Walking with Ignatius of Loyola, the pilgrim of the interior life

The "Ignatian Way" passes through Logroño, Tudela, Alagón, Zaragoza, Fraga, Lleida, Cervera, Igualada, to Montserrat and Manresa. An itinerary with great spiritual significance that is also realized in the inner life of the hand of the great saint and founder of the Society of Jesus. 

Francesc Riera i Figueras, S. I.-July 28, 2021-Reading time: 7 minutes
saint ignatius of loyola

Photo: Ignatius the Pilgrim. Loyola House, Ignatius Jesuit Centre

Riding on a mule, he left Loyola dressed in his noble robes. The itinerary, the "Camino Ignaciano", passes through Logroño, Tudela, Alagón, Zaragoza, Fraga, Lleida, Cervera, Igualada, to Montserrat and Manresa.

1. Montserrat, a few short days

It is easy to discover the Pilgrim, captivated, climbing the rocks of the Mountain, breathing the good smell "d'eixos penyals coberts de romaní", when spring dawns. Nature has become the throne of what is now its only true Queen. In the midst of the proud beauty of the massif, the Pilgrim will experience three "initiatory" actions.

a) First, he reconciles his life(How many would like to be able to reconcile life...!). A life that would drag multiple contradictions, corruptions by the desire for prestige and power. He himself says in his old age: "Until he was 26 years old, he was a man given to the vanities of the world". They were three intense days of reviewing all the "dark" corners of his history, of placing them with infinite sadness in the merciful hands of God and receiving "sacramental" reconciliation from the hands of the monk who attended to it, John Chanon. She was able to free herself from her mournful pits and weep bitterly, but in peace, over the absurdities that had often wounded third parties. Whoever experiences inner liberation in this way is born anew!

b) Stripped of the irrationality of such inner garmentsIn this way, the outer garments of nobility, the clothes of "prestige" that sought to appear as an inner nobility that he did not have, are uncomfortable and counter-indicated. Taking refuge in the greatest secrecy, he approaches a beggar, strips himself of the garb of prestige and with it dresses the "last one", the one rejected by the world, with honor. For his part, with an unspeakable inner peace, he dresses himself with a "cloth of which they usually make sacks..., and it has many spikes... long to the feet". He has taken the clothes of poverty that place him among those who do not count in the world.

c) It should be found cartoonish with a sword, He is a "poor man", a reconciled man, without enemies, without any eagerness to conquer anything. He no longer has to defend himself against anything, he no longer needs the aggressive sword. With this surprising inner freedom he has achieved, he will "dis-arm" himself as a knight, in an act of "counter-cultural" connotations, in the style of his chivalric "imaginary". On the eve of the feast of the Annunciation, he spends the night in vigil prayer, kneeling before the altar of Our Lady. He disarms, leaves his sword at the feet of the Moreneta. He has changed his paradigms, his interests, his future..., his Lord. The Pilgrim would find himself reflected in the words that the Virolai sings to Our Lady: "Amb vostre nom comença nostra història".

2. Down the Mountain

At dawn, we imagine him descending the wild mountain trails with a happiness he had never experienced before. Limping, with a hint of pain from his injured leg, but overflowing with a strange freedom never before experienced so deeply.

At the Hermitage of the Apostles, some women suggested a hospital for the poor in Manresa where he could stay for a few days. He needed to savor the Montserrat experiences and write them down in the notebook that he had carefully kept since Loyola.

Suddenly a gendarme interrupts the Pilgrim's placid walk: "Did you give a luxurious dress to a beggar? authoritytears for the wretch whom he wronged without foreseeing it, by giving him his aristocratic clothes in order to dress himself in poverty.

Only ten months ago, the Pilgrim was part of the authority. Now we surprise the fiery fighter from Pamplona with tears in his eyes. The convalescence in Loyola, the long silence of the road to Montserrat, his founding experiences in the Mountain have been cracking external and internal hardnesses of his personality.

Manresa, first period

Happily liberated from his past life, with "great courage and liberality", he intends to conquer holiness.

He stayed at the hospital for the poor, where he lived for most of the eleven months he spent in Manresa. In his desire for greater solitude, we do not know when, he found a deserted and inaccessible place: the Cave.

The cave is one of the caves excavated in the Tertiary by the erosion of the river. It was not easy to access. Ignacio would get there by crossing a path through weeds, brambles and nettles. A balcony over the river, with a brilliant view of Montserrat, more or less screened by thick grass and bushes, which would produce an effect of solitude and stillness. On this balcony, under the gaze of the Virgin Mary, he had many hours of profound silence. She "silenced" many things... And she was able to "listen" to the depths of her heart and find the heartbeat of God's heart. And from the heart of God, he discovered that he was "sent" to others.

A countercultural lifestyle

"St. Dominic did this, for I must do this. St. Francis did this, for I must do it". The first steps of the Manresan Ignatius will lead him along the paths of this holy and naive emulation.

A few months ago he was only looking for honors, to stand out..., with an incredible concern for his image. Now he will be unconcerned about his physical appearance, he will let his hair and nails grow (once so carefully treated), he will be disheveled, with little personal hygiene, as he would never have suspected a few months ago. He has crossed "red lines", he is proving to himself that he has changed sides, that he has placed himself on the other side of history, with the last ones and with Jesus.

He prays seven hours a day. He lives happily, in fullness, with his inner silence before God. He cares for the poor of the Hospital, his actions exude charity and friendship for the poorest. His state is one of tranquility, of joy, feeling great consolation in this new way of doing and being.

