In a Jesuit.ie video, the late Michael Paul Gallagher SJ talked about the language of a spiritual journey that is needed today: I take this chance to express a language of my own journey that may contribute to this current conversation.
The renowned Jesuit academic said, “I’m not terribly at home with all this talk about a new evangelisation, I would want to talk about a new pre-evangelisation, about helping people to be ready for the surprise that might be Christ. And there’s a whole journey of getting to the threshold.” Does this ring a bell for us? Did our spiritual journey begin with a sudden encounter with Christ or was there much preparation needed to get to this point? Indeed are we still on a journey of getting to the threshold?
Fr. Michael Paul continued, “I think we start with assumptions of where people are that are simply not about where they are, and I think Jesuits have a sense of that longer, slower, human, spiritual, gradual journey towards the threshold where they might be surprised by God.” Do we jump the gun with assumptions of where our Catholic or non-Catholic brothers and sisters are at? Do we label people with titles such as regular mass goers; agnostics; and atheists? How can we connect with another person’s spiritual journey?
I can relate to this idea of getting to the threshold where I became surprised by God and I am grateful for the many Jesuits who have travelled this road with me. My spiritual journey actively began in May 2009 when I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain alone. I ended my career in psychology at this time which I put a lot of time and energy into and so the Camino was a chance to find space and to catch up on life. I felt great freedom when I began the trip with a rucksack and boots, I was soon on the old pilgrimage route where I greeted others with “Buen Camino” literally translated as “Good Road.” I met an Irish girl early on who was fed up with this repetitive greeting but for me it was a brief means to connect with others.
I ate dinner with another pilgrim on the first day after my walk alone. I felt shy around this stranger since he was curious in nature but he also respectfully gave me space. After watching the sun set on a small rural town, I returned to my hostel and slept. I followed the routine of the Camino over the next few days: I walked from the early mornings; stopped for coffee; checked-in to hostels; hand-washed my clothes; napped; ate dinner; and went to bed. There was a comfort to these certainties but what I thought of and how I felt during the days were not so predictable. I often lived in the future as I pondered what to do next in my life but each step along the path was probably enough in itself.
I befriended two Irishmen during the first week: a farmer who was a husband and a father on his own and a single Dubliner in his early thirties. We shared a beer and banter, and we began to exchange stories on the state of our feet where blisters were almost inevitable. Further along the route, I met a Canadian mother and daughter; there was a different kind of intimacy between us where we described the emotional state of our lives. At another hostel, a larger group gathered from other continents and we became supportive of one another over the next couple of weeks.
A week towards the finish line, I visited a church on a hill and the natural light beamed in from behind the altar. Even though I had not been to mass for some time, I remember the sense of peace that I felt. I also talked to companions about my experience of Jesuits and how my spirit felt uplifted in their presence. One day it poured down for the whole walk and I sang a familiar chant which stemmed from my Catholic upbringing. When I finished the Camino and when we relaxed next to the beach, I awoke during the nights and jotted down notes on a diary; these notes expressed a yearning for something deeper, a connection with my spiritual self.
I returned to Ireland with little clarity for my future but I developed a hunger for my spiritual journey. Months later, I attended an advent retreat at Manresa Centre of Spirituality in Dublin and the exchange between other young people there gave me strength and calm. I pressed the acceleration button, if you like, as I then joined the Jesuit Volunteer Community (JVC) in Ballymun, Dublin and I entered the Jesuit novitiate in Birmingham, England. I finally reached the threshold of my faith as a novice when I realised that perhaps God was in all things. My novice master noted, “This is an exciting time for you,” and indeed he was right.
Here is my personal prayer today which represents my spiritual journey from the point where I became surprised by God. “Dear Jesus, I am inspired to find you in all things: in my family, friends, career, hobbies, nature and so on. Make me pure so that I may see through your eyes. Let me do nothing that turns my back from you, especially not through any sin of the brain or the body which I hate with a passion. Give me light and encouragement today. I say yes to your eternal love Jesus, yes, yes, yes. Amen.”