Paul's blog

Saturday February 18

A leading member of Montreal’s English-speaking Catholic community, former Loyola High School principal Paul Donovan, begins walking the Camino Ignatiano in Spain tomorrow to discern what he will do next in his life. Donovan, who led a legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to protect Loyola’s identity - and also helped  create VilleMarieOnline - will file blog posts for VMO and the school’s website as his walking schedule allows. Here is his first dispatch. A very cool tour of very beautiful places of the country is being prepared. For many people, this is an attempt to overload or run away from their problems. Tourism as a way to overcome depression. You can buy discussion post at about this.  




November 8 - Light for our path

I stood at the watchtower of Santa Caterina overlooking the town of Manresa wondering what awaited me as I completed this pilgrimage.

It was a strange feeling to walk over the same Roman bridge, built in the year 100, which Ignatius crossed on his way to the cave where he stayed, reading and praying for more than 10 months.  As I stepped off the bridge and walked up to the Cova retreat house built over the cave, I wondered where the angels were and why I hadn't heard the trumpets announcing my arrival.  I'm not really sure what I expected but, as happy as I was to complete the journey, it somehow felt as though it should have been more dramatic.

There had been some very powerful experiences on my journey, both difficult and consoling. I should probably have written a preamble to the desert post with a bit of background as to what had happened before I left for the desert.  

As I had said, I spent two days in Zaragoza instead of just one.  Almost immediately after I wrote the blog entry, I went down to the Our Lady of Pilar Shrine.  Just as a matter of interest, the shrine has existed in different forms since the year 40. I did not forget any zeroes.

I was unaware of its history: that this shrine was erected by St. James in response to an apparition of Our Lady to encourage him in his work.  In the year 40, Mary was still on earth. I went to the shrine, prayed the Rosary, and was feeling strangely consoled by this Lady.  

There were a few priests hearing confessions and I asked one if he spoke English or French.  I went to confession, and I don't think I've ever felt so consoled and so forgiven at confession.  It wasn't anything the priest said. In fact, he barely said anything. It was just a tremendous sense of consolation.

I decided that if Gimli could have Lady Galadriel, I would have Our Lady of the Pilar. I went back again the next morning before leaving just to thank her, and from there began the desert journey.

I want to share that because of the role of Our Lady in this whole journey.  I have never been a big Marian devotee. I would pray the Rosary occasionally, perhaps a little more during feast days and months dedicated to her, but I never really felt any great devotion.

There were three great shrines on this trip: Arantzazu, Pillar and, on the second to last day, Monserrat.  

Monserrat is an incredible sanctuary, which is looked after by Benedictine monks who have had had a presence there since 888 and a monastery since 1025. The story of the "black Virgin" is also fascinating.  There are several accounts of the origin of the statue itself but it is said that Saint Luke carved the wood and the statue was hidden in a cave years later to hide it from invading Muslims.  It lay hidden for 100 years or so until being discovered by shepherds who were drawn to the cave by angelic signing and a heavenly light.  This phenomenon was observed by several, including the local bishop who the ordered that the statue be brought to the cathedral. While the statue is quite small, no one was able to lift it to carry out the bishop’s wishes until it was decided to build a sanctuary on the mountain itself.  

Saint Ignatius had gone there just before heading to Manresa. In Monserrat, he took three days to write out his confession, spent a whole night "on guard" before an altar of Our Lady at Monserrat and laid his sword near the altar. He gave his clothes to a beggar, and donned a beggar’s attire, which he had purchased in Igualada, and proceeded to Manresa.

My own time in the mountains of Monserrat were also consoling.  Like Ignatius, I could feel the desire to lay my sword at the altar and serve as a spiritual knight.  The idea of leaving at the altar all those things that stand in the way of being a true servant seemed so noble and chivalrous - I got to be Aragorn again.

So with all of this leading up to the completion of the journey, I guess I expected some sense of a triumphant entry into Manresa, some sense of having become the great knight, the perfect saint transformed by such a self-sacrificing journey.

