The Camino

It’s been a month since I’ve returned from accomplishing my biggest dream, walking the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, aka The Camino. Coming home was a bit too easy, to fall back into the routines and daily rigamarole that fills my life. I have to intentionally remember what I learned and apply it to my daily life.

Now that I’m back, over the next few months, I will revisit and reflect on the lessons of the camino and post them. When I walked, I used a variety of methods to convey my thoughts (Polar Steps, Instagram, and Facebook) but I will coalesce them all here on the blog.

I’m probably going to repost the original posts and then write reflections to pair with them. I am really looking forward to traveling the camino again through reflection. I hope you will join me! Perhaps one day we will walk the camino together. As one sign on the way reminded me, “remember, you were always on the camino.”

So here we go, back on the camino.

The Pilgrimage

About 20 years ago I read the book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo. 

Back then I wasn’t an enthusiastic reader and but I fell in love with this book – about a shepherd boy named Santiago who was on a mission to find a treasure.  After reading that book I became a huge Coehlo fan, and I’ve read almost everything he’s written.

I ran across one of his books early on in my Coehlo obsession, called “The Pilgrimage.” It was an autobiography of Coehlo’s experience walking a pilgrimage to a place called Santiago de Compostela. He was searching for a treasure—a sword. 

To be honest, it’s a weird book, but I was enamored by the pilgrimage he took – walking from the Pyrenees mountains in France and heading west to the city of Santiago de Compostela on the western coast of Spain. It is an 800km walk.  The pilgrimage is known as the Camino.

This legendary pilgrimage has been around for a thousand years. Routes across Europe lead to the “starfield of St. James” on the northwest coast of Spain. Millions of pilgrims throughout the ages have walked the hallowed paths, from St. Francis, to Napolean, Rolan, El Cid, to countless, unnamed others throughout history. Saints and sinners alike have sought what the Camino offers, and ending in the Cathedral of St. James to touch the bones of the apostle.

Coehlo’s book gave me the seed of an idea, which started me on a path to research the Camino. In grad school, I wrote my final paper on the Camino. I researched its history and dreamt of what it would be like to walk it one day. It became a bucket list item for me – my greatest dream.  

But, like dreams sometimes do, it was put on the shelf when I got married, went to grad school, and started a family. Every so often I would talk with my wife about the Camino and what a dream it would be, but that it was something I could do after the kids grew up or we retired.

For my 40thbirthday, my wife honored me with a “Fortnight for Forty” a series of 14 gifts leading up to my birthday. Gifts are my love language and I felt so loved as she gave me fun and random little gifts in the two weeks leading up to my birthday. On my actual birthday, she gave me book. It was a guide book for someone doing the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, and with it a letter telling me that this is my year to check off the biggest item on my bucket list.

After hemming and hawing for many weeks and carefully planning the kids’ summer activities, I am so happy to share that my dreams are indeed coming true! I will be undertaking the Camino Frances this summer, beginning at St. Jean Pied de Port at the base of the Pyrenees mountains in France, then heading west for 500 miles until I reach the bones of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

I invite you to be a part of my pilgrimage. I will be walking for at least 35 days, and I would love to pray for you and bring your prayer intentions with me, every step of the way, to the all the churches, monasteries, and ultimately to the apostle himself. 

If you want to support me and my family in this pilgrimage, please pray for me as I walk, and for Aleah and the boys as they hold things down at home. Feel free to contact Aleah to support her as well! If you feel inspired to support my pilgrimage by donating or helping me to purchase some equipment for the trip, I will include a link to some remaining things I hope to buy on an Amazon list called “Camino”. https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1N6L2WTFYO6PA?ref_=wl_share

Thanks so much for all your love and support.  Onward!  Ultreya! 

 

 

The Significance of Being Insignificant

I love theology. It is fun and inspiring to delve deep into the mystery of God. After all, God gave us a mind that we can use to know God's presence in our lives.

The other day in my freshman theology class, we began studying St. Thomas Aquinas' five proofs for the existence of God. 

