My hiking boots are, that is to say. I walked the Starkenburg pilgrimage today, 12 weary miles to this flabby old man, but immensely satisfying. My confessor today said to me, “You sound like a man in need of a religious pilgrimage.”
And I did.
Public thanks to Our Lady of Sorrows, honored at this shrine. Thanks, too, to my wonderful bride for rearranging things on our busy schedule to make it possible for me to get away. It was great to see so many friends, old and new, and to have the chance to focus on the important things.
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, one of my favorite Marian Feasts. In Spain, Our Lady is referred to as “Virgen de la Merced” (Virgin of Mercy), or simply as “La Merced” (the Mercy, or, Mercy). She is venerated under this title in Spain and the Spanish-speaking countries of the New World.
Under this title she is Patroness of the Mercedarian order. This order, begun in Barcelona by St. Peter Nolasco in 1218, was founded with an eye towards mercy– real mercy– to the poor Christians captived by the Mohammedans. The full title of the order in English is the “Royal and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy of the Redemption of the Captives”. Hence the traditional title of today’s feast, Our Lady of Ransom. They established a church that was later designated a papal basilica in Barcelona, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (You’ve no doubt seen the Mary’s Fiat memes. Think about Our Lady’s much nicer car when you’re touring around in a Mercedes). There is a good page on the history of the order here.
Perhaps nowhere has she been venerated more than in Barcelona. “La Merced” in the local language is rendered “La Mercè”. She is Patroness of the city, and each year, on her feast day of September 24, the city holds a magnificent festival to celebrate. They celebrate as only Spaniards do, with intensity, passion and exuberance. There is a festival with its timeless traditions and fireworks. Lots of fireworks. The image at the top of this post is the city’s yearly poster for the event from 1957. Note the obvious image of Our Lord and Lady, the cross, the Sagrada Familia in the background, and the Spanish flags. Say what you will about El Caudillo, but the country was Catholic. Here is another poster from that era:
When my family first visited Barcelona in 1998, this fiesta (about which we knew nothing and thus for which were totally unprepared) was a revelation. It was so lively, and combined Catholic Marian veneration with city patriotism. On my old, obliterated blogger site, I posted some photos, but here are some of the more interesting customs, such as castellers:
Back in 1998, it was still an obviously Catholic country with Catholic sensibility. Of course as we all know, the rot was well on its way to destroying everything, but when we went out in the evenings, churches were open, with people going to confession and sizeable congregations praying the Rosary together. Church bells rang throughout the day. You could go to one of many stores that sold religious articles (and nationalist memorabilia if you were so inclined). It just felt Catholic, in Madrid most of all, but everywhere you went.
By 2002 when we returned, that feeling was palpably passing away. It wasn’t like you couldn’t walk into a Church, but the sizeable congregations weren’t there and the religious goods stores we remembered were closed. It didn’t feel anti-Catholic, but rather that it just didn’t matter in day-to-day life. Admittedly, these memories are not the basis for a logical argument, they are just what two tourists remember.
And as of our last trip to Barcelona in 2014, considering the political situation there, the place didn’t feel Spanish (even allowing for the regional Catalonian version thereof), let alone Catholic. There was some barely measurable menace or hostility in the air, which at the time I chalked up to the independence-from-Spain push, but now I recognize as the miasma of this current, demonic, anti-God hellscape in which we find ourselves. It is easier to recognize from our spot in the U.S., because of the lag time, growing ever shorter, between the European rush to suicide and our unthinking amble off that particular cliff.
Our last experience of Spain, on the Camino de Santiago in 2018, confirmed the analysis for us. Even while walking through some of the most still-religious parts of Spain–on THE CAMINO for crying out loud, an overtly religious activity– the historical Camino Churches were all LOCKED, unless Mass happened to be going on at the time. All of them were, until we reached the Cathedral itself. I keep wanting to write a post entitled, “The Camino of the Closed Doors”. Nearly five years later, I suppose I never will.
So, you may wonder, how did we get from then to now? How did it collapse so spectacularly in one generation? Actually, by now we know the answer all too well. The Mass was attacked, and the Church lost her most beautiful expression and her most powerful guardian. A certain council brought forth the regime of error and the era of libertines. But to give you sort of visual travelogue of the demise of the West, let’s look at some posters. Recall the two beautiful, and beautifully faith-filled posters for La Merced, above.
Now let’s go forward some years. First, from 1992, the year of the Olympics in Barcelona, popularly thought of as Barcelona’s “coming of age” as a city in the modern world:
Pretty decent, as a poster, though secular. Fireworks. Columbus, not yet cancelled. Palm trees. The Spanish “Merced” now becomes the Catalan “Mercè”. Now on to the poster for 1998, the year I first visited the city:
Weak sauce, that. And barely had we cleared the area, than in 1999 this abomination was chosen:
Wow, there was zero warning of the Mohammedan re-invasion of Europe, was there? Prominent Arabic-style lettering and the crescent moon. I see churches but no crosses. Those are offensive, you know. Could it get worse? Oh, you know it can. Here is 2018, the year of our Camino:
Not only disregarding of the faith, but hostile to it. Lots of rainbow. Lots of girl power. Is there a straight man depicted in it? Seemingly no. Let’s keep going, to 2020:
This, to me, is perfect for where we are now. Total communism. The name of the event is barely noticeable. It is not at all beautiful. The women with their ambiguously-sexed child are creepy as hell. There is a glimpse of the modern finish to La Sagrada Familia, but in the bottom left– is that a guard tower in our prison camp? And best of all, the laughable virtue signaling for sexual perversion and the glorious Ukrainian cause in the bottom right. Just what is this fiesta about?
