The Shoes of a Pilgrim

shoes of St. Ignatius Loyola

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.

15 COMMENTS

  1. My 45-year old son also wears his shoes like that. When he was young, I used to reprimand him for it. I no longer can, as he is so much older. However those shoes used to still upset me. After I have read your reflection, they no longer will upset me. I shall now always look upon them as “pilgrim shoes” in my son’s journey to God. I already feel a sense of peace and love.
    I was also touched with your analogy of the pilgrim traveller who is dependent on his fellow travellers for everything. I shall try to remember that each time I feel over-burdened.
    Thank you for your inspiring reflection.

    • I love that you even notice what shoes your 45 year old son wears! Motherhood seems to be another road that never ends that we share!

  2. Hi Lisa
    I really like the way you said there is no off ramp to the journey, and that there is nothing I can do to allow me to say that I’ve finally got everything figured out. When I read that it brought a sense of peace. Thank goodness! I don’t need to struggle so hard or worry so much. I shall try and hold on to that next time I get all wound up with doubts and frustrations as no doubt I will.
    I also like the way you spoke of being an intentional pilgrim and our own shoes being just right for the journey. Thank you so much for helping me. Blessings to you x

  3. “The shoes of a Pilgrim” and the words of Lisa moved my heart and soul. I so admire and revere Ignatius and his writings, practices and life journey has
    been the food for my journey. Thank you, Lisa.

    • Natalie,
      There is a huge difference between being a pilgrim and a tourist! That was a great way to put it. Thank you for recognizing that aspect.

  4. I was moved by “the shoes”. I have had a devotion to St Ignatius since my college days at Fordham University. I pray my JOURNEY will be successful in the final years of my life. I am 78 years old. A. M. D. G.

    • Thank you Jo-Ann! Trust that you are more than “successful”– you are being faithful and that is what we are called to. Walking in this way since your college days is quite a testament to pilgrimage! You have touched and inspired so many others along the way. You sound like a trailblazer. I’d say more than anything now you get to just enjoy the journey!

  5. Lisa – I was HOPING for a posted picture of your sneakers at the end of this beautiful reflection. Thank you. I just finished writing a letter to my spiritual advisor (one of the many blessings of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps), and, this reflection appeared moments after I hit “send” on my letter. There are so many instances of “dovetailing” that once again I realize how miracles abound.

    • Karen,
      I loved your use of the word “dovetailing” to describe what is clearly the Spirit at work. That’s a keeper. I think our souls just resonate when they are affirmed. Thank you for your IVC work!

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