Sunday, May 7, 2017

Buen Camino!

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today our Lord speaks of being the gate to the sheepfold, the way in for his sheep, for those who follow him. His words remind us of how he elsewhere in Holy Scripture spoke of being the Way, as well as being the Truth and the Life. Perhaps it was for this reason that early Christians often referred to themselves as being followers of the Way. Interestingly the Camino, part of which I walked last week, is literally translated as 'the way'. It is a journey of pilgrimage whose origins date back many centuries. Like most such pilgrimage routes the numbers following it had fallen into decline; but in recent decades the numbers following the Camino have begun to soar. Today at any given time many thousands are walking its paths, which are often steep and rocky, over mountains and through forests; braving the elements, which of course can vary wildly. During my own few days I experienced snow and hail, thunder and lightning, torrential rain and blazing sun, and winds that were both strong and chilling. And yet people come from all over the world to do it. I met walkers who had come from Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Denmark, and just about every country of mainland Europe you could name.

The reasons people come are as varied as the places they come from. Many, of course, do it for the physical challenge – a short day’s walk on the Camino is 20 kilometres, and many will walk for many weeks. But many will still do it for spiritual reasons, finding in the daily discipline of rising early and walking the path laid out before them come what may a way of looking deep into their own heart’s and coming closer to God.

One thing that struck me in particular about the walkers was, whatever their motivation for being there, the care they showed for those they shared the pilgrim way with. This was most evident in the traditional greeting that walkers have for each other. As one passed another along the way they would call out to each other ‘Buen Camino’ which literally means ‘Good Camino’ or ‘Good Way’ but which also carries deeper meanings such as encouraging the other to continue on the journey, wishing them well as they travel, and indeed, given the context of pilgrimage, of a prayer for the well being of the traveller and a blessing as they continue on their way.

Another way that care is shown is the manner in which the pilgrims help keep each other on the right way. The path is well marked, with yellow arrows and the distinctive yellow scallop shell which is the emblem of the Camino set on a blue background. But with the paths often being rocky and narrow, with forks and branches intended for use by locals for reaching their homes and farms, it could sometimes be a little confusing. More than once I saw a person stopped by split in the path, unsure which way to go, who was helped by another who was more easily able to spot the markings which showed which was the Way of the Camino and which led who knows where.

I remember in particular one such occasion on the first day of our walk, as our group toiled its way up the Pyrenes. At the top we stopped for a break. As we caught our breathe and sipped water, breaking icicles off the bench that was there for sport, an elderly Korean couple walked past. And we called out to them to come back; because even though the road we had been walking continued on well-paved and wide, it was no longer the way to go. At just that spot it took a turn to the right and went almost vertically down the mountain, twisting and rocky, for all the world like the bed of a stream that had dried up. The easy path seemed the obvious way to go; and it was certainly more tempting to weary legs that had already walked 20 kilometres up a mountain carrying a heavy pack; but it was the wrong way. The difficult, almost impossible seeming path was the way to go.
The couple came back and headed down the right way. As they passed us they thanked us with a little bow, and the woman said ‘Thank you, thank you – you are to us like angels!’ High praise indeed.

But as I consider our Gospel reading today, where our Lord tells us he is the gate of the sheepfold, meaning that he is the right way for all to enter into the kingdom of God, I can not help thinking of how we are all called to be as Christ-like as possible; meaning that we must follow the example of Christ in helping others find the path to their salvation. What great benefit it would be to the salvation of souls if we encouraged others to stay on the right path, calling them back when they go wrong, tempted off course by what looks like an easier path, when the true path begins to look tough. And what benefit to us if others would help us also in a similar fashion, calling out to us. whenever we meet ‘Buen Camino’, meaning not that rocky road in Spain, but the Way that Christ laid before us. In such a way they would be as angels to us – even as we could be as angels to them. My prayer as I end is that all here will do their best to be as angels to all they meet, doing their best to guide them along the path that leads to heaven; and that they will joyfully allow others to be as angels to them for the sake of their own salvation. Amen.

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