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A Reflection on the Gospel of John 14:1-6
For truly our Lord is a good way, a straight road with no confusing forks or turns, leading us directly to the Father. For “no one comes to the Father,” he says, “except through me.” Such is our way up to God through his Son. (St Basil The Great, On the Holy Spirit 8.18.29 as quoted in Elowsky)
Camino Pilgrim’s Shell
Several years ago, my wife, youngest daughter, and I decided to walk the French Pilgrimage Route to the Shrine of the Apostle St James “the Greater,” the brother of the Apostle St John, in Compostela Spain. The route is called the “Camino,” Spanish for “the Way”. The Camino, in use since the ninth century, consists of several routes from across Europe to the shrine of St James. It was a truly blessed experience! It is so beautiful, that I have since walked it three times (twice following the French route and once following the Portuguese route) and I am now preparing to walk my fourth Camino following the English route in September.
The symbol of the pilgrim along the Camino is a large scallop shell. Tradition holds that religious houses along the Camino were obligated to provide a night’s food and shelter to any pilgrim wearing the shell. Until the advent of mass transport, pilgrims wore the shell only after having arrived at Compostela, on their return trip. Today, pilgrims along the Camino receive a shell at the start of their journey to Compostela.
For me, the pilgrim’s shell has always been a very poignant reminder that people come to Christ, who is “the way and the truth and the life,” (John 14: 6 NABRE) by very different routes but, there is only one “way”, Christ, to the Father. On the scallop shell all lines, all routes, converge at one single point, so also, all lead to a single destination. On the Camino, the various routes have only one direction, one “way” that leads to the door to heaven. That one door, one gate, is Christ. The Lord is very consistent in Sacred Scripture as describing this one “way” having but one narrow door or gate. One can only enter with Christ and through Christ. For example, he says,
“Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:24 NABRE)
“I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:7–9 NABRE)
As St Basil tells us, that way to the Father is a very good and straight way. However, St Basil does not imply that it is easy. While walking the Camino there moments of sweet and surprising beauty; in the terrain, in the sights along the way, the food and comfort, and especially in the people you meet. That does not mean that there are not moments of pain, especially from those nasty blisters from ill-fitting shoes or socks, the occasional storm, or when you simply don’t think you have the strength to go on. Yet, the moments of pain are nothing compared to the sweetness of reaching that point before the Cathedral of St James where the trail ends. Our way as a Christian is also marked by beauty as well as pain, both the flat land and the inevitable steep hill and sharp declines. Amid both, we must constantly press on to the end. The Lord tells us that He is both at the end, and with us, on our journey.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (John 14:1–3)
There will never be a time when the Lord says to the pilgrim who has traveled along the way, “sorry, there is no room in the inn.” At the end of our journey, the way, the truth, and our true life awaits us at the point where all routes converge to one single way, that gate or door which is our Lord and Savior. There is but one way, one truth, and one life. No one comes to the Father except through Christ.
My Wife and Daughter on the Camino - Author’s Photo
Walking the Camino, I found that there are many who have no clue why they are walking except they are searching for something, that they feel in their bones, but do not fully understand. Our world is full of such souls that have not yet encountered Christ, they are travelers that may see the signs pointing in a consistent direction but do not know the “Way”. They are like the nation of Israel wandering in a desert, seeking to quench their thirst with everything but the water that truly sustains life. Jesus is the water they seek, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14 NABRE) We, who follow the way and the truth, we who are sustained by God’s life poured into us through the Sacraments, have an obligation to help these travelers who falter along the way. Along the Camino there are innumerable times that the Lord opens the door to a conversation about Christ. So, it is in our lives as well. Pope Benedict XVI preached,
In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. (Pope Benedict XVI Homily as quoted in EG)
Every human can reach an understanding of the Truth and the Life; but not all find the Way. The wise of this world realize that God is eternal life and knowable truth. It is they who follow the Word of God, who is Truth and Life joined to the Father, who has become the Way. It is Him whom we seek to imitate, it is this Good Shepherd that we follow despite every difficulty, for we are not afraid. He is the Way, this door, this gate, this threshold, which we pray to cross into the many mansions our Lord has prepared for each of us.
Elowsky, Joel C., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Vol IVb John 11–21. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. Print.
Evangelii Gaudium (EG). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013. Print. Apostolic Exhortation.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.