It was nearly eight years ago that I made my first pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain, on the Camino to honor and reverence the relics of St. James. What a journey it was, walking 500 miles for the sole purpose of thanking God for the priesthood and sobriety. Letting go of alcohol was extremely difficult, taking me years of attempts. Only by the grace of God has this been possible.
Journeying across Spain for five weeks gave me the privilege of experiencing the Kingdom on an everyday basis. I was living new parables in the people I encountered and got to know from almost every continent, dozens of countries, varieties of languages, representing the diverse colors of the human family, the unity of this worldwide family, all interacting in compassion and respect.
When you are physically suffering from blisters, tendinitis, fatigue, muscle aches, illnesses of all sorts... you discover the connectedness of humanity. Suffering and compassion unite us all, for all the differences between us fade away when we suffer together. One woman with ALS was walking with her daughter as her one last hurrah in life before the disease would completely debilítate her. I witnessed people struggling with the effects of cancer treatments and other chronic illnesses. Not to mention the countless individuals working through emotional difficulties and anxiety.
We each are on a journey, guided by our faith in Christ, a journey that is much more internal, traveling through the geography of the heart. The terrain is forged in memory, some beautiful, others quite painful. The journey is always about the healing of the hurts, the mending of the ways, the gratitude for blessings received, the joy of being loved and loving.
When I entered the cathedral, smelling and very dirty, I went to the tomb of St James, the one apostle, along with his brother, who wanted a place of honor in Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus responded that he will indeed drink from the cup, a costly partaking of the drink of suffering. James was the very first to be martyred of the apostles. He got what he wanted!!!
Each one of us must partake of that cup if we are to be followers of Jesus, and we do so just by loving, and giving, so that others, our children, will have a better world. We drink from the cup when we walk the way of compassion and self sacrifice, being human instruments of healing. We drink from the cup when we try our hardest to be people of justice, but only in ways that are nonviolent, in imitation of Christ. We drink from the cup by loving the outsider, the lonely, the refugee, the unbeliever, the sick, the unborn, the forgotten.
St. James, help us to follow you up the mountain of Transfiguration, the most beautiful pilgrimage of your life, as you encountered Jesus in all of his glory. You walked down that mountain with that memory that led you to Calvary and beyond... to the moment you let go of your own life by shedding your blood.
The “blood of the martyrs” waters the garden of the heart.