Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started. It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier. The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.
I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church. The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way. Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days. While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.
After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer. The parish church was still and cool. Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer. Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident. I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.
Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest. Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through. In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer. Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.
It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar. While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home. Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart. When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.
One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal. Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth. A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town. I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group.
After our walk, we went to the chapel for another time of communal prayer. Many pilgrims who arrived that day came for evening prayer. I sat with the other pilgrim house guests in the choir stalls at the front of the church and delighted in the familiar once again. We knew the prayers and followed our priest’s lead. He knew us and we all carried keys that let us into the beautiful guest house. What a gift it was to be known and to feel at home in a place thousands of miles from my own home. Here I knew I belonged.
On Memorial Day, my memory allowed me to recall this time simply because of the sensation of early morning and the gathering of people in a quiet, sacred home. The beauty of the Church is that wherever the Body of Christ is, whether it be in sacrament or in our brethren, we are home. More than a roof and possessions, home can be found anywhere the Catholic Church is found. In the church where I received my first Holy Communion and was confirmed, I can be just as much at home as when I’m in a small Spanish church with stone floors and a priest who thinks I am an angel from South Dakota.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are also built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.