If you will never walk the Camino de Santiago and just wonder what it would be like, especially for a Catholic priest celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination with four or five vaguely Catholic intentions, you could do worse than read Fr. Kevin Codd's book, To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela (2008). For myself, I'm still looking for a Catholic book about the Camino that asks and answers some big questions.
Like, is Jesus even necessary for a modern pilgrimage such as this traditional route to the burial place of St. James the Apostle, which has been doing business for a thousand years?
Like, if so, why?
With the exception of a radiant Korean gentleman and his wife, I have yet to meet anyone who is doing the Camino as an overtly Christian pilgrimage. Most say they are walking 500 miles for their health or for some form of spiritual freedom. The reasons Kevin Codd adduces are:
1. Because Jesus did a lot of walking. "To know His feet," he writes, "is to know Him."
2. To pray for more young priests, especially at the seminary he runs in Belgium. "Why not give it a shot?" Codd asks, with typical round-the-water-cooler lingo, as though an intention were a bet you laid on a filly.
3. To take stock of his life.
4. To drop 5 kilos.
Having opened his first chapter with an apologetic history of the "legends" behind the Camino, Codd ends poetically: "When all is said and done, what I really wanted was to see those stars of Compostela dance for myself."
Very nice indeed. But. After dedicating most of that chapter to trying to make Catholic traditions palatable for the non-Catholic reader, Codd basically abandons ship and lapses into a day-by-day, present-tense account of every darn thing that happens to him, especially blisters. The many fellow human beings he meets are alotted, on average, a single descriptive phrase, but we sure learn a lot about Father Kevin's blisters.
The sacraments — like attending Mass on Sundays, for example — seem to happen almost by accident, as do the nice little life lessons that occur to him here and there. But does Jesus have anything to do with these? Not really. Instead, Codd makes the mistake that I think many priests make — trying to seem like a Regular Guy. Priests aren't regular, they're extraordinary. And their message—the context within which they write and preach—should be the same. (IMHO*)
On the other hand, it's perfectly OK for a layman writing about the Camino from a Catholic perspective to come off as a regular guy. Which is what I am. So despite the best efforts of selected friends of mine, who will remain nameless, to convince me that there really are good Catholic books about the Camino de Santiago, I remain unconvinced, and will try to write one myself.
*In my humble opinion.