I gave this scenario: I have a friend who is an atheist. We are good friends and I care deeply for this person. Since I believe that having a relationship with God is a good thing, I want to share this with my friend and help him to move into belief. But my friend is resistant to belief in God. My friend wants me to prove that God exists.

Prove that God exists? Easy! Check out the Bible - it is full of the miraculous stories of God and God's great love. 

"But I don't believe in your Bible," says my friend.

Ok. Well, look at the Church. It is a beautiful reminder of God's presence in the world. 

"But I don't believe in your church," says my friend.

So my task, as with St. Thomas, is to show a reasonable argument that God could exist without the benefit of religion, the Scriptures, or the church. What do we have left? We have what all humans have, our minds and hearts. If God created us, then we should be able to reason our way to God with our minds. 

St. Thomas Aquinas laid out five beautiful and effective arguments to show the reasonability of a God. 

The first proof is the argument from motion. Basically, everything is in motion, from Earth around our sun, to the universe expanding, to the subatomic level of protons and electrons. Everything that is in motion must be set in motion by some force. It is sometimes called The Unmoved Mover.

What force so powerful could set our universe and all of creation into motion? We call that force God.

So I get this far in our explanation of the proof of the Unmoved Mover that we call God, and a student asks me a question. It turns out that this student is an atheist and is struggling to understand the idea of a God, but is caught off guard by this reasonable explanation. And then this student asks a crucial question.

"Mr. Patulot, I might be able to buy that nothing can cause itself, and that everything in motion must be set in motion by something and that something is what we call God, but if God is so powerful and created the entire universe, why would that God care about my personal sin?

What this student was asking was "why would God care about me?"

Now that is a great question.

If God is indeed real, and has the power to create the universe and set it in motion and create it in such a way that is so interconnected, complex, mysterious, and beautiful, why would that all powerful thing care about me?!

And yet, what the scriptures tell us is that God does care about us. Not just in a general way, but in a specific and personal way. God knows our names, knew us before we were born, knows the number of hairs on our heads. God cares about us so deeply and personally that He became one of us, suffered, and died for us. For me. For you. 

That is the crazy part of the story and we believe it to be true. Yes, God is so amazing and powerful and created the universe and everything in it. And that same God that created our galaxy and placed each star in the sky loves each one of us individually. Loves us deeply. Longs to be with us. 

A friend of mine once said that God paints the sky with beauty every morning in the hopes that we might notice it. It is God's pleasure to love us. That is our God - all powerful and ever close to us.

For God to care about us is like for me to care about an individual lego piece in a bin of my kid's legos. It is like me caring and naming each grain of sand on the beach, on every beach, on every ocean in the world. That kind of love is ludicrous. 

That is God's love for us. For you and I.

We are insignificant in the light of the universe. We are less than specks of dust floating in space, and yet, we are the beloved of God. We are worth loving, and worth fighting for. We are worth painting the most beautiful portraits for. We are worth living and dying for. 

God is the Unmoved Mover, the one who set the world into motion. And yet, I'd like to imagine that God is also a Moved Mover. God is moved by His love for us, because that is God's true nature. When we speak of God, we can imagine a creator and an unlimited power, but the truest idea of God is that of Love. God's love for us moves God's self to count our hairs and hold us in the palms of his hands. God's love moved God's self to become flesh like us, through Jesus, and share in our life, and redeem us so that we could live with Him forever.

Why would God love such an insignificant thing like me? Because that is who God is. And I am forever grateful for it.

AP

 

 

a tiny whispering sound

On Sunday I heard one of my favorite verses from the Old Testament. It's one of those stories that you hear and say "dang! that's good. Where is that from again?"

So in good Bible quoting style, I open the scriptures to 1Kings, chapter 19. Here we find the prophet Elijah hiding on the top of a mountain. 