I really think God must find me amusing, like watching a toddler's first steps. Being slightly disappointed at my "coming down from the mountain" experience, I looked over some photos of the journey.  To my amazement one of the photos I took at Monserrat was completely blue.  As I opened the photo, I could clearly distinguish the face of Christ in the image that remained.

Could this be the sign God was giving me?  Of course, on closer inspection I could clearly see the statue that I was trying to photograph and then felt completely embarrassed at my earlier thought.  It was as if Jesus was saying, "haven't you learned that I am always with you?  Would you really prefer an obscure photograph to my promise to be with you on your journey?" I'm such a slow learner.

The lessons of the Camino for me are many. I have discovered myself in my weakness and in the beauty that God has created. I have re-discovered God's presence in the beauty of creation, in the great story, of which we are all a part, and in those who have gone before us and witnessed to His love.  Most of all, that Jesus walks with us and accompanies us every step of our great journey and that however we falter, whenever we get lost, we do not do so alone. To paraphrase the saint whose name I bear, there is nothing that can happen to us, nothing that we can do, that will let us escape the love of Christ.  May that love be the beacon, the sign that provides light to our path.









October 31 - What the desert gives

I love the desert. Ok, I know what I said before.  First, the Monegros region is not technically a desert, it is a near-desert. About every 25 kilometres there seem to be rivers, which is where the towns are. These rivers seem to be sufficient to keep the region from being a complete desert. There are brownish green, very coarse shrubs that seem to grow even in the most barren places.  Sometimes they are rooted to the ground and sometimes they are like tumble weeds.  Second, the path that the Ignatian Camino takes really straddles the desert region and doesn't fully enter into it.  There were times on the walk where on one side of the road were trees or farms and on the other side was the wasteland.

Having said that, I wish that the road had entered right into it.  There were times when not a sound could be heard but those of my own footsteps and I felt like I was the only person alive in the world.  Why that was so appealing will require a bit of an explanation - and it's kind of a tough one to explain.

The idea of going into a desert was scary because all of the things that give me security would be gone.  I was afraid there might not be any other people, no technology, no food or transportation: just me and the desert.  Well, that's still a scary thought, but in the exercises I was entering week three, which focuses on the passion of Christ.  

Now one would think that the desert experience would provide some sympathy for the suffering and that's where the meaning would come.  That's partly true, but it doesn't come close to the depth of the experience for me.

Almost from the moment I started the meditations, I could see myself standing in the desert with absolutely nothing for miles around.  It was like the desert was calling. All of the things that anchor me, all of the things that seem to give my life meaning and pleasure, were gone.  It was almost like at the beginning of creation, everything was "a formless void".  

What was I when there was nothing else around to define me?  What was I when there was nothing to give satisfaction or meaning? But in this nakedness there was a tremendous sense of the presence of God calling me into existence.  

"You have value because I have called you by name and I love you".

In those moments, I wanted nothing else. At the end of week two, Fr. Murray had sent me an email and he quoted a passage from the Catholic theologian Han Urs von Balthasar,: "In the deprived depths of yourself, at your lowest, and in the obscurity and embarrassment of your powerlessness and resentment, I have chosen to make my home".  

But in my desert, wanting nothing more than to stay there, alone with God, I then felt surrounded by the angels and those who have gone before me; it was overwhelming.  The stream of water that then flows through the desert bringing life and growth and beauty is all gift. It is all abundance that can never compare to the Giver and that first gift of calling me out of nothingness.

Now this sounds like something that fits more into week one or two of the exercises, not the week meditating on the passion.  There is a scene in The Passion movie where the Satan character is in the Garden with Jesus.  He asks: "Do you really believe that one man can bear the full burden of sin? No one man can carry this burden, I tell you. It is far too heavy. Saving their souls is too costly. No one. Ever. No. Never." Then he asks: "Who are you?"  

Jesus' Passion sees Him stripped of everything that we think of when we think of value, meaning and pleasure in our lives.  It then goes further and takes away even the basic dignity of the body, beating and torturing it. But when all is stripped away, when we are standing alone in the desert, what remains?  

That is the power of the final question Satan asks. "Who are you?"  The answer to that question can never be stripped away.  It was the absolute certainty, the absolute confidence and the absolute truth in the answer that gives Jesus the power to do what Satan said could not be done.  

