|The author walking the Camino de Santiago|
Nearly 200,000 pilgrims completed the pilgrimage last year, but, evidently, many didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. For pilgrims embarking from the traditional starting point of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the first day consists of a 1250 metre ascent up the Pyrenees mountains, followed by a steep descent to the town of Roncesvalles. There, weary pilgrims take a long, hard look at the choices they made before they began. Many face the consequences of not having broken in their shoes beforehand. Others regret skimping on their training. And absolutely everyone probes their heavy backpacks for some weight that they can shed.
In the town’s main hostel, several tables were piled high with abandoned items, free for the taking. Pilgrims perused the collection, but nothing left the table: a Tolkien anthology, Cosco-size toiletries, pots and pans, an illustrated coffee table book about the Camino. Even small objects were sacrificed on this altar of weight-saving—the discarded t-shirts, pens, and jewellery each weighed no more than a few grams. But with every passing kilometre, the items had conspired to break down the shoulders, the hips, the feet, and the will.
The more experienced hikers among us chuckled at the novices’ packing errors, but we had our own baggage to deal with. The Camino is mecca for broken, wearied souls, often seeking to shed the weight of sins, addictions, and fears. And we all faced the same questions: why did we take on these burdens, and allow them weigh us down for so long?
The penitent pilgrims of the Camino are not unlike those who line up for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sometimes we recognize immediately that we have offended God and, with contrite hearts, we make haste to place our sins at the foot of the Cross. But more often, our sins slowly accumulate. We barely notice as the heaviness builds, while our hearts grow ever more callous.
“God used to feel like a friend, but now it’s been months since I’ve actually stopped to pray.”
“I used to be so sensitive. How did I become indifferent to the suffering around me?”
“I told myself I’d allow this sin just once. Now, I do it every day.”
“I haven’t been to confession in ten, maybe twenty years…”
What’s important, of course, is not how long we’ve carried our sins. We have our reasons for bearing their weight. But all the while, God has been patiently waiting for our return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
It’s never easy to admit one’s failings, but your parish priest wants to make it convenient. On Wednesday, December 11, over 200 parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto are participating in a Day of Confessions. In their respective churches, pastors are keeping the confessionals open for as long as possible, so that everyone has a chance to seek God’s healing and forgiveness. At our Day of Confessions website, you can find resources to help you prepare, as well as the location of a church near you.
Like a trip through Europe, the Advent and Christmas seasons tempt us to collect a lot more stuff. On December 11, however, God is giving us the opportunity to do just the opposite, so that we can be lighter and freer to embark on the path He is setting before us.
Kris Dmytrenko is a Communications Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.