I awoke this morning — my 60th birthday — feeling quite apprehensive at the 37 km walk that was ahead. My anxiety was not unfounded. In the afternoon the temperature reached 33°C and there was little shade for about an hour as we walked after lunch. We started walking at 8.10am and we staggered footsore and weary into the Hotel Catalonia Transit in Lleida at 6.20pm. From the door of the Hotel Casanova in Fraga to the door of the Hotel Catalonia Transit in Lleida was exactly 37 km according to the GPS.
For part of the morning we followed a long stretch of the Ignatian Camino along a service road of the busy N-II highway. It was not pleasant walking with cars speeding by at 120 km/hour which is the speed limit here. It felt unsafe although we are very careful to walk in single file when we are walking on a highway, and we call out “Car up” when there is a car coming from the front, and “Car back” when a car is coming from behind the group.
Boots. After lunch I changed my boots as my new pair were causing me some pain in the balls of my feet. So I reverted to my old boots — the boots which I wore in May-June 2011 when I walked the Camino Frances. I carried the old pair in my day pack and because they are wide fitting I thought that they would be more comfortable. However, after about 20 minutes in my old boots I began to get the pain in my shins again and I could tell that if I kept wearing them I would re-injure myself. So I took them off and went back to the wearing the new pair. My learning was that my old boots, which had lost their cushioning, were the cause of my shin splints. So, the secret is to make sure you have new boots that are worn in, but have not lost their cushioning. On the next stage of the Ignatian Camino I am going to have a small ritual of disposing of my old boots which have served me well.
We followed the River Segre into Lleida. The Hotel Catalonia Transit in Lleida is at the train station. From the dining room you can see the fast rains glide into the station. I doubt that I will forget my 60th birthday. In the evening at dinner we had a birthday cake:
I got a number of birthday presents from the group including: (i) a compass (they have correctly assessed that my sense of direction is poor); (ii) a Swiss Army knife to carry in my day pack just in case I need a cork screw to open a bottle of wine; (iii) a key ring with a bull on it; (iv) an optical mouse for use with my laptop; (v) a small lamp from which to read if I wake up at night.
Our prayer today. In the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola I am invited to accompany Jesus in his Passion. In this period of the retreat Ignatius suggests that I ask God for the following grace:
 In the Passion it is proper to ask for sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and deep grief because of the great affliction Christ endures for me.
The last two words “for me” are critical. Ignatius uses these words carefully and deliberately because he wants the person who make the Exercises to know that the awful events that are unfolding are an act of love of Jesus “for me”.
As we walked with Jesus today we allowed these two words to be the focus of our devotion. We asked God for the grace to believe in our bones that Jesus is suffering “for me”.
Today’s walk gave us time to ponder some deeply personal faith questions:
- Did Jesus really die for me?
- If God can bring meaning and love out of the violent death of his Son, can he transform into life what are currently death-dealing situations for me?
- Does the execution of the Word made Flesh save me? How?
Good Friday reveals God the Father’s attitude towards me: God loves me and wants me to know that he loves me. The drama on Calvary is the most profound piece of body language the world has ever seen. And Jesus embodied that language of love for me.
Today as we considered what happened at “the place of the skull” (Golgotha), it was important to know God our Father is not a sadist. He did not inflict on his Son the suffering of execution on a Cross. Rather, Jesus endured suffering and death as an act of love for me, and God the Father is broken-hearted at what happened to his Son.