Perfect Joy

IMG_8504When asked about my pilgrimage, at least recently, I’ve been at a loss for words. One would think that after a year I would have a mental script prepared – not the case. My thought process comes to an immediate halt and kicks back on only to question myself; all while the person inquiring awaits in curiosity, my conscience whispers, “What did I learn? What … did I bring back?” I’m stumped. Yet, the simple but true words that joyfully leave my lips are – “My Catholic faith.”

God is strange in His ways. And, as I was recently advised, God’s ways come with security, with calmness, with patience. “The devil is no respecter of time,” I was told, and how true that rings to my spiritual growth. Time – what an overlooked practice in my laziness, to allow ‘time’ to contemplate on possible lessons learned, through my failures and through my triumphs. Lessons on both my walks: The Way of St. James and the current pilgrimage I’m on now – my earthly pilgrimage toward being a saint, through the grace of God.

I’m convinced that when I gave my ‘yes’ for this pilgrimage, God had already motioned the outpouring of His graces on me, subtly and delicately; I just didn’t know it yet. I was blind, failing to see the “yellow arrows” placed in front of me; through selfish desires and distractions, with my pride – doing the very things I hated, the things I cried of Him to take. I must have been in good company, for the Apostle Paul stressed, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). On the Camino, if a pilgrim would miss a yellow arrow, it only meant one thing. “I’m lost.” And, that I was. Only coming to find my way back through help outside of myself – asking to be pointed back in the right direction. And, how hard that is.

A year later, as I allow ‘time’ and with help of His Spirit, three things have I come to acknowledge, accept, and work on since my pilgrimage: obedience, vulnerability, and patience. They’re not in any particular order, but only ordered to be practiced with both – God, and my fellow man.

Obedience. For starters, disobedience, was what first closed the gates of heaven, and in the same way, what closed the gates of my heart. “I will not serve” or “non serviam” was the stubborn position I carried often. This prideful attitude closed my heart to finding who the true person of Christ was, and therefore finding who I was in Christ. In the letter to the Hebrews, it states, “Christ learned obedience through what He suffered.” Why was I so afraid of suffering? The burdens I selfishly ran from, in my disobedience, fell on my fellow brothers. That’s how sin works, unfortunately, it not only affects my person but those I love, those close to me and even those at a distance. And, coming to see the hurt I caused, nearly being removed from this amazing journey, my heart opened to the mercy and goodness shown to me, not only by my fellow brothers but by God Himself. For, isn’t God known as The God of second chances? “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86).

Vulnerability. In a foreign land, nothing is more vulnerable than asking the most peasant villager for directions, not knowing what reaction you would get, and how you would respond. Especially, after a day of rain, hunger, frustration and physical pain. And, what was crucial for me, personally, to remain in the spirit of trust, were the daily meditations we practiced. One meditation that profoundly altered my view was that of St. Francis of Assisi on Perfect Joy. He writes, “Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to His friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt.” As Job spoke, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, but not the bad?” (Job 2:10). And, ‘good at the hand of God’ there unquestionably was, allowing the providence of Him who Is to awe us, as St. Francis proudly exclaimed – “This indeed is perfect joy!”

Patience. Well, this one is a work in progress, of course. But, what The Camino taught me on this virtue of patience is that the final destination is there – Heaven! – and I must keep my gaze focused on it, and through it, on my fellow man. I must remain striving in spirit, walking in faith, asking in vulnerability, and dying to self for the Love of Christ until I reach it. Nothing else matters. In the beautiful words of St. Teresa of Avila, I sum up with her prayer of encouragement. Buen Camino and may God love you!

“Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you.

All things are passing away: God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices!”