Personal Reflections on World Youth Day: The Ignatian Pilgrimage

While there are many excellent places
to read about the events of World Youth Day, I would like to share
with you a little my own experiences of the trip from the inside so
to speak.  These past three weeks have been some of the most
spiritually consoling weeks of my life, from my 8-day silent retreat
to this two week pilgrimage. The trip as a whole was unspeakably
consoling, and it is that consolation that I would like to share, so
that you all can partake in the graces that I received.  The two-week
pilgrimage was divided into two parts:  A pilgrimage of Ignatian
sites and then the pilgrimage with the Holy Father.  This first part
of the reflection will focus on the first week Ignatian Pilgrimage.

We flew into Barcelona on August 10th,
a beautiful city, with many incredible sites.  However, since this
reflection is not on the external but on the internal, I will only
describe the main points of consolation there.  We went to Santa
Maria del Mar, a beautiful gothic church nearby where Ignatius used
to study Latin in Barcelona.  There is a particular spot in that
Church where he would sit by the door and beg alms to pay for his
tutoring.  I sat in that spot and thought of Ignatius the poor man,
unsure of his vocation, knowing only that Latin would be helpful in
the service of God.


I felt a certain connection with him.
I studied Latin this summer, unsure of how I will use it in the
future, unsure of what I will even do after I am ordained, but
knowing that preparation is nonetheless important since God will use
every tool that we sharpen to his greater glory.  Many people ask me
what I will do after I am ordained, and I honestly have no idea.
What I do know is that my duty now is to prepare, and the task ahead
will be suited to the preparation that I am doing now.


As we were preparing for Mass there, I walked up to the front left side of the Church and knelt before a crucifix. It was wooden, with knees that were badly scraped. I began to pray about the knees of Christ. I have always had a devotion to the feet of Christ, the last point that his precious blood touched before dripping to the earth and spreading over the whole world. But during this prayer, I was drawn to pray with the knees of Christ, the wounded knees, wounded by his many falls. Come to think of it, I should have developed a devotion to his knees a long time ago, considering how many times I fall. But the knees are about falling and getting up again, and I felt that grace flooding my soul.


We then went to the chapel that houses
the sword of Ignatius, the sword he used to valiantly defend Pamplona
and the sword he was to hand over to Our Lady of Monserrat in
exchange for a pilgrim’s staff.  A couple of older Jesuits gave us
a great little tour of the chapel and pointed out the inscriptions on
the sword, in particular the YY that let us know that it was
Ignatius’, or Ynigo Yanez’s, sword.  In that chapel also are
housed the bones of the founder of the Sodality of Our Lady in Spain.
With the sodalists of Jesuit High School, we said a prayer for the


From Barcelona we went to Montserrat.
I expected little out of Montserrat, probably because I knew it was a
large national shrine and I expected it to be full of tourists and
extremely commercial.  And it turned out that it was all of those
things.  However, it was also extraordinary.  When we arrived, the
first thing we did was to hike to the cave where the statue of the
Black Madonna was said to have been discovered.  It was a long hike,
but when we arrived, one of the chaperones gave an excellent talk.
The boys began going to confession, and took some time for silent
prayer, riveted by the breathtaking view of the mountains.  Then we
hiked back, and about five of us went barefoot, preparing ourselves
to see the image where Ignatius had before lain down his sword and
military gear and taken up the robe of a pilgrim.  Having his sword,
we were ready with Ignatius to lay down our own.


The same grace was there for us.  We
each walked up individually to pray before the image of the Black
Madonna, and then we went into a small chapel behind the image to
pray.  In that room, before the image where Ignatius had kept an all
night vigil, I could do nothing but pray.  Mary was there, Jesus was
there, and Ignatius was very strongly present, as was Rick Thomas, a
Jesuit I grew up with.  The presence of each in the room was
palpable, and it was clear that none of the boys wanted to leave.
Each was laying down before Our Lady whatever it was that they wanted
to give up, laying down old garments, old armor, old forms of
self-protection, and taking up the pilgrim’s garb.  I was overcome
with emotion, a rather rare thing.  I knew I wanted Ignatius’ love
for Our Lady, and I begged for that same love.


