During our first Into the Deep blog series “Drawn to Ignatius” members of our writing team will tell us the ways Ignatian Spirituality has informed their lives, prayers, and their desire to go into the deep. Today Melinda LeBlanc shares how her life has been like a pilgrim’s journey.
How many people do you know who refer to themselves as a pilgrim? St. Ignatius often referred to himself, not by name, but as “The Pilgrim”. He viewed his life as an ever evolving journey towards God, always led by God’s gentle hand. As I enter the “Medicare years”, I find myself relating more with this aspect of Ignatian Spirituality.
There are several characteristics of a pilgrim’s journey which are common to St. Ignatius and me:
A pilgrim’s journey begins with an invitation to grow.
St. Ignatius and I both had quite dramatic invitations from God to begin our spiritual journeys. Well, maybe mine wasn’t quite as dramatic as getting shot with a cannonball as in St. Ignatius’ case, but for me it was huge nonetheless. The cannonball incident changed the life of the saint and his recuperation time was spent focusing on God. My cannonball moment came from a time of deep desolation. One day as I was walking, feeling completely hopeless, a thought came to me: I’m here. Don’t despair. At that instant I knew it was God. From then on, nothing was the same. I began to feel hopeful in God’s presence. The next day a friend mentioned an Ignatian retreat I might like. I had never made one before and was leery, but I signed up. That retreat took God’s invitation even further by opening me to experience God’s love. I learned to pray and find God in the silence. All this because God invited me closer.
Have you experienced something that you were certain was from God? How did you respond?
A pilgrim’s journey is purposeful.
After his initial conversion, St. Ignatius continued to pray, read, and live what he knew was of God. After my initial invitation, I started to see a spiritual director to help me grow in my relationship with God. I grew to see God in all things, to discern what was of God in my life and what wasn’t, and to recognize what things/relationships I had an unhealthy attachment to. I see this time as walking hand in hand with God and letting God teach me new ways of being. I became active in ministry as a Eucharistic minister, got involved in RCIA, in small faith sharing groups and took classes sponsored by my diocese. During this time God was leading me in a dance of grace and deeper faith.
How are you nourishing God’s invitation to grow closer?
A pilgrim’s path is not always clear, and may include tears, joys, losses, victories.
There were many ups and downs in St. Ignatius’ life. He had moments of closeness to God which brought him to tears. He had moments of rejection. He wanted to minister in the Holy Land, but God had other plans. All the while, St. Ignatius stayed focused on God. My journey also included good and bad times. Often, it seemed God sent me just the right person to talk to, or gave me the exact grace I needed. Like St. Ignatius, I struggled with scrupulosity (confessing the same sins repeatedly because I didn’t think God had forgiven me the first time I confessed them). I had dry times in prayer and other obstacles which made me doubt God’s presence with me. I now know that all these times were God’s way of teaching me to trust and see God in all things.
What have been the ups and downs of your journey?
A pilgrim’s journey continues along a path that never ends.
Through God’s grace, St. Ignatius continued his life’s pilgrimage to eventually become a contemplative in action. St. Ignatius never stopped growing in love and knowledge of God. In my life, I continue to see God moving me. God is constantly putting people in my life to challenge and encourage me. Like the time I literally bumped into someone in the sacristy before mass and we ended up married two years later. Or the way, when I was close to retirement and was wondering what to do with my time, God introduced me to someone in a spiritual direction internship who suggested I should look into becoming a spiritual director. I did, and for the past 8 years have been accompanying people on their own faith journeys, which is a true joy for me. Even my hobbies have led me further in service to God. My love of cooking came in handy when I worked as a campus minister at LSU and had to help prepare lunch to over 400 hungry students each week. Being an introvert, I have always enjoyed writing more than talking. I am excited to be writing more and having what I write posted in blogs on the internet. Also, my husband and I have recently discovered birdwatching, which gives us a chance to enjoy the outdoors together.
Two of St. Ignatius’ great gifts to us are the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit order of priests. Both of these came from following God along a lifelong journey of faith, growth, response, trust, perseverance and love. I can’t wait to see where God will lead me next on this great life pilgrimage!
Where do you feel God is calling you on your life journey?
If you would like to learn more about the life of St. Ignatius you can purchase his autobiography here.
Photo by Matt Howard on unsplash.