Homily — 19th Sunday OT B 8/9/9

Homily — 19th Sunday OT B 8/9/9

Fr. Markey 10 miles into Day One, in the Pyrenees

Fr. Markey 10 miles into Day One, in the Pyrenees

Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you. . . . He who eats this bread will live for ever.

Last Fall, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was having a special exhibit of Masterpieces of Catholic Art from the country of Spain.

A classmate of mine from the Diocese of Bridgeport CT, Fr. Greg Markey, whose the Pastor of a mixed parish of Irish and Hispanics, also wanted to see it, and so we made plans to get together on our day off one Wednesday and head up there.

In one of the museum rooms there was a big map of Spain from the Middle Ages hanging on the wall. When Fr. Markey saw the map he said “Oh by the way Mike, this summer I’m planning on taking a sabbatical and walking the Camino. Do you want to do it with me?”

Now, the Camino my friend was talking about is a 1000 year old pilgrimage route in Northern Spain that begins just over the border in the French Pyrennes mountains and ends 568 miles away at the Cathedral of Santiago on the West Coast of Spain, where tradition holds that the remains of the Apostle St. James are buried. (The word Camino means “the Way” or “the Road”.)

My friend was asking me if I’d like to take a month off in the summer to walk it with him.

I said “Greg, if they spoke English in Spain I’d be tempted; but to walk 33 days straight in a country where I can’t speak the language is a bit much for me, I think I’ll drive up to Lake Sysladobsis in Maine this summer instead.”

So that’s what I did last month, and Fr. Markey, who last year went to Maine with me, flew over to Europe, and on June 23rd he set out alone and on foot at the French border with his 28 pound backpack, wearing a short sleeved clergy shirt and hiking shorts, with a little American Flag over one shoulder and a Vatican Flag over the other one, hoping to make it to Santiago for July 25 the Feast of St. James.

He kept a diary of his travels, and thanks to the wonders of technology, every seven days Fr. Markey would email a letter back home to his the parish via his Blackberry, which was then put on the parish website of St. Mary’s in Norwalk CT.

After 12 days of walking, my friend had 12 blisters on his feet, had twisted his ankle, and started to say to himself “What did I get myself into?” He almost despaired at this point of achieving his goal, but managed to persevere by God’s grace.

As the days went on, Fr. Markey met various people along the Camino or walking the Camino with him. He encountered among other people, many non-practicing Catholics who he gave Miraculous Medals to, an anti-American, anti-Catholic college professor walking with a group of his students, and a zealous young Muslim man from Morocco who got more than a little temperamental when my priest friend refused to convert to Islam.

He also met many devout Catholics from all over the world going the Camino as a pilgrimage like he was, including a group of college students from the US whom he journeyed many days with.

Finally, Fr. Markey was spiritually encouraged to continue on in his pilgrimage by the beautiful, centuries old Gothic Churches and Cathedrals that line this 1000 year old pilgrimage route.

Next to one huge 12th Century Church there was a fountain for the pilgrims which was filled not with water but with wine. (Kind of makes me wish I had gone on the trip with him!)

Well, on July 24th, 33 days from when he started, and after 568 miles of walking through the Pyrennes mountains of France, through the Dry and Hot Castillian Plains of North Central Spain, and through days of pouring rain in the green Gallatian Mountains of North West Spain, Fr. Markey entered through the gates of the city of Santiago, and the next day he celebrated the Feast of St. James with the Bishop and thousands of Pilgrims, most of whom had flown or drove to get there.

In the first reading today, we see Elijah talking a very similar pilgrimage, walking 40 days and 40 nights from Mt. Carmel to Mt. Horeb. It wasn’t that Elijah was an Olympic Athlete to want to do this, nor did Elijah take steriods or other performance enhancing substances to accomplish such a grueling journey. Rather, Elijah was able to take that pilgrimage by eating the Bread God miraculously gave him through the Angel – Bread which was a symbol of the Bread Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

Walking pilgrimages are very much a part of our Catholic heritage and culture, something we need to get back to in our world today. A walking pilgrimage to a holy shrine, whether it’s just a day long one of a few miles, or a month long of hundreds of miles, is supposed to be symbolic of our life long pilgrim journey following Jesus on the road to Heaven.

Both are journeys we choose to make. My friend Fr. Markey had to choose to get on a plane, fly to Europe, and set out on the Camino. And all who follow Christ must choose to get off the wide road that leads to destruction, pick up their Cross daily, and set out on the narrow road that leads to eternal life.

Both are journeys which test us in both body and spirit, to the point where we may be tempted to want to quit. Fr. Markey had his twisted ankle and 12 blisters, and at times on the pilgrimage of life, keeping the commandments or persevering in the Faith can become very challenging when the road gets steep or long for us.

And finally, both types of pilgrimages are filled with many graces along the way. Fr. Markey had brother pilgrims, beautiful gothic Cathedrals and a fountain full of wine to inspire him to keep going, and in the same manner, Jesus will give us fellow Christians who will inspire us to continue on, He will give us spiritual consolations when we need it most.

And like Elijah, it was the supernatural strength of the Bread come down from Heaven more than any bodily strength that enabled my friend Fr. Markey to persevere those 33 days of walking, and finally reach the end of his journey. And it is the Holy Eucharist which will give us the strength to persevere in following Jesus throughout our life, and which will, please God, nourish us until we reach the end of our earthly pilgrimage.

God told Elijah Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you. As you and I make our pilgrimage through life, trying to stay on the narrow road that leads to heaven, may we frequently and devoutly, every Sunday at least, get up and eat the Bread of Life, that the Journey may not be too long, but a Journey full of blessings which ends at the Gates of Heaven after a life lived walking with Jesus.

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