What. Three. Words.

Where in the world are we?

Throughout the trip, we will be updating this blog with our location. Our precise location. Our really, really precise location. So precise, in fact, that the four of us might be in the same room, and have different locations to report.

How do we do this? I’m glad you asked…

What3Words.com (Henceforth to be known as “W3W”) is a website and free app for both iOS and Android that uses mapping software to section the entire surface of the planet into 3×3 meter squares and assigns each of them a name of three random, unrelated English words.

That means there are 57 trillion unique addresses on planet Earth. Using the app, our phones can tell us precisely where we are. Once we know our W3W words each day, we’ll include them in our posts at significant locations and you’ll know where we are, too.  You’ll be able to click the link and see our location on a Google Map.

Cushioned.Ritual.Tiredness

I couldn’t help but laugh at the W3W that is the precise location of my desk in my office at Sacred Heart in La Plata. So keep in mind, we have no control over the words assigned to our location. 57 trillion, remember? That said, these are the words that correspond to my very desk at Sacred Heart.

1 – “Cushioned” certainly makes sense. I have a comfy chair here in my office. It reclines, it has nice arm rests.  My shoes are cushioned, too.  My car has cushioned seats and an air conditioner to “cushion” me against the heat.  Even the deacon’s chair in the sanctuary has a cushion on it.  We always try to include some level of cushioning between us and what is harsh and difficult. But getting too used to being cushioned makes us too dependent on it.

One important stage in the planning of the Camino is to carefully decide what items to bring and which to leave behind.  Everything must be carried on our backs, so we have to take only what we really need.  We actually weigh our bags, remove some items, then weigh it again, over and over again until we get it right.  It’s a suitable metaphor for the spiritual life, as well.  The more you own, the more that owns you.  So lighten the load.

2 – “Ritual” also makes sense. We all live by rituals.  Getting up, going to work, relaxing, celebrating important events – all of those things happen within a rhythm.

I’m a Catholic cleric. We love rituals. The Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Sacraments. Even getting up every morning to hike 15 to 20 miles on a trek across a foreign country will soon be a bit of a ritual.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a ritual is:

“a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order”

and “a type of behavior invariably followed by someone.”

My life as a deacon, a husband, a dad, a leader at work, formerly as a Naval officer and now as a pilgrim hiker all have a sense of ritual to them.  Rituals are how we accomplish our goals over a long period of time.  We get up every day, serve as God has called us to, and then we do it again tomorrow.  In between, we thank the Lord for another day.  That’s the wisdom of St. Benedict that he gave to his monks.  Ora et Labora.  Life is a balance between prayer and work.  When we combine them in the right amounts, the result is joy.  Ritual is how we achieve our personal goals and how we achieve our goal of heaven.

3 – “Tiredness”. Yup. Think of how you feel when you take a midday nap.  It feels like a little reward, doesn’t it?  That’s because tiredness is how we know we’ve served well. God is never satisfied to leave us melting into the couch in our “ritualized cushioning”, so to speak.  He calls us to serve.  Every call of God to serve is one that will wear us out, exhaust us and make us tired, but also exactly what will lead us to joy.  He leads us to realize that every one of us is called to suffer a little bit for the sake of something greater. “Tiredness” is the reward we get for making a good effort.

Well, invoking God in this little reflection might be a leap, right? I mean, it’s just a silly mapping app on my phone, after all.  How can I know that God is leading me and my brothers on this pilgrimage?

Because God sent His Son to walk with us on Earth. He led His disciples by walking with them, for three years, all over Judea, leading them by His very example. And I happen to know a secret.

“Cushioned.Ritual.Tiredness” is Jesus’s address, too.

Huh? “Hey, Deacon, didn’t you just finish explaining that this was YOUR address? The precise location of your desk in your office?”

Yes, I did.

But I have a basement office. And directly above my head is the Blessed Sacrament chapel, so our Lord, in the Sacrament of the altar, is in the very same 3×3 meter square as me right now.  And he’s telling me to put on my boots and start walking.

 

¡Buen Camino!

