Last year when my husband and I were on an Ignatian pilgrimage, our group celebrated Mass in the rooms where St. Ignatius had lived and died that have been preserved at the Church of the Gesù in Rome. There, behind glass, I gazed upon the well-worn leather shoes of St. Ignatius. I imagined these shoes carried him all over Europe, sharing the Spiritual Exercises and establishing the Jesuits. After all his writings that I had read and all the years of practicing his methods for coming to know God, I had considered Ignatius so far beyond where I could ever be. But somehow in seeing those shoes, St. Ignatius suddenly became a man named Íñigo, who, instead of seeing himself as a saint, referred to himself as “the pilgrim” and wrote about his own life as a journey to God.
And then my gaze fell to my own ratty sneakers. While they would never be worthy of being kept under glass, they did serve the same function: carrying me on my journey. In that instant, though I had been on pilgrimage for a week, for the first time I saw myself as a fellow pilgrim, one who seeks God through a physical and spiritual journey on this earth. I realized that once I saw myself as a pilgrim, the pilgrimage would never end. There is nowhere I can go and nothing I can do that will allow me to say, “Finally, I figured it out! I have the answer! I am completely fulfilled and done seeking!” I will always be seeking to serve God better, to respond to invitations to live out the will of God in the next moment and the next, to be awed by what lies around the next bend, and to savor the journey. There is no off-ramp to this pilgrimage.
Seeing myself as a pilgrim reminds me that it is easier to travel with less to carry, so I don’t need a lot of stuff. As a pilgrim, I am one who is dependent on the kindness of strangers for provision and on fellow travelers for companionship and directions. Rather than needing to rise above others as our culture so often encourages us to do, I need to walk with them. I am so grateful for all my fellow pilgrims!
Now thousands of miles away from that sacred room in Rome, I try to be intentional every night when I take off my shoes to mentally and spiritually see them as Ignatius’s shoes under that glass. I think for just a second how my journey went today and where those shoes carried my spirit. And, regardless of how rough the terrain of the day was, I know tomorrow I will both figuratively and physically put on those pilgrim shoes again to keep walking.
Like Ignatius, all of us are invited to be pilgrims, to be on an intentional journey toward and with God. We don’t have to be saints. We don’t even have to have any fancy gear or shoes. In fact, I think the ones we are wearing right now will be just fine.