When Jesus sent His disciples out to teach the kingdom of god, He had clear instructions for them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic”(Luke 9:3).
Ever since a young age I held romantic visions of filling up a backpack with a some clothes, a rosary, and a good book for an adventure. When I was in high school the book was Travels by Michael Crichton. It is a captivating auto biography of his experiences and profound insights on life. College afforded me the opportunity to backpack on weekends in Spain. The book at that time was Siddhartha by Hesse and The Sun Also Rises, by Hemingway. Existential treatises that portray characters on a search for something. Indeed, I was on a search, but in those days it was predominantly visiting Hemingway’s old haunts, visiting ancient cathedrals, and learning the culture and the history of a country I adore. It certainly was no coincidence Spain is home to St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, spiritual guru, and the brains behind pilgrimage as a rite of passage for novices discerning religious life. Ignatius was an intellectual master who had a unique ability to balance reason and faith. Even more amazing was his ability to instruct others to find that same balance through the exercises he developed over his lifetime. He instructs in the Constitution of the Society of Jesus,
“The third experience is to spend another month in making a pilgrimage without money, but begging from door to door at times, for the love of God our Lord, in order to grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging. Thus too the candidate, through abandoning all the reliance which he could have in money or other created things, may with genuine faith and intense love place his reliance entirely in his Creator and Lord” [General Examen (no. 67)].
Unlike previous adventures with a backpack and a book, this one was very much in spirit with Jesus’ disciples. This experience required us to go out into the world seeking that which we typically do not want to seek in life — discomfort. In fact, most of life is spent keeping ourselves from any discomfort. We surround ourselves with pleasures and security blankets of our possessions. We seek only good health, wealth, and comfort. These are all good things, but if it is what we come to expect and do not expect or respect that we can be sick, poor, and uncomfortable now and again in life we can all to often fail to rely on our Creator and Lord. There in lies the genius of this experience. Seek to rely on God’s love and grace, the latter being very significant. Every pilgrim leaves the seminary seeking grace. The grace to receive a special favor, insight, or consolation by God. For those who go forth seeking it or, at least, leave their souls and selves disposed to receive it through prayer and acts of charity will most likely receive it.
As I waved goodbye to my friend inside the house, the last one to remain, I packed my grace in the forefront of my mind and heart. I clung to it hoping that Ignatius knew what he was talking about when he designed the experience. I sought the grace to find clarity in my vocation through dispensing the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy. I was in search for family, but not yet certain which family was right for me. I set out on a journey of 1,100 miles (one way) to the National Basilica in the District of Columbia. But it wasn’t but more than 60 miles into this journey that God’s grace was already at work.
One thing is true, even after all these years. God’s grace is at work. This is because each one of us is on an earthly pilgrimage. The daily vicissitudes of life, the twists and turns of our vocations, and even the blindness we experience in complacency or the chase for more can cause us to stop asking for God’s grace or most likely leave us wondering what grace we seek. Our life journey is longer than a 30-day experience so naming a particular grace may be a challenge, in which case we can pray as Ignatius taught us, “give me your love and your grace, that is sufficient for me.“