Of spiders and bats and ogres.
I almost lost my guidebook for the Camino today. As I was leaving the small pensione where I stayed the night, I didn't notice that I dropped the book right outside the building. The woman who owned the place came running and calling after me, book in hand. I was very grateful for her kindness because I would have been up a creek if I discovered it was missing long after I had departed the town. Everyone on the Camino follows a guidebook, which gives maps and detailed instructions about tricky parts of the route, and information about food and places to stay. This pilgrimage thing has been going on here for over a thousand years, but you still need a guidebook to get it done.
Over on the right side of this country--in the east, where I began the Camino--there is another pilgrimage route. It's not the famous Camino de Santiago I've been following. This one is called the Camino Ignaciano (the Ignatian “way"). It’s the route that St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits (of which I am one), walked in 1522 after his conversion. It's 340 miles and begins at his family’s home in Loyola and ends in the town of Manresa, where he had an awesome experience living in a cave for weeks. I'm not sure I would be up for living in a cave for even a day, especially if there are spiders, and bats, and ogres with angry eyes and like to gnaw on human limbs. But Ignatius was a lot braver than I, and he believed that angels, not ogres, visited him in the cave. It was a mystical moment that was so wildly amazing he wanted others to experience it too. So he wrote a small guide book for the journey, which became the Spiritual Exercises, whereby even ninnies like me can be fed meals of the Word from the greatest pilgrim of all and become powerfully courageous in walking with and for God.
It's kind of funny that there is this competing Camino here in Spain. It was started just 7 years ago by a bunch of alumni from Jesuit colleges and universities around the world (there are more than 800 institutions), and it's interesting because part of the route follows the Camino de Santiago but in the opposite direction. Ignatius traveled the route in 1522, and undoubtedly passed pilgrims on their way to Santiago. In some ways he was always moving upstream, and tried to build that into the purpose of the order he eventually founded.
There is no guidebook for the Camino Ignaciano, but there is a website, on which they warn pilgrims that "you should keep in mind that while we believe and hope that Camino Ignaciano pilgrims will also be allowed to use the hostels of the Camino de Santiago, we cannot guarantee this as of the current edition of this website". I imagined violent fistfights and bloody sword duels breaking out between pilgrims of both caminos, each fighting for one of the (inexpensive) limited beds that are offered along the route. It would be a difficult decision for me to root for one side over the other: I bear the name of St James, but I'm also a son of Ignatius.
I mention all of this because today is the feast day of St Ignatius, the day on which he died 462 years ago. For Jesuits around the world, it's kind of big deal---like Thanksgiving day--and we usually celebrate it with our local community, or if we are traveling, with a community nearby. Jesuits have an awesome network of residences, and you always feel like you are home even when you visit one for the first time. We recognize our ninny-ness in one another, I suppose, and our identity as a rag-tag band of brothers seeking the grace and the company of the Lord of all spiders, bats, ogres and children of the Source.
Unfortunately I'm in a little town on the "real" Camino, and there are no Jesuits anywhere nearby as far as I know (the town only has about 150 people in it). But I decided to celebrate anyway. Instead of the usual evening meal of 1) bread 2) cheese and 3) wine I chose to go whole hog (well, not the whole hog) and have a first class feast in the small hotel where I am staying. It was a little weird because I was literally the only one eating here this evening, and the overly solicitous host kept coming out of the kitchen into the dining room asking me if I liked the food (which I did, and told him in as many different ways as I could imagine, given my near-total lack of Spanish fluency). In between those visits, I thanked God for the grace of being in the Society of Jesus, and for all the amazing men in it that I have met in my lifetime.
If I had never met some very impressive Jesuits when I was an undergraduate at Georgetown University, I certainly never would have wound up as a priest at all. They were the first 'religious' people I had met who were able to: 1) believe and 2) think at the same time, and I eventually asked to join them because I believed that they were in pursuit of the truth that I was seeking for myself. It has been a bit of a wild ride, with many challenges, a lot of defeats, and a tiny few successes. If anything, I have learned that I have barely scratched the surface of the truth that lies beneath everything that is. But isn't that the most wonderful thing about seeking the Origin of this most wonderful, bewildering, breathtaking, spectacular, mind-blowing shebang of a universe? That even in our most egotistical moments of human achievement, we have to acknowledge that we know next to nothing at all about anything. We don't even know what we are talking about when we speak of 'God'. How great it that? And that is probably my best explanation for my pilgrimage this very day on the Camino de Santiago.
So, here's to you, my friend Ignacio! Ad Meiorem Dei Gloriam.
And I ask a special intercession today for both you and St James: please use all your powers of persuasion and pull and attention-getting on the Source for one young man I know and for whom I have great affection. I have just learned of an affliction of his mind--the most difficult of all illnesses to understand, and I ask for peace for him and for his wonderful parents. May you scare away the ogres of his mind, and may he and his family be showered with grace and blessings.