Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re hosting 31 Days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore the Ignatian Year theme, “To see all things new in Christ.”
I recall facilitating a small group of people on an eight-day Ignatian retreat several years ago. One of my directees was a middle-aged lady who was a very successful businessperson. Indeed, her family-owned business for which she was CEO was valued at more than a billion dollars. I’ll call her Teresa. She wanted me to know why she made an annual Ignatian retreat. It was related to a cannonball experience of her own.
She had always wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago. A few years back she had set aside an entire month, made arrangements, and begun her trek to Santiago, beginning at the French border and walking several kilometers every day. It was a hard but also enjoyable endeavor, and she felt connected to her fellow pilgrims, even though many did not share a language in common. She arrived at Santiago, received her certificate, and attended the Pilgrims’ Mass in the cathedral. It had been a good experience—no overwhelming insights or graces, but she was grateful for spending special time in prayer and reflection for those memorable 30 days.
Now she was looking forward to meeting up with her husband and children in Florence, where they would meet at a famous five-star hotel. She got on the train in Santiago, but it kept breaking down. As a result, it took Teresa more than 48 hours to get to Florence. She had not been able to bathe or change clothes, and she got her hair all wet waiting in a steady downpour for the taxi at the station. She got in the taxi and gave the driver the name of the hotel. He scratched his head and responded that there was no such hotel in Florence. That one’s in Venice. Oh my!
She then instructed the driver to take her to the best hotel in Florence. She could straighten out the whole matter tomorrow. On arriving at the five-star hotel, Teresa, looking like a veritable ragamuffin, was immediately greeted by the desk clerk, who grabbed her by the arm and escorted her out the door, declaring that, “People like you are not allowed in this hotel.”
It was still raining and past midnight. She was thinking of pointing out that she had credit cards with million-dollar credit lines in her purse. But it was too late for that. As she stood in the rain, she began to cry.
But they were not tears of humiliation or outrage. They were tears of utter joy. With unusual clarity she realized in that moment and circumstance that she had received a wonderful grace, the grace she had been asking for but did not yet experience during her pilgrimage. It was the grace of “being placed with Christ,” as St. Ignatius says, of following him in his suffering.
Needless to say, she did find a room that night in a modest pension and went on to meet her family in Venice. On her return to the United States, she became a woman “for and with others” and volunteered in service projects and advocacy involving the care of migrants and homeless people. She saw more clearly than ever how Christ is present in those who suffer humiliation and distress.
Photo on Pexels by Lalu Fatoni.