A few years ago, I watched a film called Footprints: The Path of Your Life which followed the journey of several young men who traveled together by foot on the famous “Way of Saint James” or the El Camino, a 40-day 500-mile journey to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Perhaps the most inspirational aspect of the film was how it captured the men sharing their resources and caring for one another as they traveled the 500 mile walk together. They all had their hearts and minds and priority set on the destination. However, it was not long before they discovered that if one fell behind, they all fell behind. If one was not taken care of they all suffered. Their hope, love, and desire for the destination was what ultimately bonded them together and led them to genuinely care for one another.
Saint Augustine taught that we are all on a pilgrimage in this life, a pilgrimage to heaven. And like the men in the film, we are all in it together. If one suffers, we all suffer. If one falls behind, we all fall behind. I cannot help but think of the discord, division, and chaos that is increasing in our country as the rich continue to get richer and the poor continue to get poorer.
Hence the commandment to love God and love neighbor found in Mark 12:28-34. We cannot love one without loving the other. We cannot love our destination if we do not love those who are with us on the journey.
“In loving others, and caring for them, you are on a journey. Where is journey’s end if not the Lord our God, the One we should love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind? We have not yet reached him, but our neighbor is here at our side. Look after this companion of your pilgrimage if you would reach the One whom you desire to be with forever.”Saint Augustine (On John’s Gospel 17, 9)
Yet we are often tempted to love creation before the creator as we find ourselves attached to things such as money, clothes, titles, cars, relationships, etc. I believe this is the heart of what Jesus attempts to teach us in Luke 14:25-33. God is to be our first love. Throughout our lives, God continually invites us to reorient our hearts back to our first love … Him … and then and only then love everything else for the sake of God. Jesus illustrates this in a rather stark way in Luke 14:25-33 by calling us to “hate” our mother and father … our brother and sister … else they may become a substitute for our first love. We can only truly love our mother and father … our brothers and sisters … if we first love God.
“Your creation praises you so that we love you, and we love you so that your creation praises you.”Saint Augustine (Confessions XIIII 333, 48)
In order to truly make God our first love … everything else must be put on the negotiation table … even our closest relationships … just like the men in the film had to do in order to reach the end of the 500 mile journey. Each pilgrim had to put their belongings, their time, their energy, their own ego … the relationships they left at home … at the service of their companions for the sake of reaching their first love on the journey: the destination they hoped to reach.
Just as the desire, love, and hope for reaching Santiago de Compostela motivated these young men to care for one another, so when our first love is oriented to our true destination … God … we are motived to love our neighbor as God calls us to … a genuine love that is truly generous … selfless … kind … patient … as we too will become more willing to make sacrifices for our neighbor for the sake of reaching the destination of our earthly pilgrimage … heaven. Else, as Saint Augustine warns, our own pride may lurk even in good works.
“Indeed, every other kind of sin has to do with the commission of evil deeds, whereas pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them.”Saint Augustine (The Rule 1, 8).
Our first love comes to us to nourish us on our pilgrimage each time we receive the Eucharist. His Body is broken so that we all may share the gift of His very presence as we journey together. Perhaps the next time we are privileged to share this gift of His presence, we may ask ourselves, who is my first love? Am I truly in love with God to which I am heading? Am I caring for my companions on the journey as God does?