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Alagón to Monzalbarba

As we follow Ignatius’ Autobiography, we are aware today, that in all likelihood, we are near a place where Ignatius recalls a significant point in his pilgrim journey. There is no marker of this crossroads place, as parts of the ancient Camino Real is now a modern asphalt highway. But we are mindful that Ignatius would smile on our wanting to know the exact spot. For there is wisdom in that place.

Along the Camino, Ignatius met a Moor and they engaged in conversation along the way. We might say today that this began as a reasonable, ecumenical discussion. From his Muslim perspective, the Moor appreciated the story Ignatius told him of the Immaculate Conception of Jesus. However, the Moor wondered if Mary could still be considered a virgin after giving birth to a child. Each stuck to their perspective, and the Moor continued ahead, planning to take the village road to Pedrola. As Ignatius approaches the crossroads, he found himself very agitated, and decided that he had not acted to defend the honor of the Virgin Mary.

In “A Pilgrim’s Testament”, he recounts “The longer he thought about the matter, the more his soul was filled with indignation against himself for allowing the Moor to say such a calumnious thing about Our Lady.” Regressing back to his old cavalier ways, the pilgrim decides “to pursue the Moor and kill him”. In the midst of his internal struggle, the pilgrim decides to give the mule he was riding free reign, and let the mule decide what to do.

At the crossroads, if the mule took the village road, Ignatius would kill the Moor. If the mule took the Camino real (the highway), the pilgrim would “allow the wretch to live”. Despite the fact that the “village road was broad and smooth, the mule chose the highway”, and Ignatius is saved from his rash impulsiveness.

Does God somehow step in to guide him to a more neutral, regulated state of mind? Is Ignatius getting better at discerning the movements of the Spirit?

What is clear is that Ignatius is beginning to desire a more radical trust in God’s guidance in his life. He would later develop a method in his Spiritual Exercises for this discernment of spirits, but as we all know, it takes a lifetime to put this in practice.

In our pilgrim journey, we have also found ourselves at the crossroads. Today we followed the Ignatian Camino along the Ebro river. We walked through many miles of fertile river valley and fields of corn, wheat, asparagus, artichokes, and groves of fig and pear trees. This is also a shared section of the camino path where the Ignatian trail goes west and the Santiago trail goes east. Our signs are orange arrows and the way of St. James uses yellow arrows. In the heat of the sun, it is easy to get confused, if you are not alert. We chose the wrong way.

Here in our photo, we had to retrace our steps to get back on track. We were nearing the end of our stage and over five hours of walking, and we were feeling the extra steps. We all went quiet, as we each struggled in our own way to trust that the God of our journey would get us to the end of our day. Thank God we made it to Monzalbarba (from “mazil-barbar”, meaning “settlement of the Berbers”)!

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