Ladies and gentlemen, this is where we are. The great thing about traveling is that since you don’t live in the places where you travel, you get snapshots of change that help avoid incremental creep. I submit to you that these posters and our anecdotal travel experiences verify what we know from our faith and our intellects– that we as the civilization following Christendom have lost our way, and nearly completely.
Today we are as much captives as our poor ancestors were in Spain at the founding of the Mercedarian order. More so, because they were physically captived but they knew their faith was true. How many of us today believe in the Catholic Faith? How many of us are left to call upon La Virgen de la Merced? She is our Lady of Ransom, and we NEED RANSOMING.
She can ransom us. She will do it, if we heed her call to penance and the Rosary. She promised it. Today, on this beautiful feast of hers, beg her again and again– Our Lady of Mercy, ransom us from the slavery of sin and the reign of antichrist! She said it before: only she can save us. Lady of Mercy, save us!
Obligatory post for a pilgrim today, I include the following excerpt from one of my favorite books on the Camino, The Great Westward Walk, by Antxon Gonzalez Gabarain, who passed away from ALS September 1, 2012. Having walked into the Plaza del Obradoiro myself, I can relate to the emotions he describes:
I approach the cathedral from behind, and step into an immense and deserted square. I head to the center stones and look up through a curtain of rain at the brightly-lit cathedral facade. A river comes down my face. Tears fill my eyes. The two towers stand majestically, almost menacingly against the blackness of the stormy night. Millions of raindrops strike and bounce off the stone façade, wrapping it in a ghostly aura. I am dazzled. I am small and alone in the middle of the Obradoiro square, and the cathedral of Santiago stands before me in all her glory. Completely emptied, I lean on my staff and stand motionless before the majestic Baroque stones of Compostela. Face to face we stand alone, she and I, washed clean with the same water from the sky. This is my chimera, my ultimately unattainable goal….
Providence gave me this magical stretch of solitude. I can now attest that I am not the same nervous man who pulled shut the door of his house a month ago. I am the same, but tanned. I’m the same, but more free. I am the same, with far less fear. I am … but who am I? It’s funny, I’ve never asked myself that question. No, I’ve never considered it. If I ever did, I must’ve been drunk, because I do not remember it. Who am I? I wonder. I take a deep breath and listen for the answer. I am one part limestone and another part sand….
I’m the hopeless case, the disease that has no cure… who, despite everything, will try to do his best. I will never abandon you. I am the one who thought he’d never write a book. The books that sell best have happy endings, and that’s the way I’d like mine to end. But even happy endings are endings. If you look at it closely, it’s good just to finish. A relief. I curl up on the cathedral steps and lean my head on the stone rail. The rain doesn’t bother me now. I cannot get any wetter, so I can relax. A warm, radiant peace overwhelms me. A sharp, bright whisper slices through my trance — I feel her, I hear her, She with whom I have shared so much, whispers a sweet “I love you” in my ear. The little girl with the pink cheeks whispers to me, like a secret in my ear: Aita, Daddy, I see you, you are the most luminous of all the stars. My little girl flutters around me with outstretched arms, like a butterfly. I feel my mother, my father, my brothers beside me, chanting comforting words. A hand grabs mine; I feel a salty drop of love fall on my arm. I’m dressed, clean and crisp. I hear Pavarotti singing “Miss Sarajevo.” I hear Julieta Venegas singing “El Presente.” I delight in the melodies. My friends pass here, too. Loyal friends.
The distance that separates us doesn’t keep them from sitting at my side. My mouth cannot form a word, but my heart sends a message: “Follow your Path. I am right there with you.”
“I’ve got this. I’m free now.”
When the time comes I give myself to a deep sleep. There’s a smile on my face.
Though for most, falling as it does on Passion Sunday, the feast of the father of Western monasticism is an uncelebrated memorial, for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest it is celebrated on March 22 as a first class feast.
Three years ago, my wife and I were privileged to celebrate our patronal feast at the Institute’s motherhouse and seminary in Gricigliano, Italy.
Thankful for that and for all other graces granted by Our loving Father, I wish all of you, particularly those members of the Institute who read this, a blessed Feast day tomorrow.
Today, three years ago, I started my only Camino de Santiago to date, in an all too brief period on the way to visit our son in Venice. I pray to get back, but am sanguine as to the possibilities. Even that one Camino Ingles changed my life forever. To join an 800+ year company of peregrinos is something that makes a difference in a fundamental way. There isn’t a day that goes by without my reflecting on being a pilgrim and this current state of pilgrimage-wherever I happen to be.
To anyone reading this, I cannot urge you strongly enough to make pilgrimage. Buen Camino!