Somewhere along the Spanish highway, I was asked if I would read at Mass.
“Sure,” I replied. My gaze never left the mountains out my window. I’m no stranger to the lectionary.
After an hour or so, the bus turned into the parking lot and rumbled to a stop. I grabbed my camera and elbowed my way off the bus, following in the footsteps of my fellow pilgrims. My attention was consumed by the basilica that took up quite a bit of Loyola real estate, and my camera lens was pointed in that direction.
I ran all over the place, getting shots of the statue of St. Ignatius that stands guard at the property’s entrance, filming the basilica from every possible angle and taking a few selfies of myself because there had to be some proof that I had in fact visited the birthplace of Ignatius of Loyola.
The basilica, it turns out, is not the main attraction. Ignatius’ home – not just the place of his birth but also the place of his post-cannonball moment convalescence – feels as though it’s been swallowed up by the surrounding church. We walked under great stone arches and then through much simpler wooden doorways and wound our way up the stairs of the Casa de Loyola.
My camera was running the entire time.
And then, all of a sudden, we were in the room. His room. The literal room where it happened, where he was given nothing but books on Christ and the saints, and where God spoke to Ignatius through those stories. Where God invited the wounded Ignatius to consider a different sort of life.
And I couldn’t film the room fast enough! Mass was just about to begin, and people were crowding my shot…
I begrudgingly put my camera away, tucked the equipment under my seat. Be present, I thought.
Because the gravity of the place began to dawn on me; we stood in this essential site of Ignatius’ own story, his own pilgrimage. The very same. And God was there, again, speaking to us. No different than God spoke to Ignatius.
And then suddenly, I was reading Scripture and realizing that I hadn’t fully appreciated the gravitas of the invitation I had been given, to read God’s stories in the room where Ignatius encountered them, experiencing them in a new, significant way.
I was speaking God’s story into that same space. Pilgrims – of a very different era but cut from a very similar cloth – were there to listen.
I’ve read at Mass many times, and yet, this moment was palpably different, important.
How often we get caught in the routine of our lives. How often we move so quickly – focused on our tasks, viewing the world through camera lenses and iPhone screens – that we miss the sacredness of place. We forget to look for hints of the Spirit at work; we forget to appreciate all that the Spirit has done here already.
We forget to remove our sandals and delight in holy ground.
I didn’t have a profound vision or some life-altering insight while at Mass that day. But I was reminded to center myself, to sink deeply into the moment and into the place. To recognize that the same God who worked wonders in the life of Ignatius continues to work wonders in my life, the life of my fellow pilgrims, the life of each one of us.
A sense of place is just one way in which we can connect to that history, in which we can tangibly grasp the communion of saints. There’s a reason the old saying invites us to follow in another’s footsteps: There’s something significant about place and space.
Oh – and that video. Hopefully you’ll find something useful within it below – even if I did fail to film the actual Mass.