Sunday, July 25, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday C - Jubilee Sunday of St. James at Compostella

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "C") July 25, 2001, "ASK AND IT WILL BE GIVEN YOU" [Texts: Genesis 18:20-32; [Psalm 138]; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13]

One of the richest sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is Part Four on Christian Prayer. Its centrepiece consists in an extended reflection on the central section of today's gospel, the "Lord's Prayer".

But there is much else as well. For example, prayer as adoration and blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, praise. Treatments of vocal prayer, meditation, contemplative prayer. And brief essays on prayer in the Bible, in the life of Jesus and in the Church.

The Catechism's teaching about prayer in the life of the disciples of Jesus and His Church begins with a definition by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy". There is room here for each person to see echoes of his or her unique manner of praying.

When the disciples, seeing Jesus praying, asked Him to teach them to pray, He urged them to pray simply and directly to God as Father.

Jesus said they should be concerned first of all, each time they pray, to glorify God's name in the world, fostering the coming of God's rule among those who dwell in the world.

Leaving the future to God, they should then pray each day for their daily needs and ask, as well, God's forgiveness for their failings, even as they extend the release of debts to those indebted to them. Finally, recognizing their own frailty, they are to ask God to spare them trials that might overpower them.

St. Augustine taught that Jesus' prayer is a summary of the biblical teaching on prayer, "Run through all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord's Prayer".

St. Thomas Aquinas called the Lord's Prayer the most perfect of prayers, "In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence in which they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them".

Though people today question the appropriateness of petitionary prayer, the Lord's teaching stresses habitually making known to God several petitions. The importance of asking God for what one needs and desires is also the focus of two parables Jesus tells to illustrate the Heavenly Father's willingness to grant His children's prayers.

The parable of the visitor at midnight informs us of the sense of hospitality that ruled in the Palestinian village of Jesus' day. If a neighbour were to refuse to come to the aid of his fellow villager by refusing to share food he had with an unexpected late-night visitor next door, he would experience shame the next day for causing the village's failure in hospitality.

To this motive of shame, the parable adds the theme of determination ("even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs").

Jesus then makes an a fortiori ("how much more") argument. If this scoundrel of a neighbour will most certainly act and provide what is required, how much more will the God who is all good grant the persevering petitions of those who tell Him of their needs.

In the other parable, Jesus makes a similar point about the way parents want to give good things to their children, not giving a snake when they ask for fish, or a scorpion when they ask for an egg. "If you then, who are evil (as human beings in comparison with God) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father...."

Therefore, Jesus concludes, "ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you".

Persistence in prayer is evident in Abraham's compassionate intercession for the residents of Sodom. And Paul says that in Christ's death on the cross, God heeded humanity's need for forgiveness, "when He forgave us all our trespasses".


The Way of St James has existed for over a thousand years. It was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned; other major pilgrimage routes include the Via Francigena to Rome and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James's remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones.

During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the Black Plague, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims arrived in Santiago annually.

Since then however the route has attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe; many wear the shell, an emblem both of baptism and of the pilgrimage to St. James. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Whenever the Feast of the Apostle St James (July 25th) falls on a Sunday as it does in this year 2010, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. Depending on leap years, Holy Years occur in cycles of 6, 5, 6 and 11 year intervals. The most recent were 1982, 1993, 1999 and 2004. The next will be 2021, 2027 and 2032.

Today, tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims and other travellers set out each year from their front doorstep, or popular starting points across Europe, to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few travel as some of their medieval counterparts did, on horseback or by donkey.

In addition to people undertaking a religious pilgrimage, there are many travellers and hikers who walk the route for non-religious reasons: travel, sport, or simply the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign land. Also, many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It acts as a retreat for many modern "pilgrims".

Most pilgrims have a document called the credencial, which they have purchased for a few euros through a Spanish tourist agency or their local church, depending on their starting location. The credencial is a pass which allows (sometimes free) overnight accommodation in refugios.

Also known as the "pilgrim's passport", the credencial is stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town or refugio at which the pilgrim has stayed. It provides walking pilgrims with a record of where they ate or slept, but also serves as proof to the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago that the journey is accomplished according to an official route.

The credencial is available at refugios, tourist offices, some local parish houses, and outside Spain, through the national St. James organization of that country. The stamped credencial is also necessary if the pilgrim wants to obtain a compostela, a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage.

A Pilgrim's Mass is held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela each day at noon for pilgrims. Pilgrims who received the compostela (certification that they have made the journey) the day before have their countries of origin and the starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the Mass.

The musical and visual highlight of the mass is the synchronisation of the beautiful "Hymn to Christ" with the spectacular swinging of the huge Botafumeiro, the famous thurible kept in the cathedral. Incense is burned in this swinging metal container, or "incensory".

As the last chords die away, the multitude of pilgrims come forward to reach the spiritual highlight of the Mass, the reception of Holy Communion. Earlier, priests will have administered the Sacrament of Penance, available in many languages, permitting most pilgrims to complete the indulgence attached to the pilgrimage upon satisfying the other canonical conditions (Confession; Mass and Communion; Prayers for the Holy Father's intentions).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a nice post on the background of the pilgrimage to Santiago. For some ideas on pilgrimage today, have a look at the new Xacobeo website (in English) here:

    Buen Camino!