Ignatius arrived in Manresa with a deep desire to conquer holiness, honorability, with the desire to serve his new Lord (the Eternal King), with even more intensity than he had had in the service of the "temporal kings". All his life he had been a "conqueror" of his status. Even during his convalescence in Loyola he delighted in thinking of the exploits he would perform in the service of great lords or of a princess of "highest dignity" whom he had sought in his reverie.

He arrives "ignorant of the things of God", without the capacity for discernment, with a strong desire to "do" great things for the Lord. Deep down he still oozes self-centeredness, narcissism. He needs to "look in the mirror" and discover himself honorable, with the new honorability he now dreams of, so different from the one he had lived in the Castilian courts. He himself continues to be the "subject", his "honorable" image. He still believes that he will be able to conquer it with his own strength, with his own abilities and possibilities.

The first four months are of great fervor and spiritual serenity, of great balance and magnanimity. But soon he will discover that he does not "conquer" holiness, that what he has conquered is the bitterness of his inner dark wells, into which he has been descending, and which he thought he had reconciled in Montserrat. In a way, he is still the Pharisee of the parable, he must come to understand himself as a publican, and yet accepted and embraced by God. Ignatius is making his "Spiritual Exercises".

4. Second period. The fragility of Ignacio

From the adolescent euphoria of the neoconverso, to the fitting of one's own interior ruptures.

"A strong thought came to him that bothered him, representing to him the difficulty of his life, as if they were saying to him in his soul: 'And how will you be able to suffer this life of 70 years that you have to live? But to this he also responded interiorly with great force: 'O wretch, can you promise me one hour of life?

The brave defender of Pamplona willing to follow a puppy

The first stage we have just presented can be summed up in two words: "do" (great penances, great things) and "more" (more than others, more than the saints). It is an unwise fervor, even if it reveals immense generosity. Ignatius is spiritualizing his vanity as a knight, now the knight gives himself to his new Lord in the most heroic way imaginable, with penances, prayers and deeds to "mark himself more than anyone else". He seeks to conquer his new Lord with "works".

A few months ago he lived only to conquer honors, fame, significant positions in the administration of the kingdom of Castile, now he has to discover that "sanctity" is not a "conquest". He realizes, bewildered, that what he has conquered are precisely his "shadows", the dark waters of his inner self "reconciled" only superficially in Montserrat.

The peace he had received before the Virgin of Montserrat was shattered. His memory began to strike him scrupulously, reminding him of moments of his life that he thought he had left buried in Montserrat. He falls into deep desolation and, beset by scruples, he seeks a confessor to whom he can repeat his sins over and over again; but he does not achieve reconciliation "with himself", and he thinks that neither with God.

He experienced his own limitation, the radical insufficiency to grant himself forgiveness, the resistance to place himself fully in God's hands and let go of the steering wheel of his life, which he had always driven himself.

In his desolation he repeats to God that he would be willing to follow even a little dog, if it would show him the way to find God. The most significant moment of this period is the desperate "temptation of suicide" when he is staying in a room of the Dominican Convent. He who was used to going through the world as a conqueror, will experience that honorability, integrity, reconciliation, happiness, holiness... are not conquered, but "received": "everything is grace". It will be the great Ignatian discovery of Manresa.

5. Third period. All is grace

When he has assumed that he does not "control" everything, he begins to be flooded with unexpected and fully "free" light.

Surrender no longer of the fortress of Pamplona, but of his inner strength, it is no longer a question of handing over "external weapons" but "internal weapons" (self-sufficiency, "I am in charge of my life"...). These are his Spiritual Exercises. He is learning to live from faith and trust, to let himself be led by God. He is breaking the project of reaching God with his own strength. God is teaching him the disappropriation of his ego, which he supposed to be all-powerful.

He leaves the alley when he experiences the uselessness of his own "righteousness", to settle in "the righteousness that comes from God" (Rom 1:21). Thus begins the third stage of Ignatius' life in Manresa. He no longer needs to protect himself from his broken reality, from his shadows, from his sin. His "paradigms" have changed.

This is Manresa's time of great illuminations. When he assumes that he does not conquer "the light" of God, by leaving himself completely in the hands of the Lord, then he is overflowed by repeated moments of lighting.

The peak of this period is the "Enlightenment of the Cardener". It is the moment of grace, unexpected, the culmination of the whole journey of the Pilgrim in his Manresa days. Once, by the river Cardener "the eyes of his understanding began to open; and not that he saw any vision, but he understood and knew many things, both of spiritual things, and of things of faith and letters; all things seemed new to him". And he immediately adds: "in all the discourse of his life, he does not seem to have reached so much as in that one time alone".

He had arrived in Manresa "arrogant and ignorant of the things of God". He still breathed strong self-centeredness, with confidence in his own abilities and possibilities. He left Manresa dispossessed and humble, experienced in the discernment of spirits and in the ability to help others.

The interior "Way" of the eleven months in Manresa is "foundational", will be collected in a pedagogical way in his "Spiritual Exercises" and will be the background from which he writes the "Constitutions of the Society of Jesus". All the Ignatian spiritualities and all the pastoral, social, intellectual, pedagogical, cultural and social works that are born from the inspiration of Ignatius have their eyes on this Way.

This article is an excerpt from pp. 17 to 43 of the book "Manresa Ignasiana" 500 years old(Catalan and Spanish editions; English version in preparation).
The authorFrancesc Riera i Figueras, S. I.

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