Editor’s Note: Dr. Anthony Lilles recently made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the place, where tradition holds, St. James the Apostle, whose feast the Church celebrates on July 25th, is buried. In this post, Dr. Lilles reflects on his journey, and on pilgrimage in particular.
On Corpus Christi, Father Piotr Mozdyniewicz and I said goodbye to the pilgrims who journeyed with us through France. As they headed home, we set out to Spain. We landed in Santiago de Compostela and then took a bus to Oviedo to walk El Camino Primitivo [the primitive way], the pathway trod by Saint Francis of Assisi and, many years later, Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
Because of the recent movies about the Camino, quite a few Americans are on the way. One volunteer mentioned meeting a lot of pilgrims from Colorado Springs. Father Piotr and I have also met pilgrims from Colorado, but many more are from Spain.
There are several different Caminos a pilgrim might take. Unlike the “via Frances” featured in the movies, the via primitiva is less commercialized with less services, perfect for a pilgrimage. The drawback has been trying to find a church open and ready for Father to celebrate Mass. One of the volunteers apologized and explained that it is because there are so few priests in this region. But as Father Peter tells me often enough on this journey, “God will provide.”
The people are very helpful and kind. A few try to engage me in conversation, asking where I am from and offering hints so we do not get lost. They are used to pilgrims, and accustomed to offering hospitality. There is something of their rich Catholic heritage that shines through in this.
Why go on pilgrimage and why show hospitality to pilgrims? We go on pilgrimage to imitate Christ who was himself a pilgrim in this life. He was on a journey to the Father’s House, a journey that passed by way of the Cross. To show hospitality to a pilgrim is to show hospitality to Christ Himself, even when a pilgrim does not fully understand the mystery of penance and mercy that is at stake.
We need to learn how to make pilgrimages like the saints before us. A pilgrimage is not really a pilgrimage unless it involves some searching of the soul, some repentance, a little sacrifice and a lot of unexpected hardships. One makes progress only insofar as one offers each moment to The Lord, even the most disappointing or discouraging. Love and Faith: this is the pathway no matter our earthly destination or geographical path.
Art: Photographs courtesy Dr. Anthony Lilles, used with permission.
Editor’s Note: For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his new book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.