There is a lesser known passage in Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography that has always struck me. If you know the whole story, you know that Ignatius does a lot of crazy and over-the-top things on his pilgrim journey. This one is definitely over-the-top, but in a good way (I think):
“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.”
Three days! For three days, Ignatius walked barefoot, with little to eat or drink, to visit a former friend who had done him wrong, who had basically stolen his money. I’m almost certain I would never go to that much trouble to console an ex-friend who had betrayed and abandoned me like that. And, I’m not even sure that I think that was really a good idea for Ignatius.
But, when it comes to getting in touch with my “Inner Iggy,” what I notice is this—Ignatius doesn’t let his fear get in the way. It’s not that he doesn’t experience it, because it’s pretty strong, but he gets past it. I can imagine all the kinds of fears that he could have had, because they are the ones that I have. Will his anger at this man get the best of him, despite his good intentions? Will his gesture make his former companion guilty and ashamed? Maybe, after three days of strenuous and grueling travel, he might not even receive him! Or, just maybe—and sometimes this can be the most fearsome thing—his friend might ask forgiveness, and they might achieve reconciliation. Often enough it’s easier, and far less risky, to simply hold on to our resentments. Still, for me, I know that my journey toward a possible reconciliation, while hard, is likely to be far less burdensome than Ignatius’ three days.
So, the inner Iggy that I’m looking for this week of our society’s founder’s feast is the one that doesn’t spend time obsessing about how the other person is going to react, or what the other person might be thinking. It’s the one who lets the dread slip away, finding “so great a joy and spiritual consolation” that, like Ignatius, I begin “to cry out through the fields and talk to God.” I want to be the “Iggy” who puts those fears aside so as to be the person I truly am with that other person, hoping that in doing so the union of souls which results will be one that gives glory to God, even if the specific outcome may be neither what I feared nor what I hoped. Like Ignatius, I can only be who I am, trust in God’s grace, and leave it to the other person to react however he or she will react. My fears and imagined outcomes cannot change that.
“Or, just maybe—and sometimes this can be the most fearsome thing—his friend might ask forgiveness” — so true.