Words on the Word

St James

When St Birgitta made her first significant trip abroad, in 1341/42, it was to the Apostle James’s tomb at Compostela. That a Swedish matron should have thought of making such a perilous journey across Europe—on foot—in the war-torn mid-fourteenth century is amazing, but Birgitta and her husband Ulf, who walked with her, were part of a vast pilgrim throng from every corner of the continent. The pilgrimage changed the two of them profoundly. After it, both felt drawn to monastic life. Ulf retired to the Cistercian monastery of Alvastra, where he died in 1344. Birgitta went on to found her Order. What was it that affected them so? What is it that, even today, draws thousands of people to take time out to walk to Compostela, so that the notion of the Camino has become positively mainstream, featuring as a viable option in even the most secular teenager’s planning for a gap year? There is a sense of the apostolic shrine as a goal to be reached, no doubt. But above all, there is a sense of the journey as an intrinsic good, as worth undertaking for its own sake. Here, we touch something of the grace of vocation. When the Lord called the sons of Zebedee to follow him, they had no idea where he would lead them; they hardly knew who he was. They simply sensed that he knew where they needed to go. And that was enough. May our own lives display a constantly renewed resolve to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, and to do so confidently, generously, cheerfully. May we entrust ourselves to the Way as St Thérèse would have it, ‘with audacity’. Amen.