You cannot but be impressed and moved by the life and work of St Francis Xavier. Here I was at Castle of Xavier, where he was born, and grew up. Its surreal. I once did a paper on Xavier’s missionary toils in Japan. Now Fr Jose gave us the saint’s birth to death sketch of his life. Brilliant student in Paris University, sportman, confident, respected, from a rich family. Gave up all to follow Christ in the mission fields. Served in Goa, India, Malacca, Indonesia, Japan, Macau. He died of sickness at age 46 while waiting to enter China. Estimated 30,000 baptisms in his one decade of preaching Christ. Stupendous. Just to get from Portugal to India took almost 2 years by ship!!
What motivated him? I asked. It was the experience of the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love. He had done the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, and had a real trust relationship with the Lord.
I saw the tiny chapel in the castle where he likely prayed in. An unsual figure of a smiling crucified Christ dominated the chapel. All around the walls were dark figures of death, of white bones and skeletons.
Why a dead Christ with a smile? The job of saving mankind is finished? Peace and joy knowing He pleased the Father? Laugh of victory over sin, death and Satan? A smile of love as He knows He will be with His Father soon? No one knows what was on the sculptor’s mind. Anyway, it must have fascinated and moved St Francis in his younger years, or at least stayed with him through his years of hardship and suffering.
I felt grateful too when I thought of God’s call on my life. I had experienced great encounters with God during the charismatic revival of 1970s. I believe it was experiencing this vast love of God that propelled me into obeying God’s call, with all its sacrifices and service. And it was being kept in this love of God that kept me serving in WRPF all these past 39 years of ups and downs. I feel grateful to God for this grace and privilege of serving this one church all this while.
Its vineyard country we have entered, following one of the journeys of St Ignatius.
We walked 15km on Saturday and about 14km today. The only difference to me was that the former was quieter and hardly anyone crossed paths with us, while today, many who were walking the Camino Santiago walked past us, including locals exercising on Sunday, a few every seven minutes.
The weather was windy, cool and sunny yesterday, but cloudier and less windy today. In both cases a short sleeve T shirt and long pants sufficed. The jackets we wore earlier in the morning had to be removed by 10am because the day grew warmer.
I felt that two of my goals were being achieved as I relished the long walks in cool weather and lovely scenery. I also needed to simply rest, eat, exercise and keep my mind freed from church matters, and be fully present with the physical world, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch.
The camino led us through shop streets and apartments. People have yet awakened. We began our walk at 7.30am in silence after a meditation on scriptures that evokes awareness of sins, but from God’s eyes of love.
We walked past factories, past offices, markets, onto a railway track converted to new uses. Some locals cycled past, some jogged and most were brisk walking. We were immersed in forests and meadows, the tunnels and factories and farms, the bridges and streams, the darkness and sunshine, the birdsong and hum of machines. These comprised the sanctuary in which we pondered over our life’s journey, over scriptures and what we have been moved by thus far as we walked. And all this in silence and peace.
I was pondering over a scripture from Psalms 51, “let the bones you have crushed dance”. My bones have been crushed on the altar of ministry and his promise to me is a redemptive dance and rejoicing, something I have experienced, and still do today, and will in future. He never fails.
It ended up being a 5 hours walk covering 19km, before the bus picked us up and brought us to a charming, rustic, beautiful, family farm home converted into a hotel catering to pilgrims. Gorgeous rooms, dining areas, great food and family hospitality.
The evening ended with eucharist, a siesta, dinner and a session titled, “Loved Sinner” to prepare us for the next day’s walk.
When one of our pilgrims had to rush home because of a sudden loss it touched me with an unusual deep sadness. This is not normal. It has to be a grace and a burden from the Lord to uplift her in prayer in the coming days. This is reality and we were reminded that God can be found in all things, and the group spent time in poignant prayer for her and her family.
Yesterday, Fr Jose brought us around several historical sites and expounded on the life and work of St Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Unlike secular tours, it was done from a contemplative stance, from a man steeped with a camino spirit and a life of service as a Jesuit. He also created pockets of silence and prayer at various places and junctures. The two spiritual directors urged us to cultivate a portable inner silence and posture of listening through the day, alert to what awakens and moves us in our affections.
In the night we viewed the second part of a movie on the life of Ignatius.
Today on Friday the 11th of October, we do a full days walk.
I feel very privileged and grateful. This camino experience had been made possible because my leadership wanted my sabbatical to be in the last quarter, and Lance Ng my spiritual director invited me to this spiritual exercise cum pilgrimage. I originally had signed up for an Olleh Kyushu hike but had to withdraw from it in order to give this priority. I received a kind of additional divine confirmation that I made a good choice to do this.
The sabbatical graces that I have been asking of God are threefold: 1) to have good physical and soul rest, 2) to be present and attentive to life-giving and delightful things, 3) to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.
Interestingly, in the notes handed to us, I read this insightful saying of Arrupe, a prominent leader of the Jesuits. It filled me with joy and amazement! I took a picture so its in my phone and I can reflect on it more.
It expresses my desire during this sabbatical. I ask the Lord to light a fire of love for Jesus in my soul. This is what I desire and pray for.
Today I felt happy taking a long leisurely morning walking by the sea front. The smell of the sea breeze and its caress is invigorating. I savored the moment. I am in Spain. Never thought of visiting Spain, but here I am because of God’s blessing and invitation to the camino.
We also walked to the old town with its charming, beautiful old buldings, churches and food streets. I saw many tapas restaurants, cafes and shops. We visited one St Vincent church but could only peep inside as I was unwilling to pay three euros to enter. However I had a reminder that I am in God’s hands.
Another of God’s surprises was how we unkowingly stumbled into michelin tapas restaurant and enjoyed an inexpensive late lunch.
We followed this up with a hike up a steep hill to where the huge statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart stood. There I took some time to be in silence and prayed the Jesus Prayer.
After the walk back to the apartment I was tired and had a few hours siesta. I needed this so much. More siestas please!
We landed in Barcelona in the morning and after breakfast eight of us drove in two cars for about 8 hours to San Sebastian in Spain’s northeastern shores, stopping for a tapas lunch midway through.
There we would stay for two nights before we head down to Loyola where we begin our Camino Ignaciano.
The airbnb apartment had four bedrooms and a gorgeous seafront. We had our breakfast the next morning to the sound of waves rushing to the shore, and the smell of the sea wafted into our breakfast experience. Very refreshing.
Thankful for blessings of a pleasant and safe flight and car ride and fellowship with wonderful people who love the Lord.