In 2011, The Way, starring Martin Sheen (father) and Emilio Estevez (deceased son), made it to the Silver Screen. In the opening scene, a doctor (and lapsed Catholic) is interrupted while playing golf to receive a phone call from a French police captain and told that his son had died while walking the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (in English: The Way of St. James). Shortly thereafter, the father flies from California to France where he identifies his son, authorizes his cremation, and notifies his medical practice that he won’t be home for several months. Seeking to honor his son’s commitment to walk the historic 500-plus kilometer path, he loads his son’s ashes into his backpack and embarks upon a pilgrimage from France that will lead him to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain that contains the tomb of St. James, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
Prior to the film’s release, Martin Sheen was interviewed about the movie and journey. “Each step is a prayer when you’re out there. You generally start out with a lot of stuff because you want to be prepared for whatever happens. As you go, you begin to have confidence and you begin to realize you over packed, and you begin to disperse all the stuff. The real pilgrimage begins on the inside, and you begin to let go of all the things you’ve been holding on to in the dungeon of your heart. You begin to stop being unforgiving, judgmental, and envious, and angry, and selfish, and resentful, and all the dark parts of our spirit begin to be released.”
During Mass, there are two distinct “steps.” First, after listening to the Word of God, we step forward to receive Him in Holy Communion. Second, at the end of Mass, we stand for the Concluding Rites. After the priest gives the final blessing and the deacon dismisses the people, some of us are tempted to think: “Great. My Sunday obligation has been fulfilled. Time for coffee and donuts.” But, as my grandfather used to say [to me]: “Not so fast, young man.”
For by digging deeper into liturgical history, we note that the dismissal actually gives the liturgy its name and the word “Mass” comes from the Latin word, “Missa.” Not that many years ago, the people were dismissed with the words “Ite, missa est” (literally meaning “Go, she—meaning you, the Church—has been sent”). The word “Missa” is also related to the word “missio,” the root of the English word “mission.” As such, although some of us are tempted to believe that the liturgy comes to an end, in reality—it doesn’t! For the assembled have been sent forth to bring the fruits of the Eucharist— to the world.
A final thought. In the days we live, so many of us would give our proverbial right hand for a closer glimpse at a celebrity or prince or president. But in days gone by, I’ve read stories that men would tip their hats when passing by a Catholic Church on the way to their intended destination. After all, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved there.
Today, however, things are different. While hats are no longer in style, our reverence for Jesus is also less present. We hear that “people are busier” and have “more things to do.” In the end, the truth is that we don’t worship God the way we used to. And so, on our way to work or soccer practice or the local coffee shop, we pass by Jesus. That is too bad. Because Jesus waits for us—quietly and patiently— and hopes that we will approach Him so that He may offer us His forgiveness, friendship, and mercy.
And set us on our Way.