Walking With God

by Richard F. Leary, C.P.

Fr Richard Leary, C.P.When I was on vacation last May, my sister invited me to a dinner with a Senior Citizens' Health Group. I was reluctant to accept until she told me she wasn't cooking a meal at home. We enjoyed a marvelous, well-balanced and tasty meal, low in fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar. Broiled chicken breasts were served with tiny carrots baked in honey, green peas, rice, tossed salad, mixed fresh fruit cup and angel cake.

Afterwards there was an informal talk on the importance and benefits of walking for your health. Various techniques about how, when and where to walk and the type of shoes and clothing to wear were discussed.

I was touched by these old folks, some using walkers and canes, concerned about living longer, improving their health, making life less painful and more enjoyable. And I felt very grateful to God for my own strength, agility and mobility at age 79.

I didn't need to be lectured about the value of walking. In my youth, walking was a necessity -- our family never owned a car. I never took a trolley or bus. I always walked to school, to work, or wherever I needed to go.

A Form of Recreation

When I joined the Passionist Congregation, I learned that walking was a common form of recreation. On free afternoons we would go for a "half-day walk." In our Holy Rule, two half-hour solitary walk periods were prescribed each day "to relieve both mind and body." The Magnificat antiphon at evening prayer for the feast of our Founder, St. Paul of the Cross, states that "he gathered soldiers of Christ beneath the banner of the Cross and taught them to walk with God."

"Walking with God" is a theme that is woven through the Scriptures. It describes not merely the physical act of walking, but our conduct before God -- our motives and our attitudes. Over 200 verses in the Bible refer to the concept of walking with God.

Walking is an ideal time for prayer. Walking to morning Mass or to a church service can be considered as going on a pilgrimage -- to a meeting with our Lord in the Eucharist, or with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The majesty of the physical world around us uplifts our hearts and minds in prayer: the glory of the stars, the magnificence of a sunrise or sunset, the beauty of a rainbow, the splendor of flowers.

One day when St. Paul of the Cross was walking in the monastery garden, the flowers spoke to him so loudly of God's beauty that he gently tapped them with his cane and cried out, "Be silent!"

"I See His Blood . . ."

That incident is a reminder of Joseph M. Plunkett's lovely poem "I See His Blood Upon the Rose":

"I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice -- and carven by his power,
Rocks are his written words. All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea;
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree."
Two miles a Day

Fr Richard in JamaicaMany years ago my doctor prescribed that I walk two miles a day and I have followed his directive faithfully. Usually I go right after Mass before the heat becomes oppressive or other duties prevent. It is an excellent physical discipline for the gentle exercise of stretching seldom-used muscles, for keeping the blood circulating properly, for aiding digestion, and keeping hormones and blood pressure in balance.

At that time of day, children are on their way to school. Working people are hurrying to their offices or work places. All are children of God, but many act as if God does not exist. Their minds and hearts are absorbed by the pleasures and pains of life, but they never give a thought to the God who made them and died for them on the Cross.

Sometimes I talk to them -- and their hearts are opened. A child bursts into tears at the death of a loved one and is comforted by a few words. A "mad woman" pours out her bitterness at the cruel judgments and harsh treatment of Christian people. A man suffering from the "middle-age syndrome," a sense of failure and frustration, needs someone to listen to his anguish.

Identified and Available

I am identified. I am available. I have the time. People ask for advice, for referrals, for recommendations, for prayers.

Children especially need to be affirmed, to be assured of their worth, to be told that they are beautiful. Myriads of cross-bearers need a helping hand, a listening ear, or an encouraging word or smile.

This is the apostolate of walking with God and for God. Usually I say my rosary as I walk -- and the recital has many interruptions. Some people ask for a rosary. Children ask what I have in my hands.

"My prayer beads," I tell them. "I'm praying for you."

I show them the crucifix and ask, "Do you know who is on the Cross?"

"God," says one. "Jesus," says another.

Both are right. I ask them to say this prayer after me: "Dear Jesus, I thank you for dying on the Cross for my sins."

On my morning walks I have encountered many people who are in dire need. Some, of course, are professional beggars with ingenious hard-luck stories, while others are too proud to beg and exist in distressing poverty. I have restored beautiful smiles and a sense of self-worth to so many young people whose teeth had been long neglected.

For the end of my pilgrimage, I have been assigned to St. Elizabeth parish in Kingston, where my walking is more dangerous and less enjoyable. Traffic is hazardous, and on several occasions I have nearly been "licked down" by rude or careless drivers of cars and bikes.

"A Word of Prayer"

I pass through areas where physical beauty is absent -- where thousands of poor people live in wretched misery in unsafe hovels surrounded by debris and garbage -- where sanitation is appalling and the stench is overpowering.

I cannot offer much physical or financial relief, yet I am warmly welcomed by friendly greetings. People seem genuinely pleased to see me and to discover that I want to walk and talk with them as fellow human beings. They are eager for "a word of prayer" or a personal blessing.

Recently, a man asked me to bless his new shop, and several young men stood around respectfully as I did so. Later, I found out that the shop was used for traffic in guns and drugs!

"Walk good" is a customary friendly farewell of Jamaicans. It says much more than the simple words indicate. It means: "Be good, do good, see the good in others, and encourage the good in them."

Fr. Richard Leary, Passionist, has dedicated most of the past twenty years to ministry in rural central Jamaica. About a year ago, he became pastor of the St. Elizabeth Church Community in the inner-city section of the capital city, Kingston.

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