Three Days For A Louse?!
In Paris loud complaints were raised against the pilgrim, especially by the Spaniards, and our Master de Gouvea claimed that he had turned Amador’s head. Amador was a student in his college. He made up his mind, so he said, that the first time the pilgrim appeared at Sainte-Barbe he would give him a drubbing as a seducer of the students.
The Spaniard whom he had as one of his first companions, who had squandered his money without recompensing him, left for Spain by way of Rouen. While awaiting passage at Rouen, he fell sick. From a letter, the pilgrim heard of his falling sick, and conceived the desire of going to visit and help him, thinking also that in this union of souls, he might induce him to leave the world and give himself entirely to the service of God.
In order to obtain this he wanted to make the twenty-eight leagues between Paris and Rouen barefoot and fasting from food and drink. While he was recommending this adventure in prayer, he was seized with a great fear, until he went to the Church of St. Dominic and there determined to go as was said, when all the fear of tempting God passed away.
But on the next day, the morning of his departure, as he was getting up early, he was seized with so great a fear that he could hardly get his clothes on. In this conflict of emotion he left the house and indeed the city before daybreak. It continued with him as far as Argenteuil, which is a walled town a few miles from Paris on the way to Rouen, where the vesture of our Lord is said to be preserved. He passed by this town in the grip of that spiritual struggle, and as he began to climb a hill the dread began to slip from him and in its place came so great a joy and spiritual consolation, that he began to cry out through the fields and talk with God. That night he spent with a poor beggar in a hospital, after having covered fourteen leagues. The next night he spent in a straw hut, and the third day he reached Rouen. All this time he had taken nothing in the way of food or drink and had walked barefoot, as he had planned. At Rouen he comforted the sick man, helped him board a ship bound for Spain, and gave him letters of introduction to his companions at Salamanca, viz., Calixto, Caceres and Arteaga.
Up to this point, Ignatius has done a lot of crazy, over the top things, but this might be the craziest! We wouldn’t blame him if he had just written of this guy who had taken all his money and squandered it. In fact, if we’re honest, we probably even expect it! Because we know if someone did that to us, we would probably write them off and, frankly, we could care less what happens to them after that! This is easy to understand. Harder to understand is what Ignatius is doing here. He hears that this guy who had taken him was sick and instead of saying, “Good, he deserves it,” he is seized with a desire to go visit and help him. And not only that, but he is going to walk for three days in order to see him! This is truly above and beyond the call of duty. Or is it? Isn’t this the Christian way? Doesn’t Jesus tell us in stories like that of the prodigal son that this is his way. The prodigal son squanders away his inheritance and in doing so shames his father. His father had every right at that point just to write him off. Even his son says when he returns, “I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But his father will not accept that. He runs to him, embraces him, and calls for a celebration. But just as the son is taking a great risk in returning home, so the father is taking a great risk in welcoming him back so openly and compassionately.
This is the other part of Ignatius’ story, and ours. Often we too are seized with holy desires to choose the radical path; to not only forgive but to offer ourselves to the person who has offended us. The Gospel seems to demonstrate that this is how we should act, and sometimes we surprise even ourselves by desiring to act this way. But still it’s not easy. Ignatius speaks of being seized by great almost paralyzing fears, and we might wonder why. Given his mystical experiences perhaps we could attribute this to some spiritual force, but I think the answer is a bit more simple, one we can relate to. The fear he experiences is the same fear that we all experience when we risk our selves in charity. We go through the efforts of reconciling with another, of reaching out to one who has hurt us, because this is what the Christian life demands. Yet at the same time there is this sense of dread that can come over us, a fear that the other person will reject our charity, resent it, take advantage of it, or perhaps hurt us even further. Or we might find ourselves angry and resentful if the person accepts our charity, but never really recognizes his or her fault. Is it really all worth it to risk ourselves in this way? No one would be the wiser if we just forgot about this fleeting desire we had. I could just go on with what I’m doing and not make that journey of three days, or whatever effort it takes. No one would blame me. No one would know. Except me. Except God.