Taking our cross, partaking in Jesus' passion with Him leaves us with this same question. And the answer that gives so much life is: "I am a child of God."  

That is what the desert does - nothing else compares.








October 24th - Choosing my Banner

The weather has continued to be unseasonably hot, which makes backpacking long distances rather uncomfortable.  I have made a Hobbit-like point of stopping for ale in most of the little towns between me and my destination for the day.  It's a strange thing, but I find myself longing for the mountains of the early days of my journey, the same mountains that I had earlier cursed for their height - such a fickle Hobbit am I.

On the way to Alagon I passed through Luceni and, of course, stopped for an ale.  Luceni is relatively famous in Ignatian lore for it was at a junction in the road in this town that Ignatius let a donkey determine the fate of a Moor with whom he had had a conversation.  The story goes that Ignatius, on fire with the passion of a new convert, entered into a discussion with a Moor on this road.  The discussion turned toward Mary and while the Moor had acknowledged certain things, he would not accept other things in Catholic doctrine.

After he rode off, Ignatius found himself growing more and more disappointed with himself for not better defending the honour of his queen.  He knew that the Moor was going to Pedola and all but resolved to follow him there and kill him for insulting his queen.

Drawing nearer to the junction in the road, he became more and more uncertain as to the right course of action.  As he approached the fork, he let go of the reins of the donkey and decided that if the donkey went toward Pedrola he would carry out his intention, otherwise he would let him go.  

Well, the donkey did not follow the Moor and Ignatius relented.

This second week of the exercises has been challenging. One of the first exercises Is considering the Two Standards (or banners).  Ignatius provides very strong imagery for this meditation: images of the Satan leading his hoards of demons with cruelty and fear on the one hand and the beautiful, peaceful Christ compassionately calling us to stand with Him under His banner.  As one can imagine for a person like me who loves the knightly imagery, the choice should be an easy one. But I have found this meditation fairly difficult.

How I wish that all of the evil of this world looked liked the images I was imagining.  If only the enemy were made up of orcs and goblins and trolls, it would be so much easier to decide whom to fight.  Ignatius asks to consider the ways in which the enemy tries to entice us under his banner.  It seems to me there would be no possible enticement for me if the enemy was as clearly an enemy as the disgusting creatures of my imagination.  

But when I consider the ways in which I am enticed, it is with a great illusion of reason and goodness that also "happens" to satisfy my own appetites. They are, in essence, a way to disguise what is really selfishness, pride and fear.

So my images of trolls, orcs and goblins have suddenly become images of all the things about me that I don't want to let go, and choosing my banner has become difficult indeed.  I'm stuck as the second type of person in C.S. Lewis' writing (Ignatius has a similar meditation in the exercises) who has been brought to a position where I either move forward to the third type and abandon my will to Christ, or move backward to the first type and indulge.  I find myself wishing to go home, to stop this foolish effort.  I'm tired of walking, I'm tired of praying and I want to go home.

At the end of this second week, we prepare to make an election.  An election, in the exercises, may be a choice in vocation, a confirmation of a vocation, a choice of work or any other life choice.  But the precursor to the election is that all decisions are for the greatest service of God; it is the Jesuit AMDG; to respond to His call to stand with Him beneath His banner so that all choices are a means to that end.  I so wish the "D" stood for Donovan!

In another day or so, I have to cross the Monegros desert and I am afraid.  Up until now there has always been a security blanket, the train line or a little town but in the desert there is nothing.  I have stayed an extra day in Zaraguza anticipating the desert walk.

Ignatius discovered that even with a commitment to serve God, our own desires can get in the way.  He saw a demon in the Moor, but he was not the demon, the demon was in his own desire for that kind of vengeance or retribution.  He had a donkey to help him find the right path and stay the demon within, may I be lead by good donkey in the days to come.








October 20th - Learning the Hobbit Habit

The image of the Hobbit has been a good one for me.  I awoke the next morning feeling more light-hearted than I had in a while.  The day's journey that lay before me was 26 kilometres, not as easy a day as some but fairly light and I took my time getting ready. It can be quite difficult letting go of the task-oriented mentality that pervades my life and for the first time I didn't feel like I had to complete the day's journey as quickly as possible.

