by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
In 2010, Emilio Estevez directed a film starring Martin Sheen as a father, Tom, traveling to retrieve the remains of his son who died in a storm in the Pyrenees Mountains while walking El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint James. The film was simply titled, “The Way.” Although it was criticized by some as moving too slowly, the major impact came as the main character had a spiritual awakening. The slow pace of the movie reflected the pace of the walk and metaphorically, the spiritual journey. In 2006, I had the opportunity to walk that walk. A classmate and I traveled to León, Spain. There we picked up the camino and walked across the Pyrenees Mountains to Compostela. Carrying knapsacks and staying in hostels, we walked about 160 miles in twelve days. I was “lucky” enough to get a one-day reprieve, even if it was to heal blisters. I learned a lot in those days. The lessons ranged from the practical (wear dry socks) to the profound (just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll make it to the goal). The most important lesson was to enjoy the pilgrimage. As one of the hostel tenders explained, we were in some of the most beautiful land on earth. It would have been a terrible mistake to complete the walk without having taken the time to enjoy the scenery, meet the other pilgrims and be grateful for the opportunity.
One of the most important stages of the walk was preparing for it. My companion and I met several times to discuss the route we would follow and brainstorm different things we would need to remember to bring. We were very much aware that we would be carrying our luggage in backpacks. We knew that the terrain was going to be uneven; we knew the temperatures were going to be hot; we knew that walking over ten miles each day was going to be grueling. So, we wanted to be sure that we had everything we would need for the journey, but we also wanted to be sure that we were not loading ourselves down and adding unnecessary burdens by packing what we would not need. It was a simple but tedious process of deciding what was most important.
In the Gospel, Jesus appoints seventy-two and sends them out as laborers in his harvest. He tells them, “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” They are to keep the focus on the simple message, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” and stay or leave the towns they visit based only on the reception of their message. Their attention had to be focused on what was most important.
The parish to which I am assigned, Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka, is one of five in the diocese which was selected for the Dynamic Parish program, a program designed by Dynamic Catholic to assist in the development of active lay participation in all facets of parish life. (The other parishes in our diocese are Holy Child Jesus, Richmond Hill; Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Bayside; St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands; and St. Brigid, Wyckoff Heights.)
One of our first activities was the distribution and study of the book, “The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity,” by Matthew Kelly, founder of Dynamic Catholic. The book challenges us to ask ourselves four questions: Who am I? What am I here for? What matters most? What matters least?
To the seventy-two, the answers were clear: They were disciples of Christ, sent to preach a message, caring only about the nearness of the kingdom and leaving everything else aside.
In the film, Tom was a father on a journey, searching for more than his son’s physical remains, needing to fill a void and putting all else on hold until he found the answers. But, what about us? How do we answer those questions?
“Who am I?” The Bible tells us that we are God’s creation, the only creation made “in His image and likeness”. The Church reminds us that we are God’s children, joined to the community of the Church through Baptism. “What am I here for?” The Baltimore Catechism made it very clear – “God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next.”
Using that as a basic mission statement for life, what is or is not important becomes more easily defined. But the world often gives us a mixed message. So often we are defined by functions – teacher, mother, doctor, laborer, son, friend – and the person who performs these functions is lost or judged only by the quality of their performance. In his essay “Civil Disobedience”, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” Sadly, many go from day to day without ever asking themselves the important questions in life; questions intended not for the philosopher or theologian alone but for all of us who seek the confidence that our lives have meaning, purpose and value.
Tom went on a journey as a father and came back more fully a human being. Although the time and place might be different, we are all on that same journey.
Readings for Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalm 65:1-7, 16, 20
Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.