An Education on the Camino - Cardinal Newman Society

An Education on the Camino

This summer my wife and I were blessed to be able to go on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with our son. The Camino, The Way, is a many-centuries-old pilgrimage across Spain to the resting place of the remains of St. James the Apostle: Santiago.

This is my third Camino, and like the others, it has proven to be totally unique and a profoundly moving experience. While my first Camino (we walked the Camino Primativo that year) was a great retreat and an unveiling of a Camino as a metaphor for life, this Camino (the Camino Frances—the most common route) was a metaphor for education.

It began the first day of the Camino, as my wife and I were hiking over the Pyrenees Mountains from St. Jean Pied du Port to Roncesvalles. I had been re-reading The Song of Roland leading up to this first day’s trek and was reflecting on the toughness and heroics of the men of Charlemagne. What men! What courage and strength they possessed! And what vividness of purpose they saw. It was in the midst of these reflections that a trio slowly overtook us on the trail.

Because of the slow pace of plodding up and down mountains, we were within earshot of the two men and one lady for nearly a kilometer (0.6 of a mile for those who are not currently steeped in European measurement scales). These three were all twenty-somethings, each from different countries, friendly young people who just came together for a short time on the walk. The topic of discussion was why Muslim women, or even Christian women, would let themselves be ruled by men. Lots of platitudes to “non-judgementalism” were uttered all in an effort to not offend while they concluded absolutely nothing. Relativism abounded amidst a stream of CNN-worthy soundbites. To be fair, they seemed to have a genuine interest and allowed for the fact that these women themselves probably saw something positive in their dress or behavior constrictions. But they seemed to have no moorings from which to judge a position, much less argue to or for something. They were drifting along in a relativistic cloud, thinking they were expressing “their truth” in pure and respectful freedom.

However, as St. John Paul II reminded us in 1995 (found in the July Magnificat), “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” These well-meaning young people have seemingly been robbed of the right to do what they ought, because they have not been taught or shown what they “ought” to do or think. As Heather King poignantly states in her excellent article on Marshall McLuhan (Magnificat, July 2018), what we ought to see, think about, or act in accordance to, is “the Alpha and the Omega… the real Body and the real Blood of Christ.”

That is powerful.

That is purposeful.

That is the kind of conviction that drove Charlemagne and Roland, even with their human failings. They were able to stand for something real, and fight for it and die for it!

That was how my Camino started.

As it continued, and we met many people from all over the globe, it became more and more clear how hungry people are for a Truth they can believe in and live for. We live in a world starving for intellectual and moral nutrition, and everywhere there is McDonald’s and Cup-o-Noodle. We suffer from malnutrition and yet feed on intellectual fast food.

The Camino is a beautiful opportunity to step aside and step back from the noise, media and speed of the modern world and look, smell, touch and reflect. Whizzing across the countryside in minutes does not allow you to see the small flowers, the four varieties of butterflies on a single bush, or smell of the rock roses baking in the afternoon sunshine.

It is this slower pace, this more natural reality that we need to embrace as we think about what education really is and how it forms our children. We are forming human beings, not computer operators; the latter is simply a skill to be acquired after the person is formed. On the Camino we slowed down, came into proper and intimate contact with God’s creation and ran into our own bodily limits illuminated by shifting pains in legs, feet, shoulders, etc. In King’s article, she references McLuhan’s most famous quote, “the medium is the message.” The medium of the Camino—nature, our own abilities and limits, and the great art and architecture of man’s attempt to worship God—is simple and close to our true reason for being.

This is what education of the young should reflect. Build the imagination, build knowledge, build conviction, build each child as a person destined for eternity. Allow them to come to an understanding of what they “ought.” As Aristotle famously taught, education should teach children to “delight in the things they ought to delight in, and shun what they ought to shun.”

We can pick up our phone when needed, or jump in the car when we have to, but when it comes to forming the hearts, minds and souls of our children, we must be very careful and purposeful about The Way we proceed.

Mr. and Mrs. Van Hecke on the Camino, Summer 2018. All photos courtesy of the author.

MICHAEL J. VAN HECKE, M.Ed., a seasoned headmaster and educational speaker, is also the founder and president of The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and the Catholic Textbook Project. In their spare time, he and his wife farm avocados.

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