On a giant tangent, when I received my first communion in second grade, I remember standing in the line waiting to head into the church, and my 2nd grade crush was standing next to me and asked me this question, "Aires, do you like my hair up or down?" Now, my young self had no idea what she was talking about. Up or down? What does that even mean? Unsure of myself, I said "down?" She reached up to her hair, and took it out of the bun and shook her hair out. It seemed to cascade down in slow motion. I remember thinking "whoa." Yea, I don't know what that is, but I like it.... 

Her name: Elijah. 

I digress.

So the prophet Elijah is hiding in a cave because his enemies would have him dead. So he stayed in the cave and waited for the LORD to appear. There was a strong wind, an earthquake, and then fire, but God was not in any of those things. 

FIRST off, if even one of those things happened to me, I would be freaking out. But my man Elijah had all of these happen to him successively, while hiding in a cave. That would have broken me. But I am not the great prophet. 

So Elijah in his wisdom knows that those amazing and terrifying events are not God and he continues to wait. His patience and faith is rewarded, because sure enough, God does come, in the form of a whisper. In the presence of this whisper, Elijah hides his face because even the thought of being face to face with the whisper of God is enough to shake the man to his core. 

--

This Sunday I attended mass at my wifey's work and the deacon was preaching on the readings. He did a skillful job of weaving Sunday's powerful readings of encountering God with the challenging and disturbing events that happened over the weekend, where white supremacists and Neo-nazi's, emboldened by our current political environment, rallied in Charlottesville and the result was the death of an innocent woman, injuries to others, and a country divided on the issue of race. 

At times I feel powerless against the rising tide of hatred and bigotry that is growing and being emboldened in this country. As a person of color, as a person who has faced discrimination based on nothing more than my skin color, I find this so disturbing and disgusting. It feels like a huge wind breaking rocks, an earthquake, and a fire, all rolled into one. And God is not in these things. 

The deacon brought us back to the reading from 1Kings 19. God is in the tiny whispering sound. At times, our actions to create positive change in the world feel meaningless in the face of structures of evil and injustice. So what can we do? We can imitate the God who loves us and made each of us in his own image; every single one of us. We can listen to the whisper, and be the whisper. 

Violence begets violence. Anger begets anger. I can get angry at the injustice that I perceive in the world today. and that anger will only birth more anger within myself, and may spread to my children, and those I minister with and to. Instead, I need to respond the way Jesus has called me, how he has shown me. I need to step out onto the water with him, and do the impossible with him. I need to answer in love, as he did. 

Bringing love into the world, by small acts of kindness, by truly journeying and listening to the other, by trying to understand and break the cycles of sin and despair is to whisper into the loud and angry shouting of hatred in the world. 

The challenge is not to lose ourselves in these trying times, but rather be even more of our true selves. We are called to be God's children, to share his light. Though we are shaken by the events of the weekend, and we mourn for those who have lost their lives, and see hatred and anger around us, we are called to bring light and healing to those situations. 

A wise person once said (because I can't remember who actually said this) that pain that isn't transformed is transferred. If we can meet our brother and sister and meet their pain, hopefully we can be part of the transformation of that pain. If not, then all of us will be effected by this pain. 

So my whisper into the world today is here in this post. I do not wish to transfer my pain to you. I pray that instead it is transformed into a deeper commitment to justice and love. And in that whisper, I hope to meet God. 

AP

 

The gift of a name...

A few years ago I went with my dad to a business dinner. He introduced me to different business associates and as I shook their hands, he would say, "this is my son, Aries." He pronounced my name "AIR - REES" like the Greek God. As I shook their hands I would say, "Hi, Aires (pronounced Iris), nice to meet you." Around the third time this episode occurred, my dad looked me in the face and stressed the pronunciation to my face "AIR - REES." 

Why didn't he tell me that earlier?! For my entire life I have been pronouncing my name one way, and on this particular night, my dad decided to change it all up. I probably would have preferred being called Aries for my entire high school life. It sure would have made life so much easier back then. And don't even let me tell you what name I use for a coffee order...

