One of Europe’s most venerable narratives is the Iliad – Ulysses’ homecoming. Ulysses was on the road for many years, repeatedly stopped by unfavourable gods, until he finally reached his home again. Penelope and a few others still hoped for his return, but many others expected that he would never return. There are touching scenes of reunion, recognition, as well as the bloodthirsty slaughter of Penelope’s suitors in the festival hall – strong stuff.
The other great homecoming story is the Biblical parable of the prodigal son. There is the father who rejoices – and the older brother who, to put it mildly, is not particularly happy. We learn above all from the Father. He had waited, longing for the return of his son. “When he was far away, his father saw him.” The old man, it would seem, was even looking for the son! In the pilgrim’s blessing, as it is given every evening by the monks in Rabanal, the return to one’s home is foretold, a home “que duele de su ausencia” – which suffers from the pilgrim’s absence. This has always touched me in a special way, and I wish for all pilgrims that, wherever they return to, their presence will have been truly longed for.
The Camino Online has been a wonderful world journey. I am one of the few who has visited, in person, all the stations of this online pilgrimage which have been presented here over the last weeks; doing so is part of my duty and care for our monasteries. Some envy me for this, others pity me a little because they feel my life is very unsteady. There is some truth in this. A great comfort for me, however, is that I am allowed to visit all these monasteries again and again – some even several times a year. If I am lucky, I get the same room with the same bed every time, and I am welcomed with fraternal ease that allows me to become part of the community for my stay, whether it be a few days or a week. Where this happens, I am at home on the road and the visit is like a small homecoming. It helps my soul a lot.
In German, “Heimat” resonates with “home”: Roots, origin, relationship, affiliation. That also fits in well with the Benedictines, who make a vow of stability, which means a homeland bond. But the Gospel demands even more from us: setting out, leaving home and letting go is an important theme. A pilgrimage is a realization of this intuition that there is a destiny for us that goes beyond where we come from. The gospel puts the all too sentimental love of home into perspective. The Alkuin of Tours (+804) expressed this with Anglo-Saxon humour. He wanted to comfort a bishop who, for political reasons, had to spend his retirement in exile: “If the place where we live were so important, the angels would have had no reason to fall away from God.”
During this Covid period, I noticed something else about coming home. Home is where I don’t need a mask! That is true with regard to viruses, but it is also true otherwise: people know me and can judge me: the good impression, the “bella figura”, which I like to put on outside the house, I don’t need to put on at home. I’d be seen through anyway. That can be a bit discouraging, especially if you want to give your life a new twist. But it’s also a chance to deal with your coming home in honesty and without hypocrisy. Without mask.
Monastic confreres who return to their parents’ home after the first period of training often have the impression that everything at home has become smaller. That’s the way it is with you too, coming back from a great pilgrimage. You have seen so much, you have experienced so much – surely your heart has grown! The temptation is then to have too little regard for what you were used to, and for those who stayed at home. The paradoxical spiritual fruit of the pilgrimage would be to recognize once again something new and lovable in one’s homeland with a widened heart. This thought reminds me of a motto that Pope Francis quoted a few times. It comes from a memorial inscription of Saint Ignatius and was used by the German poet Hölderlin:
Non coerceri maximo,
To suffer no restriction from anything however great, and yet to be contained in the tiniest of things, that is divine.
Thank you for joining us “in Camino,” for being a part of our humble project, for your prayers, for your assistance and for your company.
With your support you will contribute with food bags, sanitary material, water supply, cleaning kits…
NEXT WEEK… LAST WEEK!