I have heard the guidelines of a Jesuit man’s pilgrimage – “nothing but the clothes on your back, a bus ticket to an unknown destination, a small amount of cash, and trust in God” – described as “a mother’s worst nightmare.” For a woman making this journey in a world where there can be, unfortunately, a safety differential between men and women, a mother might worry even more. This is not a reason not to make the pilgrimage – but it is a reason to be even more thoughtful, careful, and prayerful (in other words, discerning) about the pilgrimage that one makes.
The pilgrimage is not a test of will, wits, or endurance, though it may feel like that at the outset. It is a journey with Jesus, who does not wish us harm. These are some safety guidelines developed for my novice’s pilgrimage in collaboration with my mother, and with men who have both made the pilgrimage and prepared others for it. These guidelines are not hard-and-fast, but they helped me make good decisions. (They are also mother-approved.)
- Make the 30-Day Spiritual Exercises first. The Pilgrimage is an extension of the Exercises – an experience of God’s love and providence on the road. What God reveals to an aspiring Jesuit in her Exercises will both help and make more sense on this next discernment journey.
- Make another, shorter retreat just before the pilgrimage. Typically a person who has made the 30-day Spiritual Exercises will make a yearly 8-day retreat to continue the process of living them. It helps to make a shorter retreat of any length before embarking on the pilgrimage.
- Take an ID and a letter of introduction, with emergency contacts. It is not romantic to say, “the clothes on your back, a bus ticket, $20, an ID and a letter of introduction with emergency contacts.” No surprise here – the Jesuit tradition is all about practicality. These will also prove important if you want to use the internet at a public library, volunteer, or get temporary work – all of which are allowed!
- Don’t hitchhike.
- Don’t sleep outside.
- If you arrive in an unfamiliar place at night on the bus, stay in the bus station until morning.
- Practice discernment. Trust your gut about the motivations of people who