The notion that the spiritual life is a journey is so common that it’s a platitude. I’ve worked for years in Catholic publishing. I’ve seen dozens of book covers depicting paths: rugged paths in the forest, manicured paths in lovely parks, paths over bridges, paths up mountains, paths across the desert. But the cliche isn’t wrong: life is a journey. I feel like I’m substantially the same guy that I was decades ago, but I’m really not. Sometimes I’m astonished at the difference between what I believed then and what I believe now.
The word “believe” is an example. I don’t think that what I believe is nearly as important as who I am and what I’m part of. I used to think of my woes and troubles as problems to be fixed. Now I think that I am the one who needs fixing. I used to measure progress by looking at the things I had done. Now I look more closely at where I am on—well, yes, the journey.
St. Ignatius is the exemplar of the journeying Christian. Hardly anything turned out the way he thought it would when he undertook it. He thought he should live a life of penance and austerity. That was a wrong direction. He went to the Holy Land thinking he would live his life there. He was sent home. He set out on a career of lay evangelism. The church stopped him. He thought the Jesuits should live unencumbered by commitments, ready to go anywhere. They wound up running a vast network of schools.
With all these false starts, why is Ignatius regarded as the master of discernment? Because he saw that the journey is the thing. He called himself “the pilgrim.” He traveled a long way, and at every step he was alert to the still, small voice pointing him to what’s next.
That’s the thing to think about: “What’s next?”