Mud and Filth: The Messy Road to Sainthood
In Valencia he spoke with Castro, who had become a Carthusian monk. He wanted to take ship for Genoa, but his well-wishers in Valencia begged him not to do so, because they said that Barbarossa was at sea with his large fleet of galleys. Although they told him enough to frighten him, nothing they said caused him any hesitation.
He boarded a large ship, and survived the storm spoken of earlier when he related the three times he was about to breathe his last.
On his arrival at Genoa, he took the road to Bologna, along which he had much to suffer, especially once when he lost his way and began to walk along a river bank. The river was deep and the road high, getting narrower the higher it went. Finally, it got so narrow that he could neither go forward nor turn back. So, he began to crawl on hands and knees and went on thus for some time with great fear, because every time he moved he thought that he would fall into the river. This indeed was the greatest of all physical efforts he had ever made. But he reached the end at last. Just as he was about to enter Bologna he slipped from a little wooden bridge and found himself as he rose covered with mud and filth. The bystanders, of whom there were many, had a good laugh at him.
From his entrance into Bologna he began to ask alms, but did not get even a single quatrino, although he covered the whole city. He stayed in Bologna some of the time ill, but afterwards went on to Venice using always the same method of travel.
This brief excerpt is so rich because it gives us a glimpse of so many facets of Ignatius’ character. Sometimes we can get these one-dimensional pictures of saints which can cause us to think that they are nothing like us. This can either make us feel bad about ourselves, or make it such that the saint’s witness doesn’t really speak to us. Here we see in Ignatius many things we can relate to:
He is foolish and prideful: “Although they told him enough to frighten him, nothing they said caused him any hesitation.”
He has control issues: He doesn’t ask for directions or for help getting where he’s going, so he gets lost.
He is desperate and afraid: “So, he began to crawl on hands and knees and went on thus for some time with great fear, because every time he moved he thought that he would fall into the river.”
He can laugh at himself: Ignatius recognizes how ridiculous he has made himself and is not afraid to give us the image of himself covered in mud and being laughed at.
He’s a failure: “From his entrance into Bologna he began to ask alms, but did not get even a single quatrino, although he covered the whole city.” Maybe it was the smell!
Ignatius’ honesty makes us feel a little better about our own foolishness, and encourages us to work on our “control issues.” If this foolish, prideful, ridiculous and sickly man was able to do such great things for God, Ignatius seems to be saying, maybe we can too!