Jesuit Pilgrims: Trained to Rely on God
Jesuits, like Saint Ignatius of Loyola, are trained to rely on God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide their steps. Since the beginning of the Society of Jesus, new novices have undertaken a pilgrimage “experiment,” in which they travel to various destinations with almost no possessions, learning to be sustained and enriched by the graces they encounter on their journeys.
The following reflections are from four Midwest Jesuit novices who traveled for one month with nothing more than $35, a one-way bus ticket, and the clothes on their backs.
TRUSTING IN THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT
By Jack McLinden, nSJ
A Scripture passage changed my plans to travel to the familiar East Coast on my pilgrimage: “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).
Trusting God, I ventured west to Oregon. After a number of Greyhound buses, seven new states, and a week with East African sisters, I felt that same pull to go somewhere new: San Francisco.
I wanted to visit a Catholic Worker house but first set out on the city streets, hoping to encounter God wherever He revealed Himself.
I hiked to St. Ignatius Church and was fine until Mass began. Alone in a big city, I was unsure of how I would eat or where I would sleep, with no connections or friends nearby. Why had God led me to this strange situation? I later journaled, “It was a complete weakness from which the only place to go was God.”
My sense of dependence on God was heightened, and I was in tears throughout Mass. I received the Eucharist and prayed at the alcove of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose words were inscribed on the wall: “Do not let anything afflict you and be not afraid of illness or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?”
|Jack McLinden, nSJ, at Yosemite National Park,
one of the places he traveled to during his pilgrimage
That night I had dinner, a mat to sleep on, and a new friend named Robert. God not only provided for my immediate needs but blessed me with the courage to trust Him through it all.
The next day, I arrived at the Catholic Worker and met River, a tattooed, pierced man wearing a hat adorned with Our Lady of Guadalupe. I knew God had placed me in good hands.
River was so gracious, showing me San Francisco’s sights, bringing me on his ministry to “street kids,” and dropping any weekend plans to host me. I was blown away by his generosity, almost to the point of turning him down, until he yelled, “Aren’t you supposed to be trusting in the work of the Spirit on this pilgrimage? Let me do this for you!”
This was the wakeup call I needed. Who am I to refuse God’s unconditional love? River provided me with the means I needed to continue my journey to Tucson, Ariz., and back to the novitiate in St. Paul.God was with me throughout the entire pilgrimage. He provided for me through people I met along the way. Even though my pilgrimage turned out completely different than I originally planned, it turned out exactly as God planned.
By Jose Camacho, nSJ
I drew into my pilgrimage wanting to come closer to migrants who are either attempting to enter the United States or who have entered, been detained, and deported.
On the Greyhound bus headed toward the US-Mexican border, the strongest feeling was affirmation of God’s mercy and deep participation in the Church. God’s mercy for each of us demonstrates how we are used to actively work for and express mercy to others. I recognized this in the many people working to serve those in need. No one explains this more beautifully than Pope Francis: “God’s word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us...”
I concentrated my time at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Ariz., and Casa de Los Pobres and El Desayunador Salesiano del Padre Chava in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. God is working with His Church to show mercy at all these sites.
We collected donated food at Casa de Los Pobres, and one day, I accompanied a driver to a bakery and entered to find carts full of bread. After I had finished bagging the first cart, an immense, overwhelming sensation of gratitude and mercy came over me, something only the Holy Spirit could give. I saw each loaf as holy and each piece of bread as Christ Himself. Tears ran down my cheeks, and my face dropped in gratitude for the donations.
What a beautiful expression of self-giving, of God’s people working together to express the mercy God showers on us all.
While working at the Kino Border Initiative, I encountered two men, one carrying the other. One could not walk and was severely dehydrated after being exposed to Arizona’s desert heat for days while attempting to enter the United States. The other faithfully stayed by his side, despite the dangers to his own life.
The young man who had carried the other sought help while the other laid thinking he would die. They later faced the deportation process together, and when they reached the Kino Border Initiative, they continued to accompany each other, the one carrying the man in need between the shelter where they slept to the comedor where they ate. Eventually, the man who was unable to walk was sent home.
How beautiful is this image of accompaniment, faithfulness, mercy, and placing oneself at the service of the other. This is what Pope Francis means: helping carry those unable to carry themselves. Reaching out and seeking those who are unable to reach out.
