Pilgrims in the Ignation Year: Learning to Trust
The Ignatian Year marks the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ wounding at the battle of Pamplona on May 20th in 1521. I presume the celebration runs until 20th May of 1522. Our superior general, Arturo Sosa’s book, Walking with Ignatius, invites Jesuits and those who work with us to become pilgrims with Ignatius in our shared mission. What does this mean for us? What did it mean for Ignatius to be a pilgrim?
For every Christian pilgrim, the goal is always Jerusalem, which becomes an image of our ultimate goal, the heavenly Jerusalem, described in of the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … And I saw the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:1-2).
In other words, our whole life is meant to be a journey, a pilgrimage to that final destination. Not everyone can go to Jerusalem, and so pilgrimages to all sorts of sacred sites sprang up: to Canterbury in England, to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, and so on.
Pilgrimage is a part of every Jesuit novice’s formation. Cancelled during the depression and not yet restored when I joined the Jesuits in 1958, novices in my year went to Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland for a month instead.
I always felt my Jesuit formation was incomplete, especially after the pilgrimage was restored in the 1970s, and I heard many amazing stories from younger Jesuits who had gone on various pilgrimages alone, across North America
When I had a sabbatical from teaching in 1984, I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land for 40 days. I was supposed to make the Spiritual Exercises in Guelph when I returned. In Jerusalem I had a room booked with the Sisters of Sion at Ecce Homo, but no other plans. I went seeking the grace of trust because I had had a word in prayer that came not from God but from the depth of my being: “I do not trust love.” And so I went alone, with a minimum of clothing and money, trying to make myself as vulnerable as possible, forcing myself to put my trust in God.
I went with a lot of fear and trembling. Israel had invaded southern Lebanon two years earlier, in a war that went on for seventeen years. While there, I felt called to make the Exercises in the Holy Land, and without a director (I couldn’t find one), not knowing where and how I would pray, but whenever I needed help it was given.
For instance, at breakfast I met the former Provincial Superior of the Irish Province. I told him, “I’ve just started making the Spiritual Exercises. Today I’m supposed to do the meditation on hell. Any suggestions?” He said, “Yes, go to Yad Vashem, the monument to the Holocaust, here in Jerusalem.”
The first thing you encounter when you enter the building is a huge, black granite slab, under which are buried several tons of ashes from Auschwitz. It was really a mausoleum. The walls were lined with large photos of the rise of Hitler and all that followed to the end of Wold War II. I spent the whole day there. At the end was a slide show entitled, “A Day in Hell.”
From Jerusalem I was led to Tiberias in Galilee for ten days, where I made the Second Week of the Exercises, and then back to Jerusalem for the Third and Fourth Weeks.
But the grace of trust was finally given after the Exercises ended, when I returned to Montreal. A bomb went off at Central Station on the day I had planned to be there to buy a train ticket, killing three young tourists from France and injuring seventeen people. I went down the next day and saw part of a wall blackened from the explosion.
The experience taught me that every place is dangerous, and that I had a choice: to live my life in fear or to live it in trust. I saw that trust is not like money in the bank, to draw on as needed. It’s a decision, one that I have to make every day. I still wear my pilgrim beads that I wore in the Holy Land, to remind me that I’m always a pilgrim and that I need to choose to trust and to choose it every day.
I think the Ignatian Year calls all of us to reflect on our lives, to see our life as a pilgrimage, a journey on which we are being led by God, often in unexpected ways, along unknown paths, and to unplanned destinations.
You might ask yourself how God has walked with you on your life’s pilgrimage. How has God shaped your life in surprising ways? How have you learned to trust? And what advice would give to others, or to your own children, as they set out on their life’s journey? If you have been married and have a family, I’m sure that every one of you could write a book about your experiences in learning to trust