The life-sized statue of St Ignatius of Loyola at the Place of Gathering reminds us that Ignatius was once a pilgrim. But Ignatius was also a beggar in his journey of finding God in all things.
After his conversion and recovery from the battle of Pamplona (1521), Ignatius embarked on a new life as a pilgrim. He left his hometown Loyola with the goal of reaching the Holy Land. While waiting for a ship, Ignatius spent some time in Manresa and Barcelona. Three times, he found himself staying in Barcelona. The first time, he put up there for a month to prepare for his trip to Jerusalem. The second trip was the most significant; Ignatius stayed in Barcelona for almost three years.
Ignatius’ dream was shattered when he was not allowed to stay on in the Holy Land. After returning from Jerusalem, Ignatius stayed in Barcelona to further his studies, learning Latin and grammar. During those two years (1524 - 1525), Ignatius begged for money to support himself as a student, sitting on a step of a lateral chapel at the church of Santa Maria del Mar. There is a signage written there today: “Sitting on this stair St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus used to beg alms in 1524-1525.”
A beggar depends on the generosity and kindness of others. In his Suscipe spirituality prayer, Ignatius professed his life-purpose. He learnt to let go of his own dreams, offering all his liberty, memory, understanding and will, begging only for God’s love and grace. He put his trust in God’s generosity and set himself to be generous in serving and caring towards others for God’s greater glory.
In Jesus’ time, the Temple of Jerusalem was the center of Jewish worship. Devout Jews would make pilgrimages to the Temple to offer prayer and sacrifices. Pilgrims were also expected to support the temple treasury. In the Gospel, Jesus had observed how pilgrims made their financial contribution. Those who were rich contributed large sums. Those with lesser means made smaller contributions. Jesus calls our attention to a poor widow who made a small contribution with two coins of little value. He praises her offering since she had put in everything she possessed. Her small offering was an act of profound generosity. She had given from her livelihood rather than her surplus. Likewise, a widow in the first reading responded generously to Prophet Elijah’s request to share her last meal of what little she and her son had to live on. Her generous sharing received a reward of renewed-life; that her jar of meal was not spent nor her jug of oil emptied until the end of the drought.
Giving from our livelihood is not only an act of generosity, but also an act of trust in God’s providence. We learn this not only from the lives of the saints, but also from the lives of our departed loved ones. Jesus himself showed us the ultimate act of God’s love and generosity when he gave up his life on the cross for our salvation.
The image of St Ignatius as a beggar invites us to put our hope and trust in the goodness and kindness of others for our needs. The act of begging is an expression of faith and trust in the goodness and generosity of the God-with-us. Through reflecting on the life of St Ignatius, we learn of his generosity in his letting go of his dreams and nightmares, allowing God’s graces to unfold in his life. What graces would you beg from God today and joyfully share with others?
FR AGUSTINUS TANUDJAJA, SJ