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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So Much Blessed, So Much Loved

By: Riza Carasig

One of the things that made me excited about the Ignatian Pilgrimage was the five-day retreat scheduled in Manresa. Somehow, I was hoping it to be like a discernment retreat where God would unfold before me His plans; what He wanted me to do; how He desired me to live the coming years of my life. I guess, being a mid-lifer like myself, one naturally begins to be more reflective of how the past years have been lived and more importantly, how the future is to be even more fruitfully lived.

During the retreat, I was blessed to be accompanied by Fr. Salanga who invited me to pray over and revisit my past starting with the most distant on to the most recent – recalling how God moved and was present in those years of my life. As I did this I saw how God’s presence was so real particularly during the younger years of my life. As I looked back at my childhood, for instance, I had seen how God protected me from what could have be very hurting episodes in my life. How God blessed me with plenty during my adult years or how He simply stayed with me when the times became trying and hard– all these were brought back to my memories very vividly. One morning during the retreat, I decided to spend my time at the Basilica of Seu (one of Ignatius’ favorite and frequently visited places). In my prayer, I was asking God how high and wide and deep His love for me was. I said I knew I would not be able to fully measure it but if I could just get a glimpse of it. As I looked up and around the basilica, I was struck with how huge it was, how imposing the structures were, how the beautiful and colorful stained glasses seemed to be telling of many wonderful stories. And in my heart, I began to hear God whisper to me, “tulad nito ang pagmamahal ko sa ‘yo- malawak, malaki, makulay at buhay!” Soon after I realized I was the only person inside the basilica. For some reason there was not a single churchgoer or tourist around at that time. And there I felt how precious I was in His eyes - gazing on me as if He was preoccupied only with me and me alone.

As these thoughts freely flowed into my mind, I was brought back to the moment I first stepped into Santa Casa, the house of Ignatius and La Cova, the cave in Manresa. Both instances that were initially surreal for me turned out to be an overwhelming experience. There was so much awe and joy welling up in my heart as I imagined Ignatius as a baby when I got into the very room where he was born. I imagined Ignatius’ tiny feet running on the same floor I was stepping on. I imagined Ignatius taking his meal at the dining table that I was seeing and touching. I imagined Ignatius reading books on the lives of saints and Christ in the same room where we had our Sunday mass – the room now known as the Chapel of Conversion. At the cave in Manresa, I imagined Ignatius stripped off of everything he had, humbly coming before God and beginning to write one of his greatest gifts to the Church – the Spiritual Exercises.

My experience in Loyola and Manresa and in all the other places where the pilgrimage brought me, was to me a clear and concrete manifestation of God’s love for me through Ignatius. The love that God was describing to me during the retreat – “huge, vast and overwhelming, full of colors and alive” – that was how I would also describe my experience. I joyfully found all my senses in use - I was not only seeing and feeling, I was also hearing and touching every bit of that love in the places I had been. When we left Spain, I thought we had received more than what we could have asked for after being in the house of Ignatius in Loyola and after having our retreat in Manresa and after seeing Madrid, Alcala, Toledo, Avila, Salamanca, Burgos, Javier, Pamplona, Montserrat and Barcelona. But apparently God was not yet done and prepared for us so much more when we moved to Rome. The last leg of the pilgrimage was equally well taken care of by the three Rome-based Filipino Jesuits. We toured the Vatican and the Jesuit Curia and also visited La Storta and the seven basilicas that Ignatius and his companions went to. Finally on our last day, we had our Ignatian walk in Rome and had our closing mass in the very room where Ignatius breathed his last. I thought what could be a more fitting and more meaningful way but to end our pilgrimage this way.

A lot of times during the pilgrimage, I could not help but think of my many Jesuit friends. I could not describe how I felt upon realizing that I got to see even ahead of them the places that were both important and significant to their founder. I felt so blessed for the opportunity yet perhaps there was too a tinge of guilt with the thought. When I took the 19th annotation some years ago, the pilgrimage was farthest from my mind. I became very interested and eventually fell in love with the Spiritual Exercises yet I never thought I would one day see the very place where it came to form. Maybe if there was one thing that crossed my mind, it was that the pilgrimage was too big a dream to aspire for yet God honored a dream that was not even fully articulated. I am not a Jesuit, I can never be and will never be one yet God still gifted me with this privilege. The only contribution I knew I had was my being a CIS lay partner (doing something that I in fact love doing) yet God deemed it more than enough for me to receive this blessing.

I brought with me in this pilgrimage a desire to know the will of God as I move on with my life yet a profound experience of His love was His response. I was hoping to encounter the will of God but instead I encountered the great love of this God who wills. The pilgrimage made me experience in the most palpable way not only the love of God but also the love of this wonderful man named Ignatius. And I must say that the feeling was mutual. For I am certain that I moved out of the pilgrimage more in love with God and more in love with Ignatius and the ministry that he inspired us to do.