Life is Beautiful

Today was a long day on the Camino. Started at 6:45am in Pamplona and arrived after 4:00pm in Punta la Riena. But it was a gorgeous day in every way.

I need a lot of alone time, and so I prefer to walk without others and without conversation. But there is something as beautiful as the scenery, the church and the monuments in sitting at the end of the day with a group of pelegrinos from all over the world drinking a beer (OK, more than one beer), playing guitar (I listen, others play), sharing, laughing.

What I feel mostly as I listen to Steve from Oregon play the guitar, watch Stefan from Germany smile though his sunburn, and marvel at Noel, the 80 year old Australian on his third Camino, is incredible gratitude.

Life is beautiful.


Another Lesson from the Camino

Lesson number two: It’s not supposed to be easy.

We typically work under the assumption that everything is supposed to be easy for us. We should always be healthy. Our computers should always work. Our flights should always be on time. The water in the shower should always be hot. Etc.

At some point we have to confront the reality that it doesn’t always happen the way we think it should and that perhaps that is the point.

Leave aside late flight, lost shorts and the fact that I can’t seem to score a bottom bunk in the pilgrim hostels. I am thinking more of another stretch of uphill climbing after you were sure it was all downhill from here. Or a rocky path at the end of the day, when your feet are to tired to lift making every step painful. Or torrential rain.

Those are the sorts of things that remind me that our greatest growth often is the product of the hardships we face. Big and small. We learn from them all.

Signing off after a 17 mile day.

Lesson number one from the Camino

Be attached to nothing. It took me all of one day to lose a pair of shorts. They were a pair I like and had planned to wear in the evenings. Gone. Let them go.

Be attached to nothing, including plans. It had always been my intention to begin walking today – feast of St. Vincent de Paul. But we arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port on an earlier train than I expected yesterday and decided to begin walking and go as far as Orisson yesterday and then the rest of the way to Roncesvalles today. It turned out to be a good idea, as both days were difficult; today there were heavy winds most of the way… and the wind always seemed to be hitting me head on.

So no attachment to prior plans. Taking each day – and each step as it comes. And no attachment to possessions, although I do hope to hang onto enough clothes to wear!


This is it! Later today I fly today to Paris, from where I will travel to St. Jean Pied de Port (via Bayonne) to begin my Camino. I have been waiting for so long for this day, it is hard to believe it is really here!

I have some of my own ideas for what I hope to gain clarity on as I walk. But, as with retreats, I know that God has God’s own plans in mind, and so I will be open for whatever God has in store for me on this pilgrimage.

The beginning of this walk also marks the end of my run of posting daily – a run which has lasted over five and a half years and over 2000 posts. I do plan to post as I can – short audio reflections, pictures, and some thoughts, but those will be occasional. (If you are not already subscribed to Creo en Dios!, if you scroll down the right sidebar you will see a link to subscribe – that will ensure that you get an e-mail when I do post.)

I will take my first steps out of St. Jean on Friday – feast of one of my great heroes, St. Vincent de Paul. Be assured of my prayers for you as I walk. And I ask you to keep me in your prayers as well.


Charity and Evangelization

Yesterday morning I spoke at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis on the subject of Charity and Evangelization. This was the first of a three-session series on Catholic Social Teaching and the New Evangelization that kicks off a new year of Adult Faith Formation at Lourdes.

My talk focused on two broad questions. First, what is the meaning of charity from a Catholic perspective? Second, how is Catholic charity related to evangelization?

Charity is not optional. As Pope Benedict said in his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, charity “is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Evangelization is no less central for Catholics, indeed, all Christians.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 35:54.

P.S. I now have about 170 podcasts on a variety of topics posted here on Creo en Dios! You can see them all listed on the podcast page here. You can also find them all on iTunes.

Spiritual Warfare

I’ve been fascinated by my experience over the last two weeks, as I count down toward my departure for my Camino walk.

Starting about a week ago Monday, I’ve experienced the pain of pretty much every injury, illness or pain I’ve experienced over the last several years. For two days my right forearm ached miserably. (I had tendonitis in that area two years ago.) Then I had several days of terrible aching of my left shoulder. (I had a rotator problem that arose about a year ago.) In between that, I had several mornings where I woke up with stiffness in the last two digits of my left hand. (Something I had complained about to my doctor during my last physical, but which had disappeared.) The other night I woke up with a bad toothache. My right achilles (the last body area on which I had physical therapy) has been giving me almost constant, although thankfully low-level, pain. Most recently, I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating nerve pain in my left leg (past sciatica). I think there may be a few more I’ve left out.

I know none of these are re-injuries, since the pain comes for a couple of days and then departs. So the only label I have is Ignatius’ enemy spirit. Whatever name you give it – enemy spirit, spiritual warfare, it is the negative force that calls out, “You can’t do this. You can’t do this. Might as well not try.” My dear friend Maria calls it “the same syndrome as when you decide to go on retreat and have a terrible, shitty week leading up to it that makes you want to sulk and stay home.”

Well, I’m tougher than that. There is only one response: mindfully put one foot in front of the other. And trust.

That, I recognize, is no guarantee one of these past injuries won’t arise for real on the Camino, perhaps one great enough to cause me to have to suspend my walk. But I’ll face that possibility if and when I come to it. For now, it is one foot in front of the other.

