One of the most striking images of St Ignatius represents him leaning forward as if into a strong wind with one foot raised. It echoes a letter in which Ignatius says that a Jesuit is one who is to live ‘always with one foot raised, ready to hasten from one place to another, in accordance with our vocation and our Institute.’
This is an appropriate image to end the Ignatian Year. It recalled the wounding in battle and convalescence that led to Ignatius’ personal conversion and to the founding of the Jesuits. After his leg healed Ignatius began his pilgrim years walking through Spain on a journey with many diversions, but with his heart fixed on accepting where God was leading him, that took him finally to Rome.
The image of Ignatius walking with one foot raised is precious to us Jesuits. We who inherit his tradition will also continue walking on a journey whose windings only God know, always with one foot raised, responsive to the changes in terrain and climate.
The image of walking is challenging. It indicates vulnerability to weather, to terrain without sure shelter, to travel without a carriage for cover or for speed, to all the people threatening or welcoming met along the way, to going on a wing and a prayer. It is also a step forward into a world that is never fully mapped, which leads out of a world in which one is comfortable.
The image of the raised foot also suggests attentiveness to where we are placing our feet, to the path and its direction. It is an image of constant discernment, reflecting on where we have come from and where we are called to go, noticing the world around us, the flow of fellow travellers, the inns and hostelries along the way. The needs of the world around us shape our journey.
For Ignatius and the Jesuits the walking always leads to God and involves the following of Jesus. His journey through Galilee and Judaea always took him to people who were in great need and to homes that were receptive to his word. It also took him into conflict with the centres of power and eventually to a journey out of Jerusalem, beaten and carrying the cross to which he would be nailed, a final walk on which he struggled to raise either foot.
For those who inherit the Ignatian tradition, without necessarily inheriting the faith in the God of Jesus Christ which was central to Ignatius, the image of the one foot raised suggests an urgency in our commitment to our fellow human beings that shapes our hearts and what we seek in our work. It suggests both a reflectiveness that keeps in mind what we seek for the people for whom we work and a flexibility in adapting our ways of working and our attachments to meet new needs and new circumstances. All that suggests courage in recognising and responding to the unknown, adaptability, and companionship in recognising ourselves as one part of a shared mission where people always have one foot raised.
And finally, the image of walking is an image of freedom. Of freedom from compulsion and of friendship in a common mission gratefully accepted.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