A friend of mine embarked this week on the ‘Camino de Santiago”. This is a 500 mile trek from France, across the Pyrenees, to the shrine of St James the Apostle in Compostela, Northern Spain. It is a hike taken by thousands of people, of all ages, every year. For some, it is a kind of pilgrimage, for others , it is a journey of self-discovery. It is so famous that a movie was made of it a few years back, called “The Way.” It stars Martin Sheen, who plays a man alienated from his son, who discovers that his son has just died at the start of making the Camino. Sheen, intrigued by what would possess his son to undertake such a journey, takes his son’s ashes, and makes the trek himself, determined to finish what his son had started, and along the way meets various fellow – hikers , all making the journey for reasons of their own. By the time he finishes the Camino, Sheen has come to some kind of peace within himself and reconciliation with his son, whose image appears to him at various stages along the way.
The Camino is an apt metaphor for our own journey through life. Full of unexpected twists and turns, bringing us into contact with others who will have a significant impact on us, and whom we will significantly impact in turn. My friend had to prepare very seriously for this marathon trek, disciplining his body by walking to and from work (an hours journey each way) every day, denying himself various “comforts,” especially with regards to food and drink . He would no doubt agree with the comment of the writer of our second reading this weekend, who writes: “Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later is yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ” Discipline seems to be rather an unwelcome word these days, but anyone who has ever achieved anything worthwhile in their life knows its importance. There is simply no way to avoid its yoke, whether one is training to become a professional musician, or an Olympic athlete, or simply trying to maintain a certain level of fitness and health.
Spiritually, also, we are not likely to make much progress in our faith-journey through life, if we are not prepared to develop and maintain good habits of prayer and reading of Scripture and other spiritual devotions, as well as opening our hearts to give mercy to those in need around us. Such habits struggle to assert themselves over against the perennial tug of our sinful nature towards lethargy and apathy and complacency, but, as our second reading this weekend reminds us, when we achieve mastery of our selves by these means, we experience the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” and blessed rest at the end of our life’s Camino, in heaven.