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Posts Tagged ‘John Gagliardi’

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The Trek to Santiago Compostela

I’ve never done an eighty-mile walk before, and so today seems as good a day as any to start.  Actually, it’s the right day to do it because this morning I’m scheduled to join with a group to do the last 110 kilometers of the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela.  I wouldn’t want them to leave without me.

It’s a thousand-year-old route, and through the Middle Ages only Rome exceeded Santiago in popularity as a destination in Western Europe.  With the Reformation the shrine took a big hit, and the numbers thinned out to a trickle for a long time.  But to people’s amazement, over the last fifty years it’s bounced back, and the last stretch of eighty miles alone gets an average of 300,000 in the course of the season.  And of course that does not count the even greater numbers that get there by bus or train or car.  Anyway, we won’t be alone as we walk this path.

8A1F8337-3A59-4444-9F1B-3A1E1B9ED021From the start the goal of the pilgrimage has been to venerate the relics of the apostle James, which tradition says are sheltered in the cathedral dedicated to his memory.  Even today people go there for that, but it is the journey as much as the destination that makes the whole thing worthwhile.  Today people go for all sorts of reasons, and for each there is something therapeutic about the experience.  I’ve been told that most everyone unloads their mental baggage — bit by bit — in the course of the journey.  What they are left with is themselves.  Slowly, in the course of the days of hiking through forests and fields and villages, people cast aside the worries about work and other such stuff.  Life is slowly reduced to the utter simplicity of individuals coming to terms with what is really essential in life.  Therein comes the growth.

I’m traveling with a group of members of the Order of Malta, which is quintessentially an organization oriented around pilgrimage.  The Order began in Jerusalem, where members served pilgrims who had fallen ill in the course of their time in the Holy Land.  Eventually the Order relocated to Rhodes and then Malta, and in both places the knights built and staffed giant hospitals that served the sick and the poor.  It’s in that spirit that members of the Order now go with the sick on a yearly pilgrimage to Lourdes.

The Order has never really had a strong association with Santiago Compostela, but there are chapels and fortified places along the way that the Order built or inherited from other Orders like the Templars. Today there are no members staffing these places, but lots of other people have stepped in to serve the streams of pilgrims who have once again populated the route.

495F148C-C3D3-4F78-95EC-0AC3AC43D006In the Middle Ages there were four trail-heads for the pilgrimage to Santiago, and all of them were in Burgundy and elsewhere in France.  It was a very long walk, filled with inconvenience and even danger.  Today the routes have multiplied, and the trails are much nicer; but it can still be a challenge, even on the shorter routes.  And despite all the options, purists insist on beginning the journey on the French side of the border with Spain.  That journey can take many weeks, and there’s one good reason why our group is not starting there.  We all have day jobs, and we don’t have that kind of time.

So today our trek begins in the town of Sarria.  An average day will take us about nine or ten miles, which is within my reach but paltry compared to those who will do 20+ miles per day.  In preparation I did lots of walking over the summer, though I never did ten miles a day for eight days in a row.  Still, I’m confident that I can get my left and right feet to cooperate with one another, and I’ve made it easier on them because this last leg of the route to Santiago has no mountains.

I first went to Santiago as a graduate student doing dissertation research in Spain.  That was ages ago, and I did the trip by train.  In physical terms I would have been better-suited for the pilgrimage back then.  But that was then and this is now, and I’m glad I’m doing it now rather than then.  And as the Scriptures say, “this is the day the Lord has made.  Let us be rejoice and be glad in it!”  So please say a prayer that each and every day of the trip counts for something good.  And while you’re at it, pray for yourself as well!

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NOTES

+I began the pilgrimage to Santiago with a flight to Madrid, and the photos in today’s post show scenes from that wonderful city.  There is a real elegance to Madrid, despite the rather crowded neighborhoods.  The photos in today’s post give a hint of that.

+On the eve of the pilgrimage I watched The Way, in which Martin Sheen plays a pilgrim to Santiago.  It is stunningly good and available on YouTube — for free.  Who would have thought.

+I had given some thought about more frequent posts in the course of the pilgrimage, but ultimately I decided to stick with my weekly format.  So in the post of October 22nd I will give an update on our progress through the fields and forests of Galicia in northwestern Spain.

+Today friends and alumni of Saint John’s University will gather for a funeral Mass in the abbey church to honor the memory of John Gagliardi, our long-time football coach.  In addition to articles that have appeared in newspapers across the country, this most recent Saturday the football team gave him their ultimate tribute with a 40-20 win over the University of Saint Thomas.  It was a great game.

