Recently I had the opportunity to complete a pilgrimage by walking one of the traditional routes to Compostela, Spain. It consisted of thirty days of intense walking toward the tomb of St. James the Apostle, whose name honors our cathedral in Seattle.
Contemplating the starry sky in the early morning as I left a hostel in one of the beautiful little towns of Galicia, I tried (and failed due to my gross ignorance of astronomy) to identify what Greek mythology and later the Romans called the Via Lactea (Milky Way) because of its appearance. For many years this constellation served as a celestial map for many men and women as they walked the north coast of the Iberian Peninsula known at that time as Finis Terrae (end of the earth).
In my desire to be an authentic Christian pilgrim meditating on the zealous evangelizer Santiago (James=Iacobus=Iago=San-lago=Santiago) made me pray for many hours as I walked. I meditated, gave thanks, praised God for igniting the hearts of so many men and women who, like St. James, followed the message of Jesus closely, “Go throughout the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
The devotional history of that place interprets the name Compostela as “Field of Stars” because according to tradition, the place where the remains of St. James were found shone like a field of stars.
As I meditated while walking along those large and winding paths, it occurred to me that the “Field of Stars” is the Pilgrim Church on earth. The Church has a constellation of stars which, if I may be so bold, compare to the renowned Via Lactea which, because of my ignorance of the celestial dome, I was not able to find.
Thanks to the scientific investigation of professional astronomers, we know that the stars shine because they are incandescent. Some are enormous and are closer to the earth, and that is why we enjoy their beautiful glow. Others are too small or too distant, and that is why we can barely see them shine. We have shooting stars that cross our sky for a brief moment and then disappear. Many more were extinguished centuries ago, but their splendor reaches us today from outer space as it crosses the dark cosmos.
During my meditations, I concluded that we are all like incandescent stars because the flame of our existence shines in our interior. But for those who are baptized, that flame received a new brilliance thanks to the fire of the heavenly king in our constellation – Christ Jesus.
In this beautiful field of stars there are some who shine intensely and illuminate all, much like the Virgin Mary whose fire was so intense that it has reached and continues through the centuries to reach the ends of the earth. Millions of holy women and men are like those brilliant stars which have established a clear path that guides us along the coasts of heaven to the safe harbor where salvation can be found. Throughout the centuries this constellation of pilgrims has created a milky way by their lives which transmits divine life to us.
Some are like distant or small stars whose brilliance can hardly be seen. Others appear briefly in our ecclesial sky, giving us the smallest opportunity to delight in their splendor before they extinguish themselves forever.
On the way, I met women and men of great faith who enriched me by their testimony as authentic pilgrims. I was able to spend time with a man who, covered in sweat, was pushing the wheelchair of his quadriplegic daughter who looked smilingly at her father as they traveled past rough and uneven spots. It deeply moved me to see a young woman guide her blind mother up and down those hills. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a religious sister in a black habit and veil, backpack firmly strapped to her shoulders, who decided to celebrate her silver anniversary of consecrated life by walking the Camino. I was also able to chat with a young woman, traveling with her mother, who had decided to do the pilgrimage as preparation for her wedding, begging God through the intercession of St. James the Apostle for the wisdom and strength she would need for the new stage in life she was about to begin.
I met many others along the way for whom those hundreds of kilometers were nothing more than an adventure with friends or a personal challenge of physical discipline like any other marathon.
During the long walks I had plenty of time to think and imagine God contemplating from heaven his Church as his “Field of Stars,” his “earthly Compostela.” Each year, thousands of pilgrims arrive to the tomb of the apostle to beg for his intercession before the great heavenly King Jesus, so that his fire may not be extinguished in their lives. Surely the fire of Jesus revives the flame of millions of those stars in his constellation when they draw near to him in order to continue illuminating the dark ravines of this earth where hatred and violence still abound.
May your fire, O Lord, burn in our hearts so that your Church may always be your Compostela, your radiant field of stars.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - January/February 2018
Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., is auxiliary bishop of Seattle and vicar for Hispanic ministry.Website: www.seattlearchdiocese.org/Archdiocese/auxiliaries.aspx