As we wound our way up the Catalan mountain in our zippy, little car, I imagined St. Ignatius traversing Spain on his own pilgrimage to Montserrat. I found it hard to imagine how he would have made it over the rugged terrain on horseback. He was, at that point, travelling alone without servants, just months out from the crippling blow of the cannonball. What pain he must have suffered as he rode! It gave me new perspective into Ignatius’s physical determination in his quest to become a saint.
At the top of the winding road, nestled into the side of the mountain and dwarfed by imposing and jagged peaks above, stands the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat. Inside the church, enthroned in an alcove high above the main altar, sits the legendary “Black Madonna” holding the Christ Child.
In the span of history, the 500 years that separates my visit to Montserrat from Ignatius’s is relatively small—small enough, anyway, for me to imagine myself looking on as he approaches the altar of Montserrat.
I see the grand gestures of the young Ignatius as he places his sword and dagger on the altar below the Madonna. Desiring to put on only the armor of Christ, he spends the entire night in prayer before the altar. In reverence, he keeps guard, now standing, then kneeling, and then standing again. He releases, with that sword and that dagger, all of the dreams and ambitions he had held prior to that point. He surrenders the dream of being a valiant knight and all of the lofty ambitions that accompany it. He surrenders the dream of having a beautiful lady by his side. He surrenders his family inheritance and his status as a nobleman. Ignatius is completely confident that what he will gain in service to his new King is far more than what he has surrendered.
I touch the Madonna’s hand.
I think for a long moment about my own sword. What earthly attachments am I willing to lay here before the Madonna? Am I willing to be as generous as Ignatius in surrendering all of my desires and defenses over to God? In which kingdom do my allegiances lie? I cringe a little as I come to terms with my answers. Apparently, I’m not yet a saint, so I’m glad to be following Ignatius.
How about you? Imagine yourself there before the Madonna and Child. What’s your sword? What attachments might you surrender at the Madonna’s feet? Possessions? Earthly ambitions? Status? Wealth? Relationships?
Do not be discouraged if your answers aren’t yet quite what you wish they were. Most of us aren’t yet saints, but with St. Ignatius leading the charge, we’re in good hands!