Vocation As Verb, Rather Than Noun

A former student sent me a newsletter from her church that had a wonderful article on vocation. The article included the important reminder that vocation is not static, discussing the danger that “once we name the thing we are called to” we may “begin to live into a static definition, an idea” that keeps us from being open to God’s call in each moment, thus preventing us from meeting the needs of our world.

The author of the article makes this suggestion for avoiding the static trap:

It might help to think of vocation as a verb rather than a noun. It is an ongoing attentiveness, an ongoing listening to an ever-unfolding process being called out by God. Our gifts are directions to us of how to engage with the world in this service vehicle of vocation, and they keep directing as they, the landscape, and we keep changing.

Discernment of vocation is not a one-shot deal, but a life-long process. We need to have sensitivity to the fact that God may have different plans for us at different times. That can be difficult because it means that the best one can ever say is I am where I am supposed to be right now, but I need to be open to fact that God may want me to do something else at a different time.

Secular notions of success interferes with the understanding that vocation is not static. Secular success means furthering our career and many fear that making changes from what they’ve been doing will look “too much like failure.” Related to this is a common fallacy one author referred to as the “I’ve-invested-too-much-to-stop-now” principle. There is a temptation to stay in one’s current position long after it becomes clear that it no longer aligns our gifts and desires with the needs of the world. These tendencies are aggravated by the fact that success in career is measured by how much we have.

It takes work in the context of the world in which we live to think of vocation as a verb, not a noun.

Whatever You Ask For in Prayer, Believe That You Will Receive It

After each of our vocation retreat weekends, the participants in the retreat take turns at a weekly “spiritual nourishment” message to the group. Some people send prayers, others poems, others reflections on a piece of scripture, others a parable of sorts.

This week, one of our students shared some thoughts about the passage in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

With his permission, here is John Fandrey’s reflection on this passage:

“I thought this passage was fitting since I had just read about the Kansai International Airport in Japan. Japan is a difficult place to build airports because of its rough terrain and dense population. To overcome this problem those involved with the Kansai project decided to excavate three mountains and throw 27 million cubic yards of earth into the sea. The result was an island big enough and flat enough to place an airport. Today about 14 million passengers fly in and out of Kansai Airport every year.

“What I take from this passage is that when God tells us we can do anything, he really means we can do anything. Despite the great accomplishments we see in history whether they be technological or political, we believe that somehow our situation is different. We believe that somehow God won’t endow our pursuits with the same grace that he gave to the heroes we see in history.

“I think that all we need to do is look around us and see that God is ready to help and that with his help, we can do anything.”

Julian’s Revelations

Yesterday was the third session of the Fall Reflection Series on Praying the Mystics we are offering at UST Law School this fall.

As always, we began the session by giving participants time to share in small groups their experience of prayer during this past week with Thomas Merton. Following the sharing and question and answer period, I offered a reflection on this week’s mystic – Julian of Norwich.

Following a medical crisis, Julian had a series of “showings” (her term) – dramatic revelations of God’s love. These visions led her to decide to live the life of an anchoress – a person who lived a life of prayer and contemplation. My talk focused on Julian’s emphasis on God’s love and her understanding that God is all we need, which she talks about in the one book she wrote, Revelations of Love (sometimes called A Book of Showings.

You can access a recording of the talk I gave here or stream it from the icon below. (I accidentally hit stop before talking about the prayer material for the week, so the podcast is missing the brief remarks I made about those.) The podcast runs for 22:07. You can find the handout I distributed (which I refer to near the end of the podcast) here.

Note: Although our reflection series has two remaining sessions, I will not be present at those, since I leave Tuesday for my Camino walk. Jennifer Wright will be facilitating and offering the reflections at those last two sessions (Marjorie Kempe and The Author of the Cloud of the Unknowing). You will be able to access the podcasts of those two talks here.

Pumpkin Lattes and First-World Problems

We have doubtless all seen one or more First World Problem memes detailing frustrations that are only experienced by privileged people in wealthy countries. They are typically tongue-in-cheek devices (at least I hope they are tongue-in-cheek) to make light of trivial inconveniences. (See, e.g., here.)

The other day I came across a petition that makes me wonder at the problems some people really think they have. (It definitely was not tongue-in-cheek.) The petition was to the CEO of Starbucks aimed at getting Starbucks to make its Pumpkin Spice Latte (a seasonal beverage that appears every fall) vegan and dairy-free. Apparently (and this in bold letters on the request for signatures) “there is currently no vegan option for this drink mix, which is a total bummer” and “many people are shocked to hear that the mix contains condensed milk.”

I am not insensitive to those who are lactose intolerant or who for health or other reasons wish to eat a vegan diet. I love to cook for friends and have no reluctance to modify menus to take into account their food allergies or other dietary restrictions and preferences.

But really, friends. Is it really that great a hardship that there are some by-no-means-necessary items of food and drink that are not vegan and dairy-free? Is one’s life greatly diminished (or diminished at all) by being forced to go through the fall season without a pumpkin latte? Aren’t there plenty of other vegan and dairy-free lattes to choose from?

And aren’t there more important things worth trying to change?