Monday, February 27, 2006

What Now, Lord?

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 31

They left on the next day, and when they arrived at Cyprus, the pilgrims parted company and went on different ships. There were in the harbor three or four vessels bound for Venice. One of them was Turkish, another of them a very small vessel, and a third a very rich and heavy ship belonging to a wealthy Venetian. Some of the pilgrims asked the master of the ship to take the pilgrim, but he, as he knew the pilgrim was without funds, would not do so, even though they renewed their insistences and praised the pilgrim. The owner answered that if he were a saint he could travel as traveled St. James, or something of the kind. But the petitioners found it very easy to prevail upon the owner of the smaller vessel. They left one day in the morning with a favorable wind, but by afternoon they ran into a storm, which separated them, the great ship going down, close to the island of Cyprus, with only the passengers saved. The Turkish vessel and all on board were lost in the same storm. The small vessel had a hard time of it, but finally made Apulia, right in the midst of winter. It was very cold, and there was much snow. The pilgrim had no more clothes than some breeches made of coarse cloth which reached to the knee, leaving the rest of the leg bare, a jacket of black cloth, much slashed at the shoulders, and a short vest of light hair.

He arrived at Venice about the middle of January, 1524, having been at sea on his way from Cyprus all the months of November and December, and part of January. In Venice he found one of the two men who had received him into their homes before he sailed for Jerusalem, and was given an alms of fifteen or sixteen julios and a large piece of cloth which he folded several times over his stomach because of the severe cold.

After the pilgrim understood that it was not in God’s will that he remain in Jerusalem, he kept thinking on what he ought to be doing, and finally felt more inclined to study so as to be able to help souls. He then made up his mind to go to Barcelona, and left Venice for Genoa. One day while he was at his devotions in the principle church of Ferrara, a poor man asked him for alms, and he gave him a marquete, which is equal to five or six quatrines. Later, another came, and he gave him another small coin he had, but a little higher in value. When the third came, he had nothing but julios, and gave him one. As the poor saw that he was distributing alms, they did not stop coming until he had given away all he had. Finally, a large number came together to ask an alms, but he told them they would have to pardon him, as he had no more.

When you thought you were following God’s will, what do you do when you hit a roadblock?

Though he doesn’t say so, you’ve got to imagine that Ignatius is a little frustrated at this point. He’s been kicked out of Jerusalem, and nobody wants to bring him back to Europe, because he has no money. The owner of one ship even suggests that if he’s so saintly, he ought to get to Europe like Saint James did (legend has it that St. James was brought to his supposed resting place in Spain by angels)!

Faced with such frustrations, I usually find myself asking a few questions. Was I wrong about what God wanted? Or was I doing what God wanted, but he just failed to warn me about this abrupt and unexpected change in direction? In either case, it’s probably time to go pray, and try to get a sense of where to go next. Ignatius’ choice of what to do next may not seem so inspired. After all, you probably know a number of people (and maybe have done it yourself!) who, unsure what to do next, come to the conclusion: Maybe I should go back to school! Of course, maybe this wasn’t the case with Ignatius. Jesus was appearing to him on a daily basis, after all! You’d expect he might get some guidance from these mystical encounters. But, who knows? Jesus hasn’t appeared to me lately, so I can’t quite say how these things go. We’ll learn later that going back to school seems likely to have been a providential decision, but right now it might just seem like as good a choice as any.

Perhaps while praying over such questions, Ignatius is interrupted. This interruption reminded me of a line from Ronald Rolheiser’s book, Against an Infinite Horizon: “I always resented interruptions to my work until I realized that those interruptions were my real work.” Praying about what path he might take to be “of help to souls,” Ignatius finds a number of poor souls there with him in need of immediate help and, rather than scold them for interrupting his prayer, he gives them all he has.


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