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!
In these days with myriads of responses to the sexual abuse crisis once again attacking our Catholic Church it is good to read your article, Rebecca, and be refreshed in the purity of your thoughts and the replies you got that follow. This is surely one way we help each other through sadness and into the light of Christ Himself. No one is without the need for humility as exemplified by Jesus and Mary and the saints. Come Holy Spirit.
Thank you, Rebecca for sharing your travel to Montserrat in comparison to that of St. Ignatius. I enjoyed the journey. You mention that “most of us are not Saints yet” … that’s for sure. There is some confusion for me about “striving” (for Sainthood) … should it not be one of the “swords” we leave at the “Feet” … freeing us from that somewhat selfish ambition … making room for the flow of God’s Grace to carry us there? Deirdre had a point. Oh Well, “Confusion” is my middle name … but Jesus is my Best Friend:)
Thank you for your thoughts. We absolutely do need God’s grace to become saints! If we are seeking to become saints, an essential component is calling on the Holy Spirit to help sanctify us.
Please also see my clarification to Deirdre above. The short of it is, it is good to seek to become saints but not so good to seek the glory from other people for striving to be a saint. As Saint Ignatius said, everything we do should be “for the greater glory of God.”
Power and authority are really tough things to surrender. They are not only a source of prides, but bring worldly knowledge, drowning out an essential principal of the Gospel message: Love the sinner, but hate the sin. As a Manager, I took it to mean be tough on issues (like tardiness, or carelessness or dishonesty) but be easy on people. It is much harder to do, no matter which way you read it.
Yes, power and authority are hard to surrender. Your thoughts bring to mind the “Prayer of Solomon” which I was just rereading the other day. “Lord give me Wisdom, attendant at your throne…” http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_PLQ.HTM
This is a great prayer for anyone in authority as it asks God to give the Wisdom to know how exactly to approach situations in which one has power over others.
Thank you, Rebecca.
Your heartfelt questions – what is my sword and what are my attachments require me to take a deep honest look at my life and desires. I’m thinking that the sword represents attack and defence. What do I fight to possess and what might I feel is so valuable I need to protect . The sword is sharp and potentially lethal, and also a status simple. I always thought I was a peacemaker and would never carry, and even less wield a lethal weapon, but on reflection, perhaps it’s is my ego that might might drive me to make a cutting response, and my pride that would cause me to have to make my reputation look good at someone else’s expense. But this is good to realise – how much lighter will be my journey if I can succeed in laying down this weighty weapon. Thank you for challenging me to try harder and let go. Bless you for sharing.
Thank you for your heartfelt response and astute analysis. You have challenged me to examine again my own attachments – a never ending process. I love it! Thank you!
Thank you, Rebecca for your heart-felt reflection. I was standing also at the same place before the “Black Madonna” in early June making the Ignatian Pilgrimage with a group. It’s difficult to put into words of the ‘awe’ except to let the moment sinks in.
Thank you for reading and for your thoughts! I agree. Standing there before the “Black Madonna” sure does strike one with a sense of awe! I felt not only the history of the place and all the people’s that had stood there raising their deepest concerns and gratitude before her, but also something of the eternal benevolence of God through Jesus and Mary. It’s one of those places where you just feel that you are on “Holy Ground.” Very powerful.
It’s difficult when you have an attachment you cannot remove. I think it’s easy (well, there are always some resistances) to let go something when you have in sight something much better. But what if you don’t see anything else in the horizon, but still feel too attached to some thing?
It is difficult to let go of attachments! In fact, it’s really impossible to let go of attachments without Divine intervention. That’s why it is essential to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength in this process – to ask the Spirit to help you let go or attachments and to understand, deep in your spirit, that God wants more for you than you could even imagine.
Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I long to visit Montserrat to walk where Ignatius walked but in the meantime, I know that God is calling me to surrender my attachments and I appreciate this reminder. Blessings.
Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!
Yes, one of of the jewels of Ignatian spirituality is the clearly documented method of identifying our attachments. It took even Ignatius a lifetime of “trial and error” and listening to the Holy Spirit to get to the point of very mature faith where he could even walk away from the Society of Jesus should the Pope ever say it should cease to exist. Now, the Pope did not say that, but the fact that he could be so unattached to the Society – his life’s work – or any desired outcome for it really speaks to Ignatius’ complete and total trust in a God who does everything out of love for us. What faith!
Ignatius’s physical determination in his quest to become a saint – I doubt Ignatius made it his goal to become a saint. Living his life in the service of God – yes, but living it in order to become a saint – I very much doubt it.
Have you not heard that we are all called to strive to be saints? A lofty goal but I have no doubts that St Ignatius heard the call and was attempting to become what God wants for all of us.
May you and I hear the call and strive to be what we are called to be….saints.
Striving to become a saint would be called ambition. We are all called to live out lives as best we can and not to look for glory.
Thank you for your comments. You bring up some important concepts here. Let me clarify. When Ignatius read about St. Francis and St. Dominic, he wondered why he couldn’t do what they did. He saw no difference between himself and them. He actually strove to “outdo” them in devotion and penance. He spent three whole days giving a confession of his sins at Montserrat! His very competitive nature paired with his true devotion to Christ made any task that he was doing for God – whether it be of the mind, body, or spirit – surmountable. He displayed heroic virtue in doing good and avoiding sin. He did want to show God he loved him the most.
However, Ignatius went about these things in a very humble and often secretive manner, he did not want accolades or personal attention for his spiritual devotion, the only attention he sought was from God. For instance, he did not tell anyone that he spent three days writing his confession at Montserrat (except his spiritual director and the Jesuit to whom he told his life story very late in his life). And, while he would often talk about God to others, it was never about drawing attention to himself, but rather, it was always for the greater glory of God.
So, in answer to your very valid concern about ambition (in your comment below), what sets his striving to please God apart from ambition is that it was not ambition for earthly things but rather a seeking to do God’s will for God’s glory alone. Usually, saints are humble in outward appearances – they don’t usually announce to the world “hey, I’m going to be a saint!” However, in their hearts and in their actions they seek to unite themselves with Christ and His will. So, in this way, it is ok to be ambitious in seeking to be pleasing to God. God wants us all to be saints and dwell with God after we pass from this life, so we are called to strive to be saints.
Thank you for sharing. I walked the Ignatius Camino and it was atop this majestic mountain that I also dedicated myself to God. A gentleman I met on the Camino said the days climb would be magic, and it was.
Going to Montserrat next year, and hope to have the same glorious experience. Thank you for sharing.
I hope you do too! I believe the natural beauty of the area paired with the Ignatian historical connections really do lend themselves to strong spiritual experiences there.
How wonderful! I’ll have to add that to my “bucket list!”