I know God laid out my path in mercy and love, precisely so I, too, can be an expression of His love. Thanks be to God!
By David Inczauskis, nSJ
My 30-day pilgrimage began in Rexburg, Idaho, with no contacts or phone and only $35 to my name.
I chose to begin my journey in Rexburg after praying for a few days and determining the Lord was calling me to dialogue with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had many spiritually uplifting conversations with Mormons.
One experience rises above the rest in my memory and has more to do with my relationship with God than individual encounters with Mormons. Roughly midway through my journey, I had acquired about $250 from generous people wishing to support me.
As I walked to church on Sunday, the Spirit seemed to say to me, “You have all of this money…is this comfort hurting the goal of the journey, which is to rely upon God? Are you becoming too complacent?” The thought troubled me. Was God really telling me to start over with nothing, to give the money away to someone who might need it more, even though I myself “needed” it? I prayed more, and the Spirit confirmed the suggestion. I knelt down and entrusted the situation to God. Shortly thereafter, I let go of the money.
|David Inczauskis, nSJ (far left), with the Kinghorns, a Mormon family that offered him a place to stay during his pilgrimage. Eight of the family’s 10 children are pictured.
Then came the doubts. ‘What did I just do?’ It was quite troubling, but a deeper peace began to take root. As the beautiful hymn “Be Still, My Soul” states, God was softly whispering to me: “Leave to thy God to order and provide/In ev’ry change He faithful will remain/Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend/Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
Is this feeling not that of spiritual consolation? The soul feels calm despite external storms.
Soon enough, though, came a minor miracle. At church, a gentleman with whom I had spoken for a few minutes approached. He smiled and said, “David, you seem like a good man, and, besides that, you’re from one of my favorite cities, Chicago. I’m going to get you a plane ticket home.”
I nearly cried. Words from Scripture resounded in my head: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). When we give, we receive. And sometimes – like in this instance – God allows us to receive from Him in visible, manifest ways.
I retell this story not to suggest I perfectly follow God’s will; at the time, I felt reluctant more than anything else. It does, however, illustrate a greater truth: God’s providential hand guides us. When we listen to Him, blessings do come, whether in this life or in the next.
By Thomas O’Donnell, nSJ
My pilgrimage began in prayer for the grace to live with the homeless in the most poverty-stricken regions of the United States, as well as the grace to advocate for them outside my comfort zone.
I purchased a one-way bus ticket to Camden, N.J., arriving with no predetermined plans but feeling beneath my nerves an underlying trust in God.
This trust was instantly rewarded. I walked by a soup kitchen serving its daily meal. Waiting in line, I made my first new friend. Kev was a good man who suffered from severe drug addiction that left him homeless. His welcoming nature was a recurring trait among many of the homeless people I encountered.
I then traveled to Baltimore and was blessed to live on the streets of the east and west neighborhoods during protests following Freddie Gray’s death.
I have found there is a strong barrier between the poor and the rest of society going much deeper than skin color. My race was never an issue during the protests. Below the surface anger about racism, there seemed to stem a denser anger about the inequalities the poor have been subjected to since the first Baltimore riots in the late 1960s.
During my final week in Baltimore, I lived in a small park with a group of 40 to 50 homeless people. I initially entered “defense mode” but found, to my surprise, that people there cherished the opportunity to welcome a new neighbor, talk with a new friend, offer a meal, and even give money to someone in need!
My pilgrimage has given me a much more accurate depiction of the homeless. They are truly loved by God. I may have said as much before, but I was unable to shrug a presumption that homeless people have some secret objective: if they were kind, they wanted my money. If they looked depressed, it was an act.
I have learned that many are kind, even when they know you have nothing to offer, because they are human. Many of my new friends are actually depressed, living with posttraumatic stress, suffering from a mental illness, or stuck with a drug or alcohol addiction they cannot possibly shake in their environment. Often, they face all of these.
I have come to greatly appreciate programs focused on long-term solutions to these problems. Helping Up Mission and Christopher Place in Baltimore provide a one-year program so homeless men can live in a shelter with daily meals, get clean with assistance from experts, obtain important legal documents, find a job, and eventually get their own apartments. These programs are effective, not only in getting people off the streets but in improving the quality of life for homeless people desperately crying out for God’s help.