I was actually named after a doctor from Dublin, Ireland, who worked at the same hospital as my mom, and lived in the same apartment complex as my parents when they first immigrated to the states. He helped my parents get acclimated to this country, showing them how to ride the bus, and get around Seattle. In gratitude, my parents named me after him. I guess he had a pretty heavy Irish accent. Between his Irish brogue and my dad's Filipino accent, who knows how my name is actually said!

Pope Francis, in 2015, said

"Children, once born, begin to receive, along with nourishment and care, the spiritual gift of knowing with certainty that they are loved. This love is shown to them through the gift of their personal name, the sharing of language, looks of love, and the brightness of a smile. 

In this way, they learn that the beauty of human relationships touches our soul, seeks our freedom, accepts the difference of others, recognizes and respects them as a partner in dialogue... such is love, and it contains a spark of God's love!"

To receive a name is to be shown love. Even our name contains a spark of God's love. 

My prayer for all of us today is that when we hear our name, we are reminded of the loving care with which our name was given to us, and in that small but profound act, we find the living presence of love.

Coincidence? I think not!

Recently I gave led a workshop on Modern Day Catholics for the CFC-YFL National Conference. It was a great workshop with a bunch of awesome and inspiring young people. 

The entire week before giving that workshop, I was on a little family vacation in Arizona. My family - my wife and 3 boys, my mom and dad, and my brother, his wife, and his kiddo were all on this trip through the desert. Our ultimate destination was the Grand Canyon, a place I have been a few times with friends, but never with my family. 

I remember driving through the Grand Canyon with a couple of my missionary buddies years ago when we were on a cross-country road trip that began in New Jersey and ended in Los Angeles. In every state capitol we passed, we stopped and prayed for a renewal of God's spirit to enter into the place we had passed. I remember standing at 4 Corners, the place where four states meet and praying there with my friends. It was truly a powerful experience. Stopping in the Grand Canyon with these great friends of mine and being in awe of God's power and beauty was a definite highlight.

On this trip my family decided to stay in Sedona, AZ and make that home base for the Canyon. Sedona is an amazing place, a town nestled into the Red Rocks of Arizona. It was beautiful, inspiring, and unbelievable hot. Like 115 degrees of heat. I felt like anything over 100 just felt hot, especially to a Northwest guy like myself, so it didn't really bother me. We took in the sights, tried to hike a little bit, and swam in the pool a lot. 

In one of our adventures in Sedona, we went to this chapel built into the rocks called Chapel of the Holy Cross. It is an awesome structure, a tiny chapel built into the rocks. While it is a Catholic Chapel, on the day we visited there were people of all stripes and creeds visiting the Holy place It was obvious that this beautiful church spoke to our basic human desire for the Holy. I was inspired (and also very sweaty).

A few days later I was back home in a nice cool 95 degree Pacific Northwest day, about to lead a workshop for the YFL. Their conference was at the same campsite I first heard the word of God spoken to me as a teenager. It was the place where I went to my first retreat in my life, where I listened to people my age speak passionately about God, and where I began my faith journey.

As I stepped into the conference hall, I looked at the logo of the conference and what did I see? A drawing of the Chapel of the Holy Cross from Sedona, AZ as the backdrop of the event. 

Chills.

God has brought me hundreds of miles away to encounter Him in the beauty of the desert. God brought me to that conference to encounter him the beauty of his children. 

You know what I spoke to those energetic and charismatic young people about? Sharing their faith with joy. Because years and years ago, in that same holy ground, young people shared their joy and conviction with me. 

Often times in the Gospels Jesus says "those who have eyes to see will see." God wants to give us the eyes to see him today. Maybe we'll travel with our families hundreds of miles away. Maybe we'll drive across the country with our friends. Or maybe we'll be in the comfort of our own home and communities, but God is definitely at work right here and right now.

If we have the eyes to see, we are going to experience something wonderful. 

Let us be renewed in our joy - the joy of our first hearing of the Gospel, and the joy of being able to proclaim that message today with our lives. 

