“Often remind yourself that you are in the presence of God.” – St. John Baptist de la Salle. This quote was at the end of the daily readings today because of the feast day of Saint John the Baptist. This day it was easy to remind myself often that I was in the presence of God. I have arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The cathedral here is inspiring on many levels. Quieter than other times of the year, I found it a blessing to be here without crowds of people . As I wandered around the almost empty cathedral, I felt a calm settle in.
I have not done much homework about this place as my focus had really been on my Ignatian journey. However, I am not disappointed in my decision to come here. My dream of doing this pilgrimage on foot may not have happened but it began over two decades ago when I ran into a pilgrim while we were both at Taize, France. He was from Belgium and honestly I don’t even know if he was real or an angel. All I know is that he found his way to me as my small group was toasting me on my birthday and as we began to talk the others faded out of the picture. He and I ended up going for a long walk in the dark and talking deeply of spiritual matters. At the end of it I mentioned that it was my birthday now as it was past midnight and he leaned in for a kiss on each cheek and then a third one on the cheek that he started with. That is apparently how they do it in Belgium.
I always thought that I would do el Camino because of that experience. Something about that encounter with that man – or Angel –has stayed with me all these years and I found myself praying for him as I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament here. Once again, I brought many people with me in prayer. I found it a blessing to pray in Adoration in this Cathedral.
I also had the opportunity today to walk through one of the seven official Holy Doors for the Year of Mercy. As I stepped over the threshold and entered into the cathedral, it seemed as if I was walking into a new space, one that my spirit very much needed. The door leads directly to the entry to St. James where pilgrims and visitors can embrace the statue. I did not know the ritual and so I simply touched the back of St. James and began to exit. The man overseeing those who are coming through the lineup spoke to me in Spanish. I looked at him oddly and then figured I would do what I thought he was telling me to do–hug the statue. If I was wrong and had misunderstood, but harm what it do?
I turned back and embraced from behind St. James. As I leaned my head against his back I was overcome with emotion. I felt such a strong presence of the Holy come over me that I began to cry. I had a sense of being hugged in return from behind, as if another Presence stood behind the statue and me. My face felt cold against the statue’s metal but at the same time I felt a warmth. My shoulders began to shudder as the urge to weep grew strong. I was grateful that no one else was there but the man monitoring the absent crowds. As I exited, the thought that came to me was that very soon I could not only hug St. James but I could hug the entire great cloud of witnesses that would welcome me Home, especially my Beloved.
I returned to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament to receive the final blessing of the day. Afterwards, I slipped into a pew for mass thinking I had one hour to wait before it started but it began almost immediately. From what I caught at the end of an announcement, it seemed as though I would be blessed with the good fortune of seeing the Botafumeiro used at the end of mass to incense those who have gathered. I was thrilled to be able to receive that at the end of the day full of blessings. God has been so very present this day. I could not help but think of my parents who are celebrating their wedding anniversary today. I wished that I could have been there but I carry them with me.
God is present in all things, at all times. We only have to pay attention and we will see the Holy all around us.
Where did you see the presence of God today?
What moves you deeply?
Most Holy One, you envelop us in ways we cannot explain. May we feel your presence in times of great joy and also in deep sorrow. Be real to us, Divine Presence, and keep our eyes ever watchful for you Amen.