This day was incredible.  We went from
Montserrat to Manresa, to the cave where Ignatius lived for a year
and wrote most of his Spiritual Exercises.  In Manresa I gave a talk
about going too far for Christ, since this was the place where
Ignatius overdid his pious practices, refusing to cut his hair, his
nails, or to bathe at all.  Essentially my point was that unless you
go “too far,” you will never know if you’ve gone far enough.  I
gave examples of going too far in High School, when I had gone
through a period of wearing a burlap sack under my shirt and
developed a rash (since I had taken the sack out of our barn which
was full of mice and all sorts of other nice cute far animals).  But
because I went “too far,” I learned how far I really needed to


The boys responded immediately.  For
the rest of the pilgrimage, there were bread and water fasts,
barefoot hikes, all night vigils, pebbles in shoes, rosaries said,
etc.  It was incredible to watch, seeing young men attempting to love
God with all their hearts, to go far enough and not be stranded in
mediocrity.  Of course we can never go “too far” in the love of
God; the “too far” is only in relation to how we love God,
the visible expressions of our love.  But unless we push those
limits, we will never really know what it means to live at the limits
of holiness, which is essentially to be a saint.


In the cave of Manresa, Ignatius
scratched crosses into the stone.  These have been preserved.  I just
recently finished my 8-day retreat right before the pilgrimage to
Europe, so praying in the cave where the Exercises were essentially
written was a profound experience.


From Manresa we went to Loyola.  I was
able to renew my vows, on the 6th anniversary of my vows
on August 15, 2005, the feast of the Assumption, the 8th
anniversary of my entrance into the Society.  Father Patrick Hough
celebrated the Mass for all of us in the room of Ignatius’
conversion, and at communion, I repeated those same vows that I renew
every night, only this time in the place, in the bedroom, where
Ignatius had recovered from his broken leg and decided to follow
Christ with his whole life.


After communion I went and sat on the
floor next to the site of the bed where he had lain.  I prayed that
like Ignatius, my great act of will, my decision to follow Christ in
the Society would stick and that I would never look back.  Broken
bones heal stronger than they were before.  I prayed that all bones
in my body that have been broken as a Jesuit through unfaithfulness
in so many ways to my vows would now be re-set and heal stronger than
they were before, in this place where Ignatius’ leg was set and


I also gave my second talk to the
Jesuit boys.  While before I had spoken on Revelation 3:16 and
avoiding lukewarmness, now I pointed them to Revelation 3:18 and how
they can participate in the Jesuit vows.  Since I was about to renew
my own vows, I wanted to offer them a practical way to participate in
this renewal, a practical way for them to make their own promises.
So I connected the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to
the three penitential practices of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer,
to the three things Jesus tells us to ask for in Revelation 3:18,
gold refined in the fire to make us rich, a white robe to cover our
nakedness, and ointment for the eyes to take away our blindness.  I
offered these to the boys: poverty-almsgiving-gold;
chastity-fasting-white robe; obedience-prayer-ointment.  Start giving
alms practically, some change to homeless men, a little of your
allowance at Sunday Mass.  Start fasting, since fasting is the prayer
of the body.  Fasting is absolutely required for every young man.  It
is the only way to overcome our strong inclinations towards
self-satisfaction. I told them they were all capable of giving up
meat every Friday, thus asking for the white robe of chastity.  And
they can all start praying, especially the Morning Offering, an
evening Act of Contrition, and a daily Rosary.


Again, Our Lady was in the room,
Ignatius was there, and Father Thomas was there, praying for me and
encouraging me to be fully overcome for Christ and for the Society of
Jesus.  In Letter 16, Ignatius says that it is only fully mortified
Jesuits, Jesuits who are fully overcome, who can have peace in the
Society.   I have come to realize clearly the truth of that letter.
A partially mortified Jesuit is a nervous Jesuit, an uncomfortable
Jesuit who is always look for small escapes from the live he has
pledged.  But these little escapes are illusions, and in that room I
prayed again that, as the imagination of Ignatius led him to desire
sanctity, so my imagination could be wholly on board for Christ,
never wandering into other possibilities, but wholly overcome by the
yoke of the vows. It was also amazing to have all of the young men on
the trip congratulating me afterwards, giving me handshakes and hugs,
seeing in their eyes the admiration and gratitude they have for my
vocation.  I pray I live up to their expectation.

5 Responses to Personal Reflections on World Youth Day: The Ignatian Pilgrimage

  1. Well done, young man, well done.

  2. Judy Webb says:

    What a powerful trip for you! How much you have learned about your self. May you recall these experiences often. They are rich in both consolation and challenge for you and will be so throughout your life, if you hold them close to your heart. Thank you for sharing them that we all may see ourselves with the same clarity.

  3. Thank you, Nathan. I’ve never been to the Ignatian sites and sharing the graces you received took me on a “virtual pilgrimage” to them.

  4. Rachel says:

    Nathan that was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. What an amazing trip and experience and that your writing leaves me so much to think about. I am so glad that you have had a very blessed few weeks.
    Your sister,

  5. mike halloran says:

    Nathan, that was awesome. Beautful reflections, very inspiring. God Bless You, DAD

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