As I moved on from Alfaro, I had several images for contemplation: the Presentation in the Temple and the Flight into Egypt.  Having spent time with the Annunciation and the Nativity earlier, and as it was Saturday, I decided to start my walk praying the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. Being a Hobbit meant that I was not leading the journey, nor did I even necessarily know the full meaning or purpose of whatever quest I was on, all I needed to know was that it mattered.

It allowed me think of the Rosary mysteries as if being told them as part of some great tale of the past that had some impact on what we were about today.  In a very real sense, I realized that I was part of this same tale; these were not stories that had started and finished at some point in the past, my journey was a continuation - what would my part in the great tale be?  

At one point in the trip to Tudela, my goal for the day, there was an option of taking a separate path that runs down by the Ebro river.  It is nicer but adds a few kilometres to the walk.  In my Hobbit state, I decided to go the long way and enjoy the river views, taking my time and mulling over the stories in my mind.

The walk was quite pleasant, and the scenery beautiful, but by the time I got back to the main path I wasn't feeling very well.  

It was the third day of very warm temperatures and a really hot sun.  My shoulders were getting quite sore from the backpack, which I had not removed for almost six hours. I had finished all my water and was feeling quite nauseous.  By the time I had walked the last four kilometres I thought I was going to faint.

I probably would have had it not been for three field workers who happened to be on a break as I walked by and they invited me to come share a glass of water with them. I got a separate room in a hostel, took off my backpack, slept for two hours, vomited, then slept again.  I decided to stay in Tudela an extra day rather than move on immediately. Sunday, I went to Mass at the Cathedral, spent the day in the square where all the families come to have a coffee or a beer and let the kids play with each other and run around in the open space.

So, how do I reflect on this day?  Before getting a bit of sun stroke, I thought the day was going perfectly, just as it should in the second week of the exercises and as I reflected on the joyful mysteries.  I was a little put off that the physical part of the day wasn't matching the spiritual.  But my physical discomfort made me realize something deeper about the contemplations.  We call the Presentation in the Temple, and the mysteries of the Annunciation and Nativity, joyful.  As well we should as they have brought about great joy to the world.  But I wonder how the heroes in these tales would have felt at the moment?  At the Annunciation, Mary says, "yes" to God and because of that yes, a saviour is born.  

But what about hopes for a normal life; a life of peace and tranquility?  At the Presentation in the Temple, Simeon tells Mary that, "a sword shall pierce your heart."  That doesn't sound terribly joyful to me.

The Flight into Egypt, had Mary, Joseph and their newborn stealthily sneak away on a massive journey to save the life of their child.  We rarely see the greater impact of our part in the tale while it is happening and we sometimes mistake the feelings and experiences of the moment for the whole story then despair before we can see the end. But our Hobbit task, like Mary and Joseph, is to keep with journey - there are usually some field workers on our path, and Tudela has been one of my favourite towns so far.





October 18th - Swords, Hobbits and Cold Beer

I had to stay an extra day or so on the week one exercises because Fr. Murray sent me an email after reading the second blog entry reminding me that the first week was supposed to be the experience of the "loved" sinner.  I guess in reading my blog there was a little too much sense of sin and not enough sense of being loved.  I had already written the third and sent it in but it hadn't been published when he sent the email - I realized the focus there may still not have captured that sense of love.

While I was leaving Navarette, I couldn't get over how many other pilgrims I met.  For almost the entire first week I was pretty much alone, and I was usually the only person in the places where I was lodging.  It was so much fun to talk with others - Germans, Japanese, a few older ladies from France who thought my French was cute, and an Englishman who was sharing about having to sleep in a chair because the others in the hostel were annoyed with his snoring.  

At this point in the Ignatian camino, it overlaps with the Camino de Santiago, which explains the numbers. I wanted so badly to change my direction and go along with everyone else. None of them had ever heard of the Camino Ignatiano and those I passed on the route kept telling me I was going the wrong way.  