 

The fallacy of the self made person

Recently, I had the privilege of celebrating a faith filled student and giving him an award from our department. As the adults sat around the table we discussed this student's qualities and were so proud of the man he had become. The collective group asked who would present the award and I wanted to do it. Many in the room were willing to do the introduction, but I was pleased that it would be my duty. 

As I thought about what to say, I was told I only had 30 seconds to make an introduction. If you know me, you know that is impossible! But as a rule follower, I tried my best to fit into this short time frame a worthy introduction to a great young man. I wrote many drafts - some funny, some heartfelt, some a few minutes long. Who am I kidding, they were all a few minutes long. 

As I looked back on my drafts a familiar theme rose up. I will share this short insight with you now. It is not a new idea, but rather something I have been thinking about a lot lately. 

None of us come to faith on our own. We are the products of our context, our environment, and our relationships. We come to faith because someone before us had faith and witnessed it to us in subtle and authentic ways. Maybe they reached out and told us something that stopped us in our tracks. Maybe they were a constant loving presence. Maybe they forced us with a strong hand and demanded the discipline from us. But not a one of us came to this place on our own. 

For me, my earliest memory of faithful love came from my grandmother. In my living memory, she is the holiest person I had ever met. She loved me without condition and I loved her too. She taught me to make rosaries and play Rummikub and she always let me win. And she is only one of many who have planted a seed of faith and helped shaped my faith. 

All of us have those people, who have shown us what living faith looks like. Teachers, coaches, parents, and friends. Take a moment and think back to those people who have formed you. Say a prayer of thanksgiving, that wherever they are, they are blessed. 

On scabbed shoulders and sinful repeats

I got into cycling a few years ago as an intentional way to spend time with my dad.

As a kid growing up, I had a pretty good relationship with both of my parents. I did what they told me, I wanted to make them proud of me, and I tried to represent our family as best I could. I was always close with my older brother and my cousins, but my parents, not so much. You know, they were old...

Now a dad myself, I realize that I didn't have a super close relationship with my dad and didn't have that much in common with him besides our shared ancestry. I wanted to change that, but I didn't want to sit down and say something like "tell me your life story" (though now that seems like an easier and less resource driven option!) so I thought I could do something that he likes as a way of getting to know the guy. So I bought a pair of spandex and off I went into the world of cycling.

Cycling with my dad is fun and interesting. We go on long training rides of 40 - 80 miles and it takes a lot of time to finish the rides. We stop a lot. We eat a lot. And we talk a lot. It's pretty great getting to know my dad in this way and I enjoy it. Plus I kinda like the spandex.

Last week we were riding in an official sponsored ride. We planned to do 46 miles (the lowest option of miles) for the ride and my brother was going to come along as well. At the last minute, my brother had to cancel, so it was my dad and I off to do our ride. It was a great day for a bike ride. Cool weather and light traffic. We talked about small things and generally went about the business of riding our carbon framed speed rockets.

About 14 miles into the ride, we were going down this big hill, full of switchbacks. Its the kind of hill you just need to let your brakes go a little bit and ride it down, but we saw car brake lights and a traffic back up and knew there was trouble ahead. We slowed down and tried to navigate the snarl of traffic ahead of us, down this very steep and curvy hill. A pretty serious accident looked like it occurred a few minutes before we got there. Police and first aid were there, clearing things up and they were about to let cars through. Dangerous road, I thought as I passed by slowly.

Since I was riding my brakes all the way down the hill, my hand started to get tired and I readjusted my grip on my right hand, the back brake. I needed to brake quickly and instinctively I triggered my left hand brake, the front brake to slow down. Instead of slowing, my bike stopped instantly. Due to the steep hill and my momentum, I flew over the handlebars of my bike and crashed into the road. Since I am a trained ninja (from all the episodes of Lego Ninjago I have watched with my sons), I tucked my head and rolled on my shoulder. I landed directly on my right shoulder and flipped over, a tangle of limbs and bike parts. Luckily, I did not break anything. After a pause I gathered myself, picked myself up, grabbed my bike, shook my head, and walked towards the shoulder of the road. A minute later my dad rolled up and asked if I was okay. I was. But boy, that hurt. And it was dumb. A silly mistake that I know better not to make. 