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img_3767All Souls’ Day:  A Reflection

One of my all-time favorite hymns comes from 18th-century England, and it compares Jesus to an apple tree.   It’s a carol that we sing at Christmas, but its focus on ripe fruit makes it just as appropriate for All Souls’ Day, and for autumn in particular.  And the first stanza reads thus:

The tree of life my soul hath seen,

Laden with fruit and always green.

The trees of nature fruitless be

Compared with Christ the apple tree.

I quote from this hymn because it complements the poignant lines from chapter 3 of the Book of Wisdom.  That too is a bit of poetry that sets an almost melancholy and yet hopeful tone for All Souls’.  “They seemed, in view of the foolish, to be dead, and their passing away was thought an affliction, and their going forth from us, utter destruction.  But they are in peace.”

img_3727What I find so compelling about these words is not just the consolation that they offer to us, the living.  They also express a fundamental connection between us and those who have fallen asleep in the Lord.  We struggle along the road to the Lord, and many of them still journey through purification as they look forward to the full vision of God.  To adapt the words from Wisdom, the followers of Jesus — both living and dead — seem foolish and our lives pointless.  Yet, as disciples of Jesus we pursue with all our being the good, the true and the beautiful.  All are attributes of God, and lives in pursuit of those three things are fruitful beyond words.  The reward for such a life is many times over our feeble investment in faith.

It’s our solidarity with those who have gone before us in faith that we celebrate on All Souls’ Day.  And so we pray for them as they journey through purification, in hopes that they in turn will remember us when they step into the presence of God.

For now, however, we acknowledge something we hold in common.  With them we are fellow travelers on the path to union with God, and we follow in their well-worn steps.  And what draws us on together is the occasional glimpse of God which we are privileged to have.  It’s this inspiration of which the last stanza of the hymn speaks:

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,

It keeps my dying faith alive;

Which makes my soul in haste to be

With Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

img_3785So we’re left to ponder the image of the apple tree.  Here we are in November, and a very few stubborn apples still cling to what look to be lifeless trees in the abbey orchard.  To the world those trees seem to be dead, but even in their leafless state their branches are noble and their roots capable of renewed life.  Those branches and roots next spring will sprout to life, just as did Jesus at the resurrection.  That is our faith, and it is the hope that we celebrate on All Souls’ Day.

That vision of eternal life is what now animates the souls who have gone before us in faith, and the very same glimpse of the divine sustains us who feebly struggle in their steps.  We pray for them and for ourselves that new life will bud within us, just as it does in the apple tree in spring time.  And come the autumn of our lives, our reward will be fruit on our branches that will be wonderfully abundant.

img_3788Notes

+On November 2nd I celebrated the abbey Mass, and today’s post is an adaptation of the sermon that I gave that day.  To my delight and surprise Fr. Anthony played on the organ an improvisation on Jesus Christ the Apple Tree as an Offertory meditation.

+November 2nd was a busy day for the abbey church.  For noon prayer the monks gathered in the cemetery to pray at the graves of our confreres.  In the church that day we hosted the funeral of the singer Bobby Vee, who was a member of the abbey parish.  Some 1,000 people gathered, and to a selection of his songs the monastic schola added its own music, including the Ultima.  The latter is a wonderfully moving bit of chant which we sing at the cemetery service for the burial of a monk.

Throughout the month of November we remember those for whom we have been asked to pray.  Friends of the abbey send us cards listing their deceased loved ones, and on the way into morning and evening prayer we each take a card and pray for those names.  It makes the remembrance of the dead wonderfully personal.

img_3827+On November 5th I attended the dedication of Gagliardi Field.  Named in honor our famed retired football coach John Gagliardi, it is a covered field that will serve both football practice as well as indoor soccer and winter intramurals.  To say that it is a huge space does not quite do it justice.  It is gigantic, and it is part of a now complete complex that includes a new soccer pitch, baseball stadium and tennis courts.

That afternoon I attended the football game, at which Saint John’s hosted and bested Hamline University, 42-6.

+The pictures in today’s post begin with one taken in the abbey apple orchard.  We’ve had an orchard from the earliest days of the community, and it has been renewed many times over in the course of 160 years.  The next photos show the last lingering colors of autumn at Saint John’s; while the photo at bottom allows a glimpse into the interior of Gagliardi Field.

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