October 10, 2021 – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-11
We took to calling him “the prophet.” I was a transitional deacon and was on a weeklong trek during Easter Week with a newly ordained priest and a seminarian along the Camino de Santiago, or “Way of St. James,” – an ancient network of pilgrimage routes that lead to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Greater in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
It had been raining on and off all day. We were tired. We were cold. We were wet. And we were hungry. As the sun began to set, we came to a pilgrim hostel and decided to call it quits for the day. Dinner was just about to be served, so we quickly changed out of our wet clothes and headed down to the dining room, which consisted of a single long wood table with a glorious fire roaring in the fireplace.
As if stumbling upon the very den where Bilbo Baggins was eaten out of house and home by the dwarves invited over by Gandalf, there, sitting alone at the end of the table, was a hobbit to complete the picture. He wasn’t really a hobbit. But to my weary, bleary eyes, he was as good as a hobbit. And as the soup came out, it was official: I’d died and gone to Bag End.
His name was actually Damiano. He was an Italian young man who had been on the “camino” for more than a month by himself. As we exchanged stories, he was as intrigued by us as we were by him. We, a group of celibate young men who were studying for the Catholic priesthood. He, a fallen away Catholic who’d become a “none” (one who answers “none” when asked with what religion they affiliate or identify) along the way.
Or at least, he professed to be a “none.” But we soon dubbed him “the prophet.” Because in his winding journey in search of an authentic way of life, the Lord was revealing wisdom to him that stunned us all.
In a way, he was the exact opposite of the “rich young man” in this week’s Gospel. Damiano had not been following God’s commandments. And he was by no means rich. In fact, his journey had been punctuated with pauses along the way to wash dishes for travel money.
But his poverty was no accident. He’d grown tired of the pursuit of riches and the quest to “get ahead.” It was leaving him empty, so he’d quit his job and set out on this journey in the hopes of figuring things out along the way. As he journeyed, he’d decided that technology was tearing him away from real, lived relationships with the people actually in his life, so he replaced his smartphone with a dumb one and said he’d never been happier. He also realized that he wanted to stop having sex with his girlfriend because he knew that he was using her, but he wanted to love her. As he trekked, he’d resolved to propose to her and was making plans to buy a farm so that he could work with his hands and touch the direct fruit of his labors.
A youthful romantic? Perhaps. But whether or not his resolutions ever played out, Damiano was tapping into the wisdom of God. As we affirmed his intuitions and discussed God’s plan for marriage and the detached relationship to wealth and generous concern for the poor that he calls us to, it was as if old telephone wires were being plugged into place in his brain.
He asked us, quite bluntly, how we lived without sex, and we spoke of how man only truly finds himself in the sincere gift of himself (Gaudium et Spes, 24) – a gift that can take many forms, but ultimately requires one to lay down his life for another or for others. A married man does this for his wife. A single person does it in the daily fidelity to their baptismal promises which they live out in myriad ways for the good of others. For us, that gift of self would be given to the Church, whom we felt called to serve with our whole being. And the Mass, we explained, was where all these gifts were united to Christ’s own gift of himself for us that we might come to know the depths of his love and live in union with it.
We ended up walking and talking with “the prophet” the whole next day. And at day’s end, he asked us if he could go to Confession and be received back into the Church. I would absolutely love to have a photo of the smiles on our faces in that moment.
God’s wisdom is better than scepter and throne, riches and priceless gems, health and comeliness. (Cf. Wisdom 7:8-10) “All gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire … because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.” (Wisdom 7:9, 10) In her light, all things fall into their proper place. We find ourselves and we see one another. I thank God for the witness Damiano gave to me in those days, and for the wonders of his grace that work in and through the poor in spirit. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Gospel Acclamation: Matthew 5:3)