Camino de Santiago

The Beauty of Being on Pilgrimage

Paul Elie Cover photo


I have been reading and learning from a wonderfully perceptive book. It’s about the converging lives and work of four modern Roman Catholic authors. In it, Paul Elie explores the writing of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy and Flannery O’Conor. The book’s subtitle is, An American Pilgrimage. This theme of pilgrimage provides a meaningful metaphor. For, as we grow up, we gradually discern that we are on pilgrimage ~ both to find ourselves, and, to find the God who has already found us. And all the while, we seek to find our place in the world.

In one fashion or another, we are all on the road to Emmaus. We are like the earliest Christian pilgrims, not knowing that we have been found, and joined, by the One who is at first not seen nor recognized. With those first two on the way to Emmaus, we ponder the meaning of the mysterious Passover events in Jerusalem, and our apparent place within them. Regardless of whether we’re physically traveling or not, we are on Camino-like journeys. Our pilgrimage takes us from the partial to the whole, from brokenness to healing, and from darkness into light. We are therefore always on the way. We are on the way towards something whose meaning may not yet be clear. Yet, it still draws us onward.

Have you seen Martin Sheen’s evocative movie about the Camino de Santiago? It is called The Way (which refers to the Way of St. James). The title has layers of meaning. To be on the way to some place, is to journey toward it. Journeying is something that we do. This is the first meaning.

Yet, a “way” can also be a thing in itself, and not just the means for getting somewhere. A way is something we can be part of. In Acts, we find several references to what Luke calls “the Way,” spelled with a capital “W.” For example, we learn about the pre-conversion Paul, who was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” and asking for letters from the hight priest. This was “so that, if he found any who belonged to the Way,” he might arrest them. Then, we read of a man named Apollos, who “had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and [who] spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” And later, when Paul is under arrest and brought before the governor Felix, we are told that even Felix was “well informed about the Way”!

The Way was and is what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls ‘The Jesus Movement.” It’s more than a set of beliefs and a body of teaching, for it is something to which we can belong. The Way is a community of pilgrims, united by a common vision and a shared spirit. We travel through this world together on a path shaped by grace.


This is based on my sermon for Sunday, May 14, 2017. I make reference here to Paul Elie’s book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own. You can access my sermon (“Our House of Pilgrimage”) by clicking here.

The Beauty of Self-Acceptance



It began with my nephew saying to his dad, “let’s go before we can’t.” My brother, Greg, who has been dealing with MS for a number of years, liked the idea. So, last summer, they walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, to the Apostle James’ legendary burial place. The rigors of the trip required serious preparation for my brother. Hiking 500 miles in 28 days means averaging almost 18 miles a day, and a good bit of the Camino involves hills and mountains. I learned more about this during my brother’s recent visit, when we viewed his pilgrimage photos. We also watched The Way, Emilio Estevez’s fine movie about the Camino featuring his father, Martin Sheen.

I appreciate The Way for how it sensitively portrays our infirmity. Since ancient times, Christians have valued pilgrimages. Paths and journeys often provide metaphors for transition through life. For this reason, an intentional spiritual journey can be a microcosm for the whole of our life, and enable us to deal with enduring issues in a concentrated way.

“You don’t choose your life; you live it,” says a character in the movie. Yet, quite often, we perceive a conflict between the things we cannot choose about ourselves, and how we really hope to live. The Way traces a Camino made by four people, each carrying a burden not so easily set aside as a pilgrim’s rucksack. Two carry burdens of grief; the third seeks to lose weight; and the fourth fears losing a writer’s vocation. All four journey toward deeper and hidden parts of themselves, and over the pilgrimage, lighten their ‘loads,’ figuratively and literally. The most challenging part of the Camino proves not to be the Pyrenees or the Meseta. For them as for us, the hardest journey starts from how we see ourselves, and moves toward the self-acceptance for which we yearn.

The four hikers’ journey provides a meditation on this insight. But so does the Easter Gospel, though less obviously. The risen “Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified…” Jesus then said words that may have been troubling rather than reassuring: “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see…”

Jesus did not spare the disciples their need to face themselves, and their own culpability in his death. Yet, by lovingly accepting them as they were, he enabled them to accept themselves. Accepting who Jesus really is, is interconnected with accepting who we really are. And accepting who we really are comes with accepting who Jesus really is. He has made himself one with dark things within us. Because of this, we can accept being made-one-with him, in his radiant light.


A photograph from The Way (accessed from the Media page of the film website).   Click here to view my Sunday homily exploring these themes in relation to Alanis Morissette’s song, “Thank U,” as well as the Sunday resurrection narrative from Luke 24:36b-48.