Sometimes When God Slams a Door In Your Face . . .
So he left Spain, alone and on foot, and reached Paris some time in February. According to my reckoning, this would be 1528 or 1527. He put up at a house with a few Spaniards and went to Montagu to study Humanities. He did this because they had made him pass on so swiftly in his studies that he found his foundations very shaky. He studied with young boys, going through the order and methods of Paris. On his arrival at Paris he was given twenty-five scudi by a merchant on a draft from Barcelona. This he gave for safekeeping to one of the Spaniards at that inn, who went through it in a short time, and had nothing with which to pay him back. Thus when Lent was over and the pilgrim had no money left, he himself having met his expenses and the other having spent it as already narrated, he was reduced to begging, and had to leave the house in which he had been living.
He was taken in at the hospital of St. James, just beyond the church of the Innocents. This caused great inconvenience with his studies, because the hospital was a long distance from Montagu, and it was necessary to be home at the stroke of the Ave Maria to find the doors open, and not to leave in the morning before daylight. This made it difficult for him to be present at lectures. There was another handicap: he had to beg alms to support himself. It was now some five years since he had any stomach pains, and he began to undertake greater penances and abstinences. Spending some time in this hospital and beggar’s life, and seeing that he was making little advance in his studies, he began to think about what he ought to do. Noticing that there were some who served other regents in the colleges, and still had time for study, he decided to look for an employer.
He thought the matter over by himself and came to this conclusion, which was not without its consolation: “I will imagine that the teacher is Christ, and I will give to one of his students the name of St. Peter and to another the name of St. John, and so on through all the Apostles. If the teacher tells me to do something, I will fancy that it is Christ who tells me, and when one of the other commands me, I will think that it is St. Peter.” He went to great pains to find an employer. One the one hand, he spoke to the Bachelor Castro, and on the other, to a monk of the Carthusians, who had wide acquaintance among the teachers and others. But they never found it possible to get an employer for him.
In my college undergraduate career I was not exactly what you would call a “traditional student.” I was on the six-year, three college plan. This wasn’t by design but rather necessitated by financial difficulties. So, I can really relate to Ignatius here.
Like Ignatius, I tried all sorts of plans and schemes to do what I felt I was meant to do. But it wasn’t easy. I had to leave college after only a year and go to work full-time. And even thought this was necessary, people weren’t always so supportive of this course of action. People would doubtfully respond to my stated intention to return to college with less than encouraging words like “Once you leave, you’ll never go back.” Given all the studies I’ve done since then, it’s funny to think that someone ever thought that about me! Today, they’d be more inclined to ask, “Are you ever going to stop going to school?”
But back then, I wasn’t so sure how things were going to work out either. I imagine that Ignatius felt similarly at this point, when the money ran out, and the prospects for employment weren’t promising. “God, if this is what you want, why are you making it so difficult?” I can imagine him asking. I didn’t have so strong a sense as Ignatius back then that that was what God wanted for me, but still I wondered why it had to be so difficult.
I was forced to swallow my pride and spend a year at a less prestigious—but much cheaper—state college, but I was determined, as Ignatius was to study at Paris, to finish my studies at a Catholic liberal arts college. I’d applied and been accepted at several, but none of them could offer me the financial aid that I needed. I was frustrated.
That’s when I happened upon an interesting opportunity. One of those schools, Assumption College, was looking for someone to work in their Media Center, a job which I seemed to have the qualifications for (or at least close enough). One of the benefits of the job was that each semester you could take two courses for free. It would take longer than I’d planned, but at least I could be at the kind of school I wanted to be at. I applied for the job and though it looked promising, I didn’t get it. I decided that it was probably not meant to be, and decided that I would just go on and finish my degree at another state college. But before I could send in my deposit I got a call asking me if I would please take the job at the college. I couldn’t believe it! The person they had chosen ahead of me for the position had decided to take another position instead. It seemed God was looking out for me after all.
Six months later I was fired. I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming. It still puzzles me today. I think it had more to do with personality differences between me and the director than it had to do with my job performance. And maybe God had something to do with it too. Because, now, I had my foot in the door at the college. I knew people there and they knew me. I got a higher paying job, reapplied for financial aid, and saved enough money to be able to go back to school full-time that next Fall. It took some doing. I had to get permission not to be on the meal plan in order to afford it. This meant that sometimes food was hard to come by. At times, I would go to meeting rooms after events and snag the left over finger food. There was a woman at the cafeteria who would let me in from time to time, but I tried not to abuse that privilege. And, since I was editor of the school newspaper, sometimes I would provide meals for editorial meetings out of the newspaper budget. I worked two jobs, one on campus and one outside of school, to try to keep up financially also. In my final semester, finding I was a little short on money still, I even had to go beg the financial office for a little more aid.
Though I wasn’t attending classes with children, like Ignatius found he had to for some remedial education, it was still a little awkward that I was older than just about everybody else in my classes. But I really can’t complain. I thought I had a year and a half of full-time study left, but then discovered that thanks to Advanced Placement credits, I could take one extra course and finish that year! That also made me eligible to apply for a fellowship that was being offered for the first time that year. I graduated, got the fellowship, and still could hardly believe it when that next August I landed in Sydney for the start of my year long fellowship abroad in Australia and England.
That’s when I learned what Saint Ignatius had learned 450 years before me: Sometimes when it seems like God is making things difficult for you, God’s actually looking out for you. I suspect Saint Ignatius had a better sense of this when he was going through it then I did. But I suspect he realized, like many of us do, that this isn’t a lesson we learn once and for all. There have been many time since this one where I’ve had to learn this lesson all over again, and I’m sure there will be many times to come. It’s that slow learner thing again.