Learning to Trust
By France Griggs Sloat
Matthew Lieser lies curled up in the dirt, shivering, his raincoat offering the only protection against the damp, chilly weather of the Pacific Northwest. Huddled between a row of bushes and a wall of St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Portland, Lieser is scared. Like so many of the homeless, he has nowhere to go and no one to help him.
Then he hears the voices.
It’s 2:00 a.m. The bars are closing, spewing their patrons onto the streets, and three drunken men are sauntering his way. Their voices grow louder as they get closer, and he begins to hear their words. They are shouting obscenities at the Catholic Church. Afraid, Lieser begins praying that he won’t be discovered. But as the voices continue to get louder and closer, Lieser begins to wonder: “Where’s God?”
The 67th paragraph of the Jesuit Constitution directs all Jesuit novices to do a month-long pilgrimage “without money… begging from door to door… to grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging.” The tradition is a lesson in trust that began with the order’s co-founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose own experience of pilgrimage transformed him from a warrior into a man of God.
In America, each of the nine provinces practices its own unique version of the pilgrimage, and none is closer to Ignatius’ original
directive than that of the Wisconsin province. Novices are sent off with $35, a one-way bus ticket and an order to be home for dinner at 4:00 p.m., exactly 30 days later. The cash and the ticket get them only so far. The novices, most in their 20s, must rely on their faith, their wits and the generosity of others to make it through.
It’s an experience that frightens some and energizes others. But the lesson is always the same—personal vulnerability and complete trust in God. Lieser can bear witness.
“I was scared,” Lieser says, recalling his encounter with the drunken men in Portland. “That was the low point of my pilgrimage. I thought, why am I doing this? Where’s God? But it opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of people have to deal with this.”
Lieser, a 2003 graduate, is not alone. Several other Xavier alumni—Jeff Dorr, Julio Minsal-Ruiz, Ryan Masterson—have all wandered through city streets or rural villages on their way to taking their vows. All are now in the First Studies program of academic studies at Jesuit universities in the U.S.
And all are wiser for their experiences. Here are their stories:
[A history of Jesuit pilgrimages]