Last weekend, the Catholic Ministry hosted our Loyola retreat for first-year students at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, Georgetown’s retreat center in Bluemont, Va. The Loyola program serves as the first in a four-year series of retreats — Loyola, Montserrat, Manresa and La Storta — named for key moments in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
The aim of these retreats is to allow students to more deeply experience what is at the core of our heritage at Georgetown — the Ignatian spiritual tradition. Foundational to our Ignatian heritage is the notion of pilgrimage. St. Ignatius, in his “Autobiography,” always referred to himself as the pilgrim. It was the manner in which he viewed himself near the end of his life.
The difference between a mere traveller and a pilgrim was explained to me once by a wise Jesuit in this way: A traveller, when visiting a town, city or other locale moves through the place. A pilgrim, on the other hand, will allow the place to move through them.
Such an understanding implies that each of us is transformed by the experiences of travel. We are always becoming something new, something unknown and, hopefully, more fully becoming our authentic selves. As Jack Kerouac said in his novel “On the Road,” “Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”
I was asked while on the Loyola retreat whether it was necessary to travel abroad in order to experience life as pilgrimage. While physical travel surely provides opportunity for the transformative experience of life as pilgrimage, St. Ignatius recognizes that each day of our lives — from the thrilling to the mundane, from the joyous to the difficult — is necessarily part of our individual pilgrimages.
Pilgrimage becomes a mindset from which to approach one’s life and experiences. As we begin this academic year, we should seek to actively acknowledge the pilgrimage we are embarking upon and to embody the Ignatian principles that are fundamental to this journey.
Three key dispositions found in “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius” are foundational in recognizing our life here at Georgetown as pilgrimage: indifference, presupposition of good and magnanimity.
In an Ignatian understanding, indifference is not a matter of not caring, nor is it passive. Rather, it is an engaged openness in seeking greater meaning in all aspects of life — health as well as sickness, wealth as well as poverty, joy as well as sorrow, the noise of our busyness as well as the silence of our communal contemplation. In those beautiful moments of silent reflection at Loyola, our newest Hoyas embodied that very indifference, that openness, to discovering deeper meaning in the midst of a new experience.
Moreover, in The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius insists that the foundation of the relationship between a retreatant and spiritual director is the presupposition of good in each other’s words and actions. It is often referred to as the “Jesuit plus sign” — giving the benefit of the doubt and listening in a spirit of authentic love.
Finally, for St. Ignatius, magnanimity is a prerequisite for one seeking to accomplish The Spiritual Exercises. Magnanimity is not mere generosity, but rather runs much deeper. It is an approach to life with an open heart and a generous, deep spirit — literally, with great soul.
Indifference. Presupposing the good. Magnanimity. All of these foundational dispositions reside in the virtue that is the core of St. Ignatius’ worldview — gratitude. As we continue on our pilgrimage that is this academic year, even if this transformative journey does not take us far from campus, we should all be mindful each day of these foundational Ignatian dispositions and seek to more fully live them out each day, in all that we do and in all that we are.
Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., is the Catholic chaplain at Georgetown University. As This Jesuit Sees It appears online every other Thursday.