Deacon Bil

 

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El Camino de Santiago

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(L-R) Deacon Bil, Patrick, Deacon Juan, Father Marco after a recent practice hike

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ευχαριστία (Eucharistia)

So what is this thing all about, anyway? Well, about 30 years ago, when I was an exchange student in Galicia, Spain, I learned about the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) and I’ve wanted to hike it ever since. Later I became an undergraduate Spanish Literature major at Hofstra University in New York, and my passion for this pilgrimage intensified. After my ordination to the diaconate in 2017, I decided I would make a pilgrimage in thanksgiving to our Lord for this great grace. My brother deacon and good friend, Deacon Juan Ortiz of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lexington Park felt the same way. We decided we would plan a hike across Spain in the summer of 2018. During our planning, we quickly realized that any pilgrimage of thanksgiving would be incomplete without the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”!), so we looked for a priest that was as excited as we were about making the pilgrimage. Deacon Juan asked his pastor, Father Marco Schad, and we soon had a trio.

And Then There Were Four

As we continued planning, we decided that we needed the right gear! Backpacks, boots, shirts, convertible pants, supplies, etc. So we planned a trip to R.E.I. Outfitters in DC. On the day of the trip, Deacon Juan informed me that a friend and parishioner of his, Patrick King, wanted to come with us to the store. As our trio was trying on backpacks, I saw that Patrick was also trying on equipment, and getting sales advice from the store employees. I asked Patrick, “So are you coming with us?” His answer was “Yeah, I think I will!” Saddle up, Patrick!

How does this work?

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Camino is a 500 mile route from the French/Spanish border in the east all the way to the city of Santiago de Compostela in the west. It has been trekked by pilgrims for over 1000 years, mostly for religious reasons, but also by many non-Catholics for the experience of it. In the 9th Century, the bones of St. James the Apostle (“Santiago” in Spanish) were miraculously discovered in a field in the modern Spanish region of Galicia. A hermit had seen some mysterious lights and he alerted the local bishop, who followed the lights, or stars, to a field. There they discovered the remains of the Apostle, long thought to have preached in Galicia. The town that grew up around this site was named for the saint, and the etymology of “Compostela” either means “field of the star”, or “burial ground”. Because of our tight schedules here in the US, our quartet has decided that instead of beginning our trip in Roncesvalles in France, we will start the three-week, 300-mile trek in the city of Burgos, home and resting place of El Cid. We will hike about 15-17 miles a day, sometimes less, sometimes more. Each night, we will find a place to stay in one of the many towns along the government-sanctioned pilgrimage route.

Shock-o-BAY-o

Over the centuries, pilgrims would make the trip to worship at the Shrine of St. James, today a minor basilica and cathedral. The trip would begin at their front door and end at the shrine, but today the route is much more established. The two main routes are the Camino del norte and the Camino francés. Both are roughly parallel to each other, but the camino del norte runs along the northern coast. We will be taking the Camino francés, which is the more common of the two. For locals, the pilgrimage itself is often called the Xacobeo, deriving its name from the alternate form of the name “James” (Jacob), and the Galician tendency to replace the letter “J” with the letter “X” in many names. The “X” has a sound like “Sh” in English, hence, the “Shock-o-BAY-o.”

The Plan

So once we arrive in Burgos, then what? Well, here’s the plan now, as I see it from my comfy chair in Maryland. (Details subject to change when reality eventually hits).

0600 – Get up, get dressed, get out.
0630 – Preparations – Stretch our bodies with some exercises and stretch our spirits with the Morning Prayer of the Divine Office.
0645 – FIND COFFEE…and something to eat.
0700 – Hut, hut…HIKE. Until about noon.
1200 – Pray the Angelus and celebrate Mass! Using our travel Mass kit and travel vestments, we will have a travelers’ Mass and we hope to include some traveling travelers that we meet along our travels.
1230 – Lunch. Whatever we can find. Really. The Navy taught me to eat anything.
1245 – Siesta. Loosen shoes, check feet, refill water bottles, nap if necessary. When in Spain…
1400 – More hiking, meandering until we reach our daily destination.
1800 – Evening prayer.
1900 – Check in to our albergue, find food, rest our feet, rest our heads. Tend to laundry, hygiene and blisters, in order of importance.
2000 – Fellowship (with new friends, old friends and wine, of course)

2100 – Lights out! Thank God for our safe day.

Throughout the trip, we hope to take turns posting to this blog, sharing pictures and experiences of everything planned and unplanned that happens along “the Way”. We also want to remember your intentions in our daily Masses, so please leave us your comments. Pray for us, and know that we’re praying for you!

You can leave a a prayer request in the comments section below, but it will be posted publicly.  If you’d prefer it to be more private, feel free to send it directly to us using the “Prayer Intention” form in the Menu above.
And don’t forget to enter your email and click the blue “Follow” button to see our updates during the trip.

Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, lead us and protect us!

Saint James, pray for us!

-Deacon Bil-
July 25, Feast of St James