Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola - F. A. Forbes


In the loneliness and silence of Manresa, Ignatius had learned to wield the sword of the spirit as manfully as he had ever used the strong blade that still hung by Our Lady's altar at Montserrat. He had conquered self, and had beaten off the enemy at every point. He had learned the science of the Christian warfare; but his heart still ached with a desire that was now at last to find its fulfilment. Taking painter's staff in hand, bare-footed, and begging his bread by the way, Ignatius set forth on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, there to venerate the holy places that had been blessed by the earthly presence of his Lord.

The first stage in his journey was Barcelona. It was Lent, and a famous preacher was drawing crowds to his sermons in the cathedral. Ignatius entered, and taking his place among the children on the altar-steps—for the church was overflowing—listened with reverent attention to the words of the priest. The sight of the stranger in pilgrim garb, sitting thus humbly in his lowly place, made a profound impression on a lady who was present, Dona Isabel Roser.

There was something noble, and at the same time strangely suggestive of heaven in the face that was before her; a supernatural light seemed to play about the head of the pilgrim. On reaching home she spoke of him to her husband, who at once sent a servant to seek out the stranger, and ask him to come and pay them a visit. Ignatius was stall in the cathedral, and assented courteously to the request.

So sweetly and eloquently did he speak to them of the things of God, that they were loath to let him go, and earnestly entreated him to make his home with them until he left Barcelona. This, however, he gently refused to do. He had resolved, he said, to stay at the hospital and devote his time to the care of the sick. Then they besought him to let them pay for his journey; but again he answered that he meant to beg a passage for the love of God, and when he reached land, to pursue his travels on foot.

In a few days he set sail, and reaching Gaeta set out for Rome. But he was a sorry pedestrian; the wounded leg, not yet quite sound, caused him intense pain, and the bread for which he begged was sometimes not forthcoming. The plague was raging in Italy; and the pale and haggard face of the pilgrim frightened the country people, who, fearing that he was attacked by the disease, would hardly let him into their towns or villages. At last, after many trials, footsore and weary, hungry and exhausted, he came in sight of the Eternal City seated on its seven hills.

The very sight of Rome refreshed his weary, spirit; the earth his feet were treading had been watered by the blood of the martyrs; everything that met his eyes reminded him of the hero-saints of old. It was Holy Week, and he resolved to remain in Rome till after Easter, to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and of all the glorious company of the Blessed that lie within that hallowed spot of ground. Then, fortified by the blessing of the Pope, and armed with his pilgrim's licence for Jerusalem, he set forth on his way to Venice.

Fresh misfortunes awaited him. Once more his pallor and weakness so alarmed the people that they fled from him in terror, again believing him to be plague-stricken; and once more the pilgrim toiled on his way, shunned and avoided by all. He entered Venice by night, and utterly exhausted, lay down to sleep on the ground under the portico of the palace of Marc Antonio Trevisano, a future Doge of Venice. In the silence of the night a voice spoke to the noble Senator saying, "Sleepest thou comfortably in thy rich bed, while My faithful servant lies near thee on the stones?" The Venetian went forth with servants and torches, and all but stumbled over the body of Ignatius, too weary to move.

He was at once brought into the palace, and tended with the greatest care. Trevisano would fain have kept his holy guest, but Ignatius, ever a lover of poverty, was unhappy in his rich surroundings.

On July 14 he set sail in the vessel that was bearing the Governor-General to Cyprus, having missed the pilgrims' ship which had started a few days before. But the conversation and the conduct of the passengers, and still more that of the crew, filled the saint with grief and indignation.

Earnestly he exhorted them to turn to God and amend their lives, but the only effect of his words was to rouse their pride and anger. At last they resolved to cast him ashore on a desert rock in the Mediterranean, where the horrors of a slow starvation would silence for ever the voice that had tried to awaken their sleeping souls, Ignatius, aware of their project, commended himself to God and prayed. The Almighty was watching over His servant; a violent wind arose which beat the ship to the port of Famagosta in Cyprus. Crossing the island, Ignatius found the pilgrims' ship, which he had missed at Venice, about to sail for Jaffa. Well had he said when he set forth on his pilgrimage, "I am under the protection of the King of Heaven and of earth, whose servant I am; it suffices me, for it will never fail."

