Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Impractical Outrage and Trust In God

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 26

So fresh a following wind blew that the trip from Barcelona to Gaeta was made in five days and nights; not, however, without great fear because of the rough weather. All through that land there was a dread of the pestilence, but the pilgrim, as soon as he disembarked, set out for Rome. Of those who sailed with him, a mother and her daughter, who was wearing boy’s clothing, joined him, together with another young man. They went along with him because they too were begging their way. When they arrived at an inn, they found a great fire and many soldiers about it, who gave them something to eat and plied them with much wine, as though they wanted to warm them up. Then the travelers separated, the mother and daughter going upstairs to a room and the pilgrim and the young boy to the stable. But about the middle of the night he heard loud cries coming from upstairs, and getting up to see what was going on, he found the mother and daughter below in the courtyard weeping and bewailing that an attempt had been made upon them. So angry did he become at this that he began to cry out, “Do we have to put up with this?” and similar expostulations, which he expressed with such effect that everybody in the house was amazed and no one offered to do him any harm. The boy had already fled, but the three of them resumed their journey even though it was still night.

When they arrived at a town that was nearby, they found it closed, and not being able to enter it the three of them spent the night in a damp church. They were not permitted to enter the city in the morning, and they found no alms outside it, although they went to a castle which seemed nearby, where the pilgrim felt a weakness coming on him, as much from the sea voyage as from the rest of his experiences. As he was unable to proceed, he remained where he was, while the mother and her daughter went on to Rome. Many people left the city that day, among them the lady of the land. When he heard that she was coming he presented himself to tell her that he was ill only from weakness, and asked her to be allowed to enter the city to seek some remedy. She readily granted his request. He began to beg throughout the city, gathered a good number of small coins, rested there for two days, resumed his journey and reached Rome on Palm Sunday.

Here whoever talked with him, knowing that he had come moneyless on his way to Jerusalem, tried to persuade him to give up the idea, suggesting many reasons why he would not find passage without money. But in his soul he had a great certainty, which would admit of no doubt, that he would find a way of getting to Jerusalem. He received the blessing of Adrian VI, and then left for Venice, eight or nine days after Easter. He took along with him six or seven ducats which had been given to him to defray his passage from Venice to Jerusalem. He had taken them because of the fear with which others inspired him of not being able to get to Jerusalem otherwise. But two days after leaving Rome he began to realize that accepting this money meant that he was losing the confidence he had had, and he worried much for having taken the ducats and thought it would be good to get rid of them. Finally, he made up his mind to distribute them generously among those who presented themselves, who were usually poor. He did so in such a way that when he reached Venice all he had left was a little change which was necessary for that night.

This is not a passage for the practically-minded. But, then again, pilgrimage is not exactly a practical exercise. Its goals are spiritual, not material, its success not measurable, and it can be fraught with danger, as the experience of the mother and daughter accompanying Ignatius suggests. Informed of the “attempt” on the mother and daughter, a practical Ignatius might have seen that there was nothing to do about it, no recourse, and suggested that they quietly slip away. However, Saint Ignatius, instead, does something impractical and potentially dangerous by expressing his outrage against the treatment of these women. In doing so, he offers us an important example. Our choice whether or not to express outrage when faced with injustice should not be based on whether or not it is likely to produce results. This is a utilitarian point of view, not a Christian one. As Christians and human beings we have an obligation to speak out against injustice, regardless of results, and sometimes to our own peril.

Ignatius doesn’t forego practicality altogether. Experiencing some problems with his health, he presents himself to an influential woman and convinces her that his illness is not the pestilence so that he can enter the town and seek help. He even stores up some money for his journey, heeding the advice of a number of more practical people. But, in a move that will again make the practical uncomfortable, his scruples get the better of him and he gives away all he has stored except enough for the immediate needs of that night. Is this foolishness? Or the trust in God expected of a pilgrim?

Times have changed, and such pilgrimages aren’t as common. And who would embark on a pilgrimage these days without sufficient funds for the journey, internet access or a cell phone? It causes one to wonder: In what “impractical” ways might we today learn to put our trust in God? Or are those days gone?


Blogger Steve Bogner said...

Are those days gone? I was wondering the same thing earlier as I read the day's gospel reading - Jesus sent the disciples out, no money, nothing extra, just go preach & cure. I think that passage was also a big influence on Ignatius.

Ignatius was an extreme guy, and scruples still got the best of him at times. Not all of us can live at the extremes, but the example of those who do can be inspiring.

Maybe the point of all this for our current times is that we don't need to dress-up God, Catholicism, the Holy Spirit, church, etc to make it appealing to the world. Maybe the disciples & Ignatius didn't take anything extra because God intended them to communicate & live their mission without being tainted by the externals - money, good looks, appearances, etc. All that stuff can get in the way or confuse the message.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Good point Steve!

If the stuff I've been reading about young people is any indication, among Protestants and Catholics alike the lure of flashy "dressed-up" religion is waning. While there doesn't seem to be the evidence that young people are turning overwhelmingly conservative as some suggest, there seems to be considerable evidence that they are increasingly attracted to more simple, "stripped down" and often more traditional expressions of faith. Perhaps because they already get enough sensory overload in the course of normal everyday experience, they don't need it from church too!

11:18 AM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

Maybe sensory overload is the new norm?

My parish is Bellarmine chapel at Xavier Univ here in Cincinnati. A while ago some students approached the associate pastor and asked if he could preside at a 'quiet' mass - a simple, quiet mass without much music but with a good deal of time for silent reflection & prayer. He said sure - see you there at 4:00 Sunday afternoon! He remarked on how it seems more young adults are looking for a more quiet, contemplative experience.

4:23 PM  

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