Maybe out of pride or a fear of embarrassment I did not ask for help. The medics were a mere 100 feet away, but I did not want to sit in the back of an ambulance. I came to ride. I shook it off, got myself together, and got back on the bike. We rode to the supported stop, about a mile away, where there was food, a bike mechanic, and most importantly for me, a doctor to check my injuries. It turned out I was bruised and scraped, but not broken, and though I was in pain, I could keep going. And I did.

Someone once said to me that there are two type of cyclists, the ones who have fallen, and then those who are going to fall. Basically, we are all going to fall at some point. Reflecting on my ride it made me think of sin. It's like there are two types of humans, the ones who who have sinned, and the ones who are about to sin. We are all touched by sin.

I have been thinking about my bike fall in this way - I wasn't in an ideal situation. I should have been doing things differently. I know not to touch my left brake in this situation. I know what will happen if I do it. I do it. Hey, I can fly! The ground is coming up fast. Can I ninja my way out of this? Ouch. That hurts. Did I break anything? Am I okay? I know better. Why did I do that? Get up. 

Sin, too, operates in this same mode. This is not the ideal situation. I am not being my best self here. I know I should not do this thing; it has consequences that will affect me. This is going to hurt. This hurts. 

No matter how many times I have made the same mistake, I still end up doing it. I know not to do it, and I do it anyway. St. Paul admits that himself in his letter to the Romans, chapter 7. It reads, "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate... For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want" (7:15-19). Part of our nature is this foolish, fallen, nature that needs redemption and healing. Sin is not the entirety of my being, but it is a part of it. 

So what do we do? I don't think I have all the answers, here, but I know a couple of things. Just like in cycling, pausing and checking to see if I am okay is a good place to start. Seeing if I broke anything is important too. Oftentimes, sin leads to breaking important things; things we love and care about deeply. If there is something seriously wrong, get help. Talk to someone. A mentor, friend, or priest. Prayer and confession are awesome and amazing. And then get up. Keep going. It will hurt, but you have the inner strength to keep going. 

Less than a minute after my fall my dad showed up. Isn't that like the Father too? So close and ready to be there for us. After my fall, my dad walked with me, talked with me, and rode with me until I could get back to speed. He was there. My dad and I finished our 46 miles, complete with two giant hill climbs. We smiled and laughed, knowing that one of us may fall again sometime, but that we are not alone. 

So now I have a scabbed up shoulder that should turn into an awesome scar. I have a story to tell my friends and my kids. I have a lesson learned, that I will probably learn again until Kingdom come. And most of all I have the Grace of God's presence and the gift of family. 

Gaze

I recently had the opportunity to pray and reflect with a small group of ministry folk. Our prayer was led by a nun. It's honestly a huge perk of my work! 

She led us through a Franciscan reflection on the San Damiano crucifix and it was simple yet profound. The process was taught by St. Clare to her order and continues to be used today. In four simple steps we might find something new, comforting, challenging, or inspiring. 

Gaze. Consider. Contemplate. Imitate.

First, you gaze at the piece. No expectations. Just see what you notice. Do you see the colors? The shapes? The people? The details? Gaze, look, and be observant. 

When you are ready, move on to the next levels as you are able. Meditate on why you noticed what you noticed. What is God telling you through what you notice? Take that knowledge to the depth of your heart. What does it mean to you? How can it impact your understanding of yourself? 

Lastly, how can you imitate what you see? How can you live out what you have gazed upon, considered, and contemplated? 

Gaze, consider, contemplate, and imitate. 

To pray in this way really slows us down in the hectic, fast paced world we live in today. 

Try it out! 

Blessings,

AP

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