Camino minus 10 – Big Tess, Plus a Cute Photo

I’ve found another “wing man” for my journey.

Big Tess is going with me. Big Tess, whom my DF calls “Big Theresa,” and is otherwise known as St. Teresa of Avila.

If you read about my man with superpowers, you may have an idea of the type of person I’m looking for and Big Tess fits the bill

She was born in Avila, Spain on March 28, 1515. When she was a child, she convinced her older brother to run off with her to the “land of the Moors” where they could sacrifice themselves for God. Their uncle found them before they even got out of town and sent them home. Some people see this as an indicator of her early devotion to God.  However, I agree with those who think it shows her ability to get into trouble.

She was a typical teenager who loved to read romance novels just like her mother. Her teenage focus was not on God but on boys, clothes, and flirting. Her Dad, who was pretty strict with the ten kids and with his own wife, got fed up and sent her to the local nunnery.  At first, Teresa didn’t like it, but soon realized that the convent wasn’t as strict as her Dad had been!

She got very sick with what appears to have been malaria and spent years recovering. She stopped praying! Can you imagine a saint who stops praying? She got stuck and just couldn’t do it. She said she often died a thousand deaths waiting for prayer time to end so she could get back to better things.

Sorry, but that’s no way for a saint to talk. But, it does make her rather interesting.

She says she finally got back into praying but it was “definitely not easy.” And she decided that the life in the convent, which sounds more like a 1950’s sorority house than a convent, was way off course for her. In those days, the more you could bring to the convent, in the form of riches and influence, the more you were liked at the convent. Men came by, nuns wore jewelry, etc.

Can you spell Reformation?

She decided to bring an end to all that. And, boy, did that make the townspeople mad! They threatened her, denounced her. And this was going on during the Spanish Inquisition, so don’t think she didn’t have a run-in or two with those guys.  “A restless disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as if she was a professor” is how one adversary described her.

“May God protect me from gloomy saints,” was her answer  to those who felt her proposed way of living –  based on poverty and prayer – was too far out for a religious life. But she also realized that this brush up was good publicity for her new religious order, the new and improved Carmelites. People read her writing and heard about her and soon she had women lining up at the door to join her.

She wrote alot and some of her greatest books includes her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus), El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle), and the Camino de Perfection (The Way of Perfection)

The story goes that she was once riding a donkey to a town where she was starting a new convent and the donkey threw her off, getting her clothing all dirty and giving her some lumps and bumps. She got up, dusting off the dirt and complained to God. God jokingly answered, ‘That’s how I treat my friends.”  “No wonder you have so few,” she responded.

One of the convents she started is in Burgos, a large city in northern Spain. I will be passing right through Burgos on the Camino and had intended to stay there an extra night because it has one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Spain. I wonder if I can track down Tess’ convent?

After starting the convent in Burgos, she continued her journey to Alba de Tormes, where she got sick and died on October 4, 1582.  She was canonized soon after her death but was not made a Doctor of the Church until 1970, along with St Catherine of Siena – I believe they are the only two women Doctors of the Church.

I think Big Tess will be good to have along. She isn’t a barrel of laughs, but she seems practical and confident. She believed that, if you did something wrong, don’t punish yourself – change! She wrote that the best prayer is prayer which leads to action. She knows it can be difficult to pray and  will have my back.

What would she look like on the road with me? Maybe something like this:

I can use someone like that.


Camino minus 11 – He’s Got Superpowers!

I like St. Christopher, but not for the reason you think.
St. Christopher is an obvious choice to take as my “wing man” on my Camino. He is the patron saint of travelers. When you see his picture or statue (look for him on dashboards) he is the tall man holding a child on his shoulders.

But for me, alas, he raises many questions. Let me review his story for you.

Legend has it that he was a very large man – tall, not fat. A little over seven feet tall, by some accounts. He wanted to serve the greatest there was, so he decided to serve the King. But, one day, he saw the King bow down and cross himself. When he asked why he did that, the King told him that he was afraid of the devil.

So, Christopher says to himself, Hey, Here’s a guy even the King is afraid of. I’m going to serve him! So off he goes to find the devil.

Soon, he comes to a dark, scary forest. He’s a big guy, so he isn’t afraid, but soon he finds a band of robbers. They’re pretty bad and one of them calls himself the devil. St. Christopher says Aha, I’ve been looking for you! And he joins the robbers. But, one day, he saw the robber who was called the devil bow down and cross himself. When he asked why the devil did that, the devil said he was afraid of Christ.

So, St. Christopher says to himslef, Hey, here’s a guy even the devil is afraid of. I’m going to serve him so off he goes to find Christ.