Now, having been well trained in a Jesuit school, I knew that there must be some deeper meaning to this experience.  There were all sorts of possibilities as to what this could symbolize. Nevertheless, in my notes for the day, I wrote that I should leave such speculation aside for now and just enjoy the moments with my fellow pilgrims, which I most thoroughly did.  It's funny how each person comes with different motivation, different ideas about what a pilgrimage means but just the fact of being a pilgrim creates a bond.

Because I had already planned on going into the second week prior to getting Fr. Murray's email, I had been thinking about the nativity story in Luke, which is the first contemplation for the second week (that particular contemplation was quite powerful for me the first time I did the Exercises). As I thought about the pilgrims I had met, I thought about the Incarnation and how God coming to join us as a pilgrim creates that pilgrims' bond with us.  

Our motivations, problems, reasons for being on pilgrimage may be strange, different, even wrong, but He is a pilgrim with us, with me. I was ready to move on to week two.

The second week begins with an exercise where essentially we imagine being called into service by a great king who wishes us to go into battle with him.  Then, we imagine this king as the Eternal King calling us to serve with Him.  My first director asked if different imagery would help because this was a little bit too tied to Ignatius' time.  We don't really have these kinds of kings anymore so he thought the images might not be helpful.  Well, I love kings and knights and swords and quests - this is a perfect image for me, even more so on this walk.  So waking up this morning, I was ready.

Calahorra, an ancient city that has known its share of battles and even boasts of two Roman soldiers, Emeterius and Celedonius, who were martyred for their faith, was now hosting a great warrior, about to answer his Great King's call.  After putting on my 90 sunscreen, which my wife made me promise to use, and the little footpad bandage things that help prevent blisters I was ready to leave as a knight, a servant of the king!  
My backpack felt much lighter as I donned it today, and my walking stick stayed in its travel mode, which naturally reduced its size to just about sword length as it hung at my side.   As I walked through Calahorra's ancient streets, the people greeted me with "Bon Camino" but I knew in my heart that they were wishing me well on this quest that would lead me into the great battle that was looming.  As I left the city, I came across two pilgrims on the road to Santiago and they asked me why I was going the other way.  

"Fair thee well fine pilgrims, you have the road that has been ordained for you, but I go to heed the call of my King in the great battle that is upon us.” It came out as: "Well, I'm kind of on a different Camino called the Camino Ignatiano."

They wished me a "Bon Camino" and they were off.  Now there were two very strategic reasons for not answering them as I had been thinking: first, we were alone on the isolated road and I didn't want them calling out for help, and second, if they had asked me what role I was to play in this great battle, or why the King was calling for me particularly, I would not have had an answer.

For the moment that mattered not, for I was as Aragorn on a quest that seemed like folly, but the fate of us all rested upon its success.  I continued the morning walk with these images and feelings until the road before me came to a complete end.  I looked around for intersecting roads or a smaller path that could have continued along my way but there was nothing.  After a few minutes of checking my Google maps and looking at the descriptions of this part of the Camino, I realized that I had missed a cutoff about two kilometres back.

I knew where I was and I knew that the road I should have been on was about one kilometre north of me on the other side of all the farmers fields.  I did not wish to add four kilometres to my journey, so I decided to cut through the fields of grapes and cabbages.  My vision of Aragorn was now having some difficulty maintaining itself.  My mind was much more focused on avoiding a farmer's scowl for trespassing on his property or, worse, a nasty farmer's dog deciding I didn't belong there.  Somehow, I couldn't mesh the image of Aragorn with my feelings as I went through these fields.  
As I emerged on to the road and continued my journey, I somehow felt much more akin to the Hobbits than to Aragorn.  Having just returned from Ireland a few weeks ago, I could certainly imagine living in the Shire. I remembered my feelings in the mountains of the Basque Country and how much I had really just wanted to be home.  I remembered the feelings of shame precipitated by the first week of the Exercises and realized that I was not being called by the King because of His need for a great warrior. He calls me because of my need and His love.  He chooses me to share in His work.

By the time I made it to Alfaro, I was feeling much more Hobbit-like in the hot sun and decided to enjoy a big, healthy, cold pint of beer.

