If you visit the rooms of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome – the very rooms in which he drew his final breath – you inevitably find yourself staring down at a well-worn pair of leather shoes.
Why? Those were the shoes of the man himself: Ignatius the pilgrim.
You might have seen them before. Once you know what they are, what they look like, you discover that they’re on all sorts of Ignatian-inspired materials: brochures, posters, T-shirts, the works.
Two ratty old brown shoes.
If you visit those rooms in Rome, you encounter a life-size bust of Ignatius’ head, documents essential to the early days of the Society of Jesus, artwork and architecture that inspires.
But again and again, it’s the shoes that linger in the imagination. One pilgrim after another walks down those stairs, out onto those Roman streets, thinking: We saw the shoes.
And why? Why do these shoes leave such an impression?
Shoes are an everyday commodity. We all have them, use them. We’ve likely gone through countless pairs over the course of our lives. And as those lives wind on, our shoes get weathered, worn in, torn and tattered.
Our shoes reflect the comings and goings of our very ordinary days. And in those very ordinary days, in those very ordinary shoes, we encounter the Spirit at work. We respond to the Spirit’s invitation. We might quite literally pull on our shoes and rush out the door at the Spirit’s request.
Just as Ignatius did.
But shoes are shoes. If they hold any meaning, any spiritual significance, it is thanks to the life of the person who wore them. Today, on the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we remember a very particular life – and a very particular pair of shoes.
But the spiritual tradition that bears Ignatius’ name reminds us that God is present in all things. God is present in each of us. And consequently, the very ordinary things of our days – the coffee mug, the chewed-up pencil, the car keys, the cat’s food bowl, that well-worn cooking pot – pull us back to God in us in the same way that Ignatius’ shoes lift our gaze to the Spirit at work in him.
So, today, consider Ignatius’ shoes. Consider what it means to be a pilgrim, wandering through the beauty of creation to encounter God and build up God’s dream.
But consider, too, those pilgrim items in your own life. How do they reflect the Spirit’s unique work within you? What simple, ordinary object might future pilgrims pause to ponder when passing through your rooms? How might that object lift their gaze to God?
Happy Feast Day.
In honor of today’s feast, take some time to go on your own virtual pilgrimage with our Ignatian Places video series!
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.