It happened to me. Even though I chose it, took it on, walked it – the Camino was something that happened to me. Every encounter, every experience of the Pilgrimage was like God doing something to me and in me – in a small way like it was done to Mary according to the Word of God at the Annunciation. It is said that it is not the pilgrim who makes the Camino but the Camino makes the pilgrim. It’s true.
Meeting Brend was one of the key happenings on that journey almost eight years ago. He was twenty-five years old then and now he is thirty-three and he arrived in Hastings on Easter Monday having cycled three days from Arnhem in Holland. This was our fifth meeting since the Camino and as always when we’re together we think and talk a lot about our other Camino companions, especially Mark and Becky. I miss them.
He was exhausted from the journey and I’m pretty tired after the wonderful Holy Week and Easter ceremonies. We went to Porters for food and stayed up too late talking. We talked a lot over the next few days and it’s like we have never been apart. We adjust to each other very quickly.
Faith makes up part of our conversation. Brend is not bound by any institution but at the same time he is quite Catholic and is perhaps becoming more so. One Sunday afternoon on the Camino, the day after Brend and I first met, we were chatting with a group of pilgrims in the dormitory about our reasons for doing the Camino. Mine were clearly religious & spiritual. Michael, who is Catholic, said he was doing it for cultural and sporting reasons. He and Brend got into a discussion on work and money.
Brend said that he wanted to do something for people and went on to talk about his religious experiences which had led him to believe that all religions are good, that one is not better than another. And then, placing his hand on his chest he said "but in here I have a special feeling for Jesus". The gesture, the tone, the expression on his face were beautiful. Look after that feeling I said to him then.
It's something that worries me about our children and young adults, the next generation of my own family – how quickly they move away from the fervent experience of First Holy Communion. Especially when they move to secondary school, they abandon almost all of the external evidence of faith, become embarrassed by it, embarrassed by those who practise it. They do this, I believe, mostly because of peer pressure but I would appeal to them not to let anyone or any thing rob them of their genuine interior feeling for Jesus. To love Him even in secret, just like Joseph the secret disciple of Jesus in the Gospel. No one should touch to destroy the sacred experience of Jesus that a child has had and if it is nurtured in its secret inner place, it will emerge as a saving grace in later life. Now Brend talks about how Christianity is the only religion that has compassion at its heart. In Chelva a couple years ago we all had spoken about the heart of Jesus being at the centre of our religion and now too he speaks of how it’s not enough to simply believe in Jesus but we should also imitate Him, be like Him, do what He did. What He does!
It brings me to Divine Mercy Sunday which we celebrate today, the second Sunday of Easter. In the Gospel the disciples are locked in the Upper Room of the Last Supper for fear of the Jewish religious authorities of the time. Jesus, the risen Mercy of God, comes through the locked doors, enters into the confined space in which they have placed themselves, enters in to their fear and confusion, speaking His Word of Peace to them, addressing the reality in which they find themselves. He addresses the doubt of St. Thomas, brings him to touch His wounds, His pierced heart, leads him to faith. My Lord and my God!
It is the same Mercy of God that approaches us in whatever reality we find ourselves, the confined spaces in which we have somehow chosen to live. It may be the confinement of fear or some hurt; it may be a confined attitude to God; a limiting idea of who we ourselves are. Quite often it is a feeling of guilt that we cannot let go of or a way of living that has imprisoned us.
Whatever it is, Jesus comes into it, speaks His peace to it, breathes the power of the Holy Spirit into it, transforms and changes us by the grace of His mercy, by His own risen wounds. And the He sends us out from that place – “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you!” We leave our confinement to become instruments of Peace, Mercy and Compassion. We do so by the kind of people we are, by our presence in the lives of those whom we meet in the Providential Mercy of God.