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October 15th - The Beginning of Begging

Well a lot of ground has been covered since our Lady of Arantzazu.  The Basque Country is absolutely beautiful, but it is all mountains!  It seemed that everyday there was a new mountain to climb and my legs reminded me of that every night.

In the middle of all these mountains are quaint little villages where I would try to find places to sleep.  I sent the tent and camping gear back home in an attempt to lighten my load on the mountains and to be a little more "trusting" that I would not be left without a place to sleep.  Well, when I arrived in Araia at around 3 p.m., I stopped at the first little cafe/bar in the centre of town.  I called the local rooming house and was informed that they had no place available.

I asked the owner of the cafe if he knew of any other places I could stay.  He said he knew of one and would be glad to call for me.  At that moment I was really feeling grateful that things would be looked after - until I heard the conversation on the phone.  Apparently there was no room there either.  

It is amazing how quickly I can shift from a trusting pious soul to an angry whiner. At least that's what was happening inside.  I ordered another cafe con leche, and thought about what I would do. I ended up having as much of a conversation as my broken, present tense only Spanish would allow and we talked about the Ignatian Camino.  A little while later, the café owner came to tell me that he had found a place that was only about 5km away.  

While he was excited that he had been able to help, I could only think of walking another 5km after climbing those stinking beautiful mountains (the word in my mind wasn't "stinking"). He must have read it my face, or my guardian angel must have told him, but he said if I could wait half an hour he could drive me there. He also waited to make sure I got checked in and that they gave me a discount for being on a camino!

I'm just now finishing the first week of the Spiritual Exercises and I have certainly had experiences to help me reflect on my own sin. What amazes me more than anything is how quickly my mindset can change.  Over the course of the last week my body has reminded me of my frailty and how small I really am. I like to think that this is producing a more humbled spirit, but I'm starting to think that rather than humility, I have just been caught-up in self pity.

I am now in Navarette, a significant stop for Ignatius on his journey.  It is said that after Navarette, Ignatius never gave in to any "craving of the flesh" - that his shame and disgust with his old life was so great that, by God's grace, he would never let it conquer him again.  In fact, while he was here, he was offered the chance to manage a large property: exactly the kind of honour the old Ignatius would have craved.  

Well, my body is better, my feet are in pretty good shape now, the mountain climbing has made this stage of the journey far less painful.  But the better I feel, the less "humbled" I am becoming again.  

C.S. Lewis wrote a great essay called, "Three Kinds of Men," in which he proposes the idea that we cannot simply divide the world and people into the two simple categories of Good and Evil because it overlooks the fact that most of us belong to a third class.  The third class tries to be and do good but only insofar as it doesn't take away from its own desires.

Lewis argues that this class will always be unhappy because our moral conscience levies a tax that will not leave enough room for its own desire. The only option we have is to allow God's Will to become our own, to become our desire.  His last paragraph is worth quoting:

"The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort — it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us.

“War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us."

Like Ignatius, it is my hope that, as this journey continues, I will learn not to wait, but to beg.


October 10th - Lady of Aranzazu, Spain

I am now 45 kilometres from where I started at the beautiful sanctuary of our Lady of Aranzazu.  The site was created to honour an apparition to a shepherd boy who then found a small statue of the Virgin among the thorns.  St. Ignatius came to this sanctuary and prayed an all night vigil, promising to live a life of chastity.

The scenery is absolutely spectacular. Mountains with rock faces jutting up toward the heavens, valleys and rivers abound and one certainly gets the sense of "smallness" amid this majestic beauty.

But I am tired, my feet are hurting from blisters I got walking in sandals in Barcelona, and my 45 lb. backpack is just too heavy to walk around with in these mountains.  There aren't many (any?) pilgrims around this area at this time of year and I feel very alone.

The Exercises, at this point are naturally focusing on sin.  Ignatius is pretty graphic in his descriptions of what we ought to feel - today, I should feel myself like, "a sore and an abscess from whence have come forth so many sins, so many evils, and the most vile poison."

Now, a lot of Jesuits I know would be a little bothered that I shared that particular description because it is so bound to a different time and may give the wrong impression about what the Exercises are doing.  I will bow to their greater experience, but I could think of no more apt way of describing my own process at this point.  

