our Lord, just as Jesus came to us for service.