Tomorrow I shall be heading off with the boys in Syntax and members of staff on our annual Ignatian Camino Pilgrimage. We are flying to Biarritz in the morning ahead of a 28 km hike on Sunday over the Pyrenees from France into Spain. Boys in Poetry and Rhetoric will remember it well, I’m sure! It’s a terrific day’s walk. We then head from west to east across Spain on our Ignatian journey, retracing the steps followed by St Ignatius himself.
We are going to visit Pamplona (possibly better known for the so-called ‘running of the bulls’ festival) where Ignatius, helping in the city’s defence against French attack, was struck by a cannon ball and was badly injured. We go on to Loyola where Ignatius was born and where he went to recover from his injuries. As soon as he recovered he set out for Jerusalem stopping at the hill-top Benedictine shrine of Montserrat before moving on to the town of Manresa, both of which we will also be visiting.
So, what exactly is a ‘pilgrimage’? What does the word mean? What mental image comes to mind?
The word ‘pilgrimage’ can give a mental picture of someone praying or doing penance ….. however it is that and so much more. A pilgrimage can be thought of as a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. It might be a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to someone’s beliefs or faith such as to Rome or Lourdes or Canterbury. It might be more a metaphorical journey into one’s own beliefs. Or a journey of personal discovery or healing making peace with ourselves and accepting our imperfections whilst always striving to be better.
Throughout his Autobiography, Ignatius simply refers to himself as ‘the pilgrim’. I am reminded this morning of another of the great saints, St Augustine, who gives us an insight into what it is for each one of us to be a pilgrim in our day-to-day lives.
Augustine wrote: “We are pilgrims, people on the road, not residents. We should therefore feel unsatisfied with what we are, if we want to arrive at that to which we aspire. If we are totally happy with what we are, we will stop going forward. If we think we have gone far enough, we will not take another step. Let’s continue, therefore, going forward walking towards the goal. Let us not stop halfway along the route, or look backwards or stray from the path. Someone who stops does not make progress. Someone who stays loses hope of arriving.”
Having travelled down from Montserrat to Manresa (which we will be walking to on Wednesday), Ignatius wanted to be nothing more than an ‘apprentice Christian’. May those of us on pilgrimage this coming week be inspired by the spirit of Ignatius, the wounded soldier who found God in the most unlikely of circumstances and who responded to His call. May we be generous in responding to God’s call and, in doing so, become true Men for Others.
3 May 2019