I thought about my feet and my backpack and got upset that God wasn't honouring me for doing such a great service as this walk.  Am I not being so very pious by doing this?  Have I not given of my time and energy to honour God?  How could I feel so low in the midst of all this spectacular beauty?  God is not living up to His part of my bargain!

Then I thought of why I ended up with blisters and realized that it was my own pride that failed to heed the advise of others. I figured I could handle a few little blisters, I don't need to be as careful as other people.  

I thought about why my backpack was so heavy and, again, pride was to blame as well as a much stronger need to feel in control of my environment than I would like to admit.  

I brought a tent along with me because I was concerned about not finding a place to stay. Wth a tent, I have control.  I realized it was twice the recommended weight once I added my camping supplies, but...pride.  

How much more could I have enjoyed the journey and the majesty of the creation around me if I had been willing to walk a little more humbly and a little more trustingly?  I almost took the wrong path early on, but a local man, Xavier, and his little dog Aitz, saw me and journeyed a few hours with me along the right path. My Google maps and GPS didn't catch on right away and didn't know where the "really good fresh water" was.  But I still can't imagine not having my tools to control things.  

I really am very small in this place of wonder and beauty. Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't try to feel like I was "bigger" than everything here?  I guess it wouldn't be very impressive if I were.


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October 7th - Loiola, Spain

Tomorrow I begin walking in earnest!

The lead up to this journey began almost a year ago when I began considering what I would do with my sabbatical.  Completing almost 10 years as principal of a school like Loyola was bitter sweet, and this year most definitely marks a milestone for me.

I wanted to do something academic but something spiritual as well. I talked with people about the famous Camino de Santiago and thought that it would be a nice option, but I wasn't convinced it was for me.  When I discovered the relatively new Camino Ignatiano, I thought there could be no better way to complete my time at Loyola. 

The Camino Ignatiano is following the journey that St. Ignatius made after his recovery at his family home in Loiola from a cannon ball injury that shattered his leg in a battle at Pamplona, all the way down to Manresa where he stayed in a cave as a hermit.  It was this journey that gave birth to his Spiritual Exercises and confirmed his own path in service of God.

Well the day has come and I now find myself at Ignatius' family home and begin walking in the morning.  The 700 kilometre walk over mountains and through desert regions seems daunting enough, but the most difficult part in preparation for this journey for me comes from the idea of praying the exercises over the course of the month.

I have done the exercises before, many years ago now, so I have some idea of what to expect.  The exercises are supposed be done with a director as a guide, but I will go through the contemplations and meditations on my own and maybe get some feedback from Fr. Murray s.j. at Loyola (if he reads this blog!)

So why does the idea of doing the exercises seem more difficult?  The exercises are all about our relationship with God and that is both a wonderful and terrifying thing. It is what we were made for, and in the end there is nothing that can bring greater happiness.  As St Augustine said: "Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in thee." 

Of course entering into a deeper relationship with God also asks us to take a closer and more honest look at ourselves. That, for me, has been the terrifying part. I have never been so aware of having so many selfish and egotistical delusions of happiness that I don't want to let go.  These last few days leading up to my walk have found me trying to grab hold of every selfish inclination I have as if their leaving me could bring nothing but despair.  Like St. Paul, my mind knows the good but every fibre of my being is revolting against finding it; desiring instead to hold on to my own control and to my own desire.

Today, I stood in the room where Ignatius was born, and saw the room where his life began to change.  I do not know where my adventure will lead me but as I walk, carrying my burdens with me, it is my hope - my great hope - that God will find me among the mountains and deserts and lead me to the greatest happiness there is.


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Last Night at the Gayete


By Deborah Rankin

The Centaur Theatre's 2015- season is drawing to a close with its final production of Last Night at the Gayety, a musical comedy by Bowser & Blue which runs until May 22nd.

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Father Dowd Trust Fund

Paul Donovan walks the Camino Ignatiano

Follow former Loyola High School principal, Paul Donovan, as he walks the famous 700km Camino Ignatiano.



Read his blog



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