Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"This Fellow Has No Brains": So Christ Was Treated Before Me

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 32

He then left Ferrara for Genoa. On the way he met with some Spanish soldiery who that night treated him well. They were very much surprised he had com that way, for he had to pass between both armies, the French forces and those of the Empire. They suggested that he avoid the royal highway and take a safer one which they pointed out. He did not, however, follow their advice, but continuing straight on his way, came upon a town that had been burned and destroyed and until nightfall met with no one who gave him anything to eat. But at sunset he came to a walled town where the sentries took him into custody, thinking that he was a spy. They put him in a hut close to the gate, and began to examine him, as they usually do with suspects. To all their questions he answered that he knew nothing. They stripped and searched him even to his shoes, overlooking no part of his person, to see whether he was carrying any letters. But as they could in no wise learn anything from him, they were angry with him and led him to their captain. “He would make him speak.” When he told them that they had taken away all his covering with his clothes, they would not return it to him, and led him away clad only in his breeches and jacket, as above described.

While they were on their way, the pilgrim remembered how Christ was led away, although there was no vision here as on other occasions. He was led through three main streets. He went without any sadness, rather with joy and satisfaction. He kept it is a practice to address anyone he met in the direct form of “you,” finding devotion in the fact that Christ and the Apostles so spoke. As they went along the streets, he fancied that it would be good to give up that custom for the moment, and use the more elevated form of addressing the captain, with some lurking fear of the torture they might inflict on him. But he recognized this as a temptation, and told himself that he would not use the courtly manner of speech, nor show any reverence, nor even take off his cap.

Arriving at the captain’s palace, they left the pilgrim in one of the lower rooms, and there the captain spoke to him for a while. But he answered without giving any sign of courtesy, in a few words, with a considerable pause between one and the next. The captain thought he was crazy, and said so to those who brought him in: “This fellow has no brains. Give him his things and throw him out!” As he left the palace, he fell in with a Spaniard who was living there, who brought him home, and gave him something with which to break his fast and what was necessary for that night. He left in the morning, and walked until towards evening two soldiers caught sight of him from a tower, and came down to examine him. They brought him to their captain, who was French and who asked him, among other things, where he came from. Learning that he was from Guipuzcoa, he said: “I am from nearby there,”—probably from the neighborhood of Bayonne—and then went on: “Take him along, give him something to eat, and treat him well.”

On this journey from Ferrara to Genoa many other things of less importance befell him. He finally reached Genoa, where he was recognized by a Viscayan named Portundo, who on other occasions had spoken to him when he was in the service of the Catholic King. He helped him to find a ship bound for Barcelona, which ran great risk of being taken by Andrea Doria, who gave them chase, as he was then in the service of the French.

In my first months in the novitiate I was rather incredulous at the suggestion. “Wait a minute,” I challenged the Novice Master, “are you saying that Saint Ignatius is saying not only that we should accept persecution, but pray for it!” I felt ready and confident to accept it if it should come, but I wasn’t going to go looking for it! But, yes, he assured me, that is what Saint Ignatius was saying. I wondered whether or not I could do this Jesuit thing if that was what was expected of me. I still do.

This is something we see in many saint’s personalities, not only a willingness, but an eagerness, a desire to suffer as Jesus suffered. I wonder if that was Ignatius’ motivation when he decided to spurn the soldiers’ advice and take the royal highway anyway. Was he hoping that by doing so he might have an opportunity to suffer as Jesus did? He certainly finds consolation in his mistreatment by the soldiers who capture him, remembering “how Christ was led away.” I have to admit that I still find somewhat troubling this desire to suffer and even die in imitation of Christ characteristic of many of the saints, while I do admire it and pray to better appreciate it myself. Among Saint Ignatius’ favorite books was Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, which is apparent from his spirituality, which is so centered on the life of Christ (this was very different from his contemporary Luther, whose approach to the Christian life became so focused on Christ’s death and resurrection). I’ve even seen The Imitation of Christ mistakenly attributed to Ignatius, so closely is he associated with it! I think the goal of Ignatius’ life was to try to imitate Christ in every way possible, both in joy and suffering. This drive to achieve proximity to Jesus undoubtedly also factored into the name he and his companions took, though some thought it presumptuous—the company, or society of Jesus.

This is the radical transformation of desire which in The Spiritual Exercises Ignatius says that we should pray for: “ . . . whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me.”

So far in my spiritual life, there have been moments when I’ve been able to make this my true and sincere desire, but only moments. I pray for those moments to increase, but still end up most of the time being a little incredulous.


Post a Comment

<< Home

The content of this site is the responsibility of its author and administrator, Mark Mossa, SJ, and does not necessarily represent the Society of Jesus