Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
Theology and travel combine in Spokane priest’s pilgrimage memoir

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 22, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

Msgr. Kevin Codd of our diocese has written an extraordinary new book of his 2003 pilgrimage across Northern Spain on the medieval Way, or camino, to the traditional tomb of the bones of the apostle St. James in the city of Santiago de Compostela. The book is titled To the Field of Stars. It is published in softcover by William B. Eerdmans of Grand Rapids, Michigan for $18 (Editor’s note: See also “Spokane priest publishes account of pilgrimage in Spain,” IR 1/17/08).

Up front you need to know that I taught Kevin his freshman year of High School at Mater Cleri Seminary some 41 years ago. Also, I am renting my home on the north side of Spokane, which was the retirement home of Kevin’s folks, from Kevin.

Other than that, I am not biased….

To the Field of Stars is a terrific read that combines travel literature with memoir and spirituality. For me it was like going on a religious retreat. As we walk with Kevin on his 20-some kilometers a day, for a total of 500 miles from the Pyrenees to the lush green of Galicia near the Atlantic Ocean, we are reminded to look at our own daily pilgrimages of life. Interspersed in the daily stories of 30-plus days of walking are many of the subtle and not-so-subtle expositions on the Seven Deadly Sins and the Theological and Moral Virtues. With Kevin our eyes are opened to the world we live in and we are more clearly able to see the goodness within and the pull at times toward sin.

Kevin is very self-revealing on his long journey, so that each of us as readers may more easily look inward and see our true self. To the Field of Stars pushes us to look deeper and to know ourselves before God more clearly. We reflect on Kevin’s incredible moments of joy. We also see his moments of failure that we can identify with. One moving section tells of Kevin’s connection, through a good friend who is a Methodist pastor in Palestine, and his prayers for her Palestinian children participating in a fun race. The same day he is praying for the children on his camino he meets a gentleman who at coffee with others speaks in horribly cruel, stereotypical judgments about the Palestinians. Kevin feels he may end up walking with this man in the days ahead and fails to at least raise another point of view with him. Later, Kevin is looking into a pond with frogs. He hears them croaking the words, “Coward, Cowaard. Cowaard.”

Kevin is not shy about sharing his heartfelt judgments with his readers. As he draws closer to the end of his journey, there are more and more short-term pilgrims. Some even have their packs carried by taxi and stay in hotels. They haven’t gone through the blisters, tendonitis, and stomach illness he and his partners have endured. He has a right to be judgmental, after all the hard work and suffering that has been a part of his journey.

But I am sympathetic to the part-time pilgrim. It is better than nothing. I remember going to the Holy Island of Iona, off the coast of western Scotland where the Celtic movement spread from Ireland across to Scotland, northern England and even parts of mainland Europe. I was only there for about four hours. It would have been great to be there a week and walk all of the island and pray at the ecumenical services in the restored Abbey Church throughout the day.

Those four hours were something I long remember. I would guess even a short part of the camino would be a memorable gift for the many people who believe they do not have the time or health to make the trip the way the real pilgrims do.

Kevin teaches us a tactile Catholicism as he makes his journey. Whether fingering his rosary each morning, kissing the feet of the Christ on the Spanish crucifixes in each Church, or showing us the joy of communion through the stops for cafe con leche each morning, or the lunches and dinners that become times of unity and joy. There is much singing and dancing and an appreciation of the taste of water from each village’s public fountains. There is the gift of cool water in the rivers. There is a tremendous appreciation of God’s gift of nature. And at times the mountain goats even talk to Kevin, in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi.

Msgr. Kevin Codd’s achievement in To the Field of Stars is massive. My guess is he will change the way you look at the world. He definitely will cause you to look at new ways of praying, especially for the people of your life and those across the world. He will help you see how each day of your life is a gift to be appreciated and savored. You will remember the people that changed him and whom he helped change. He will teach how traditions of the Middle Ages can help you see with new eyes and find a way of life you will treasure and want to share with others.

Kevin’s easy-to-understand explanations of Catholic teaching and practice make this a particularly valuable book for those of Protestant and other faith traditions.

This book may cause you to wonder if a short pilgrimage to the Jesuit chapel at Seattle University, or the Trappist monastery on the way to the Oregon coast, or St. Boniface Church in Uniontown, might be a way to experience some of that wonder of the medieval journey to Holy Places.

And finally, one of the great phrases of the Compostela pilgrimage is, “Turistas manden; peregrines agradecen” – that is, “Tourists demand; pilgrims thank.” May we be pilgrims each day of our lives.

To the Field of Stars is available on the internet and at book stores. Mary Cole in the Bishop’s Office has some books available for $18. You may reach her by phone, 358-7305 or by email.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

Msgr. Codd will read from his new book To the Field of Stars on Wednesday, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave. in Spokane. The event is free and open to the public.

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