Soon, he meets a hermit living in a cave by a river. He asks the hermit if he knows where to find Christ. The hermit says, Sure, and begins to teach St. Christopher about Christ. Pretty soon, Chris becomes a Christian.

How can I serve Christ? Christopher wants to know. Well, the hermit says, You can fast and pray. Christopher thinks about it and says, No, I don’t think I can do that. Is there anything else I can do? The hermit thinks and says, You’re big and strong. Why don’t you help carry people across this river. Everyone always has a hard time doing that. Christopher says, Great and so begins his job as traveler carrier.

One day, a child comes along and says, Hey, can you get me to the other side and Chris says Sure. But halfway across, while Chris is carrying the kid (you know who) on his shoulders, the child gets really heavy and the river gets really crazy. He has to work really hard to get the kid across but he does.

Once on the other side, Christopher says, Wow, kid, you were really heavy to carry and the kid says, Oh,yeah? Well, I’m Christ and I carry the sins of the world on my shoulders! Then he disappears!

The end.

O.k. I have a few problems with this story.

1. Why did people cross the river at the worst part of the river. Why didn’t they just go to a better part of the river and cross?
2. Boats had been invented. And rafts. So why did Christopher have to walk people across? Why not ferry them?
3. Didn’t anyone think it was weird that this little kid needed to cross the river by himself? There were no adults with him? Even in olden days, people took care of their children and didn’t let them travel alone.
4. Didn’t the hermit get mad? I mean, there he was, fasting and praying and living in a cave and who does Christ show up to? The new guy!

But here’s what I like about this story.

Christopher made up his own mind. He used his eyes to observe what people around him were doing. He thought the king was the greatest, then the devil, but changed his mind based on what he saw. He had no problem saying, Well, I guess I was wrong and continuing his search for truth.

When the hermit told him how to serve Christ, Christopher knew enough about himself to know that there were better options.

From a Church built on obedience, here’s a saint who says, humbly to be sure, Well, yes, I understand what you’re saying, but I think there might be a better way for me to serve Christ.

Mother Theresa taught school in India for 20 years, then decided that a better way for her to serve would be to be with the poorest of the poor. She got push-back from some of her superiors but she knew better than they how she could serve Christ best.

That’s why I’ll take Chris with me. He was practical and reality based. He trusted his instincts and wasn’t afraid to keep looking for the real deal.

And he has that superpower of getting through rivers.

Yes. I can use someone like that on my team.

Camino minus 13 – My Short List of Saints . . . Plus, a Catholic Joke

It’s getting down to the wire and I have to pick my saints.

I asked for suggestions for saints to bring along with me for the walk on the Camino. In my post titled “Camino minus 20 – Calling All Saints,” I listed my requirements for the  saints who would accompany me. To recap:

  1. Male or Female
  2. Sense of humor
  3. Cheerfully face reality
  4. Be a writer or be written about
  5. Like to travel
  6. Able to pull own weight
  7. Superpowers (please see Camino minus 20 for explanation on this one)
  8. Ability to stay focused
  9. Keeps cool
  10. Available for life

Please go to Camino minus 20 for a better explanation on these requirements.

Unfortunately, it seems others are no more familiar with the saints than I am. We think of them as  far away spirits who perhaps really existed, perhaps not, and are  not  relevant to our day-to-day lives.

But, that was my point. I wanted to try to make the saints, or at least one of them, relevant to me.  Saints aren’t angels or spirits. They were real, ordinary people who did extraordinary things. We have photographs of them. We have books by them. We have interviews of them on television. They were real people.

At least, we know many of them were. Just as there are debates about who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays, there are debates about who the saints of long ago really were. I’m OK with legendary, actually. I’m OK with a person having lived a heroic life, if only in my gullible imagination.

Babe Ruth’s real life was not exemplary. We admire him for what he accomplished. If he wasn’t really as great a person as my imagination tells me he was, so what? He can still be a legendary hero to me.

So why wouldn’t I do the same for the saints?

In the midst of the worst of the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandals, the New York Times writer, Nicholas Kristof, whom I admire greatly for his humanity and his writing, wrote a short editorial on the Church for that paper. In it, he reminded his readers of the grace and humanity of those who are walking the walk and talking the talk, day in and day out, unaffected by the turmoil around them. Their focus is clear. And their devotion and humility reminded me, as a Catholic, to not lose heart.

I have been researching for my companion saints and a few have made it to the short list.

  1. St. Christopher (although not for the reason you might think)
  2. St. Philip Neri
  3. St. Teresa of Avila
  4. St. Roch

I shall explain why I have short listed these four at another time. Maybe I’ll pick up a few more (doubtful, I don’t have much time left).

In closing, I’m serious when I put “sense of humor”  up towards the top of the list of requirements:

An engineer died and reported to the Pearly Gates. An intern angel, filling in for St. Peter, checked his dossier and grimly said, “Ah, an engineer; you’re in the wrong place.”

So the engineer was cast down to hell. Pretty soon, dissatisfied with the level of comfort hell offered, he began designing improvements. Soon, the underworld had air-conditioning, flush toilets and escalators. The engineer was becoming a pretty popular guy among the demons.

One day, God called Satan and asked, ‘So, how’s it going down there in hell?”

Satan laughed and replied, “Hey, things are going great. We’ve got air-conditioning and flush toilets and escalators, and there’s no telling what this engineer is going to come up with next.”

God’s face clouded over and he exploded, “What? You’ve got an engineer? That’s a mistake; he should never have been there; send him up.”

Satan shook his head, “No way. I like having an engineer down here. I’ve never had one before.”

God was angry. “This isn’t the way things are supposed to work and you know it. Send him back up here or I’ll sue.”

Satan laughed uproariously, ‘And just where are YOU going to get a lawyer?” *




*The Book of Catholic Jokes, Deacon Tom Sheridan, Acta  Publications



Camino minus 20 – Calling All Saints




I need some Saints.

I need some saints to take along with me on the Camino. I’m familiar with neither the saints nor the Camino and I want someone who can relate to what I’m thinking and going through on my pilgrimage to the Cathedral of St. James, Santiago, in Campostella. But I also think it will be a good idea to have someone to talk to in these next few weeks leading up to my departure.

Heaven knows, DH has been with me every step of the way (at least, from the time I told him about my plans) and has been extremely supportive. But I am sure he is getting tired of my obsessive focus on this trip. Although other things in life happen, this has become number one for me, my primary topic of conversation. Enough, already, I’m sure he occasionally says to himself.

Friends, those that have an inkling of what I’m preparing for, have also been really nice and excited for me. Most don’t get the reasoning behind it – how could they, I don’t get it myself – but are at least willing to humor me.

But I know from those many quiet miles of training, when monotony has set in, that it would be nice to have someone else to talk to. I think of myself – my feet, my back, my shoulders, my thirst. And I don’t want to be so self-absorbed. I want a companion to get my mind off me and keep it on the task at hand, along with the bigger picture (whatever that may be).

Who could be better than a Saint?

It wouldn’t have to be an “official” Saint. In the Catholic Church, there are “steps” one takes on the way to sainthood. Sainthood is definitely not granted lightly.  First, one has to be recognized as a Servant of God (Venerable), then declared Blessed, and finally, Canonized as a Saint. I’d be happy with anyone who is on the way.

But I’ve been influenced by the book by James Martin, SJ (Society of Jesus, in other words, Jesuit priest), in his 2006 best-selling book, “My Life With The Saints.”  His favorites are not simply people listed in the New Testament or noted by the Church, but real people and true Catholic leaders who inspire him and lead by example. His list includes:

Joan of Arc

The Ugandan Martyrs

Therese of Lisieux

Thomas Merton

Ignatius of Loyola

Pedro Arrupe

 Bernadette Soubrious

Mother Teresa

Pope John XXIII


Dorothy Day

His list tells me that I can be selective.

The Church says that saints can be Patrons or Companions. Therefore, for this trip, I am looking for companions. Here are the job requirements:

  1.  Can be male or female
  2.  Must have a good sense of humor and know how to enjoy life/laugh alot
  3. Must be willing to see life as it really is, not only as it should be, and be pleased with it anyway – “Debbie Downers” need not apply.
  4.  Should have done some writing or had some newspaper articles written about him/her so that I can find out about him/her directly.
  5.  Must like to travel
  6. Should be willing to pull own weight when required and be able to pull my weight when I give up.
  7. Some kind of superpowers over illness, injury, and bedbugs a definite plus.
  8. Special ability to stay on track in spite of distractions, diversions, and confusion helpful.
  9. Must be able to not lose cool in intense situations (like when the ATM doesn’t work,  there are no beds available, or hiking poles disappear)
  10. If needed, must be willing to become companion for life . . . maybe longer!

I hope I’m not being too fussy but a boon companion or two will come in handy. I’m starting to put together my final packing list and I don’t want to leave anything important out. I feel that having a saint or two with me will help me discover the meaning of a pilgrimage.

If you know of any saints who might fit the bill, please write in the comments box below and I shall look over their application with due diligence.

Thank you for you assistance.