In the end of August, seven months after his departure from Manresa, he set foot in that Holy Land which had been indeed the country of his dreams. The pilgrims entered the Holy City in procession and in profound silence; in their hearts, perhaps, the thought of the first Crusaders, walking thus two and two, barefoot and bareheaded, their rich robes laid aside out of reverence for One who was poor and in sorrows from His youth.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would have gathered thy children together as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not. Behold your house shall be left to you desolate." Desolate indeed she appeared to the little band of pilgrims; scarcely the shadow of that Jerusalem of old, the beautiful "City of Peace." She had done penance for her sins; the armies of Rome had razed her to the foundations; war and famine and pestilence had raged within her walls; even now a heathen power held her captive, and yet—she was still the Jerusalem of Christ, loved of all men for His Name's sake; her very stones were sweet with His memory.

Who shall say what heavenly graces were received by Ignatius, as he knelt prostrate on the ground, washing with his tears that earth that had been touched by the feet of his Redeemer? Again and again he visited the spots made sacred by the presence of Christ, kissing with adoring love the place of his Lord's agony and crucifixion.

For years Jerusalem had been the hope of his heart; at Jerusalem he would fain have remained, but this was not to be, for Palestine was not destined to be the home of his order. The battlefield of the Company of Jesus was to be the whole world. But this Ignatius did not then know. He went to the Superior of the Franciscans, and asked leave to remain in the Holy City, to work for the conversion of the heathen,

The Provincial was absent, they told him, and no one else could give the required permission. He was at Bethlehem, but they expected him back in a few clays, and would then place Ignatius' request before him. The absence of the Father Provincial, however, was longer than had been foreseen; it was not until two months after his arrival in the Holy Land that Ignatius obtained the desired interview. The Provincial was kind but firm. He thoroughly approved of the saint's devotion, but after careful consideration of the question, he decided that it would be best for him to leave Jerusalem with the other pilgrims.

The monastery was poor, it was all they could do to support themselves. Moreover, it was no uncommon thing for Christians to be killed by the Turks or sold into slavery; the risks would be too great. In vain Ignatius protested that he would beg his bread and be no expense to the friars, that he feared neither slavery nor death—the Franciscan was not to be moved. So ardent and zealous a nature as the Spaniard's, lug said, would never he able to submit to the rules imposed by the Turkish authorities, obedience to which was the condition of their being allowed to remain. The danger would be too great, for Ignatius himself as well as for the Franciscans. Moreover, the Pope had given authority to the Provincial to decide in such cases who was to remain and who was not; his decision was to be considered final. To this last argument Ignatius submitted at once; he was ready, he said, to obey. He made his preparations for departure, but he was to justify, to a certain extent, the fears of the good Franciscan before he left the Holy City.

A longing came over him to visit once more the footprints of the Saviour on the mount of the Ascension and, desiring to be alone that he might have the more leisure for prayer, he set off without the Turkish escort that was of obligation for all pilgrims. For a Christian to venture alone outside the walls of the city was a rash and dangerous undertaking, but Ignatius eared little for this. He reached the summit of the hill without hindrance, but there he was stopped by the Moslem guards who kept the mosque built over the sacred spot.

He gained admittance by bribing one of them with his penknife, and having satisfied his devotion, turned to retrace his steps towards Jerusalem. But he had not gone far before it struck him that he had not noticed in what direction the sacred footsteps pointed. Back he went again, this time offering a pair of scissors, his last belonging, to the conveniently indulgent guard.

Meanwhile he had been missed by the Franciscans, who, fearing lest he might have got into difficulties with the Turks, sent out an Armenian servant to search for the wanderer. The Armenian, angry at the pilgrim's adventure, perhaps because it interrupted his own work, abused him roundly, and even threatened him with his stick. Then seizing him roughly by the arm, he dragged him back to the convent, rating him soundly all the way. Ignatius heeded neither the insults nor the rough usage. Before him stood Our Lord Himself as He had appeared to the disciples on the mount of the Ascension, and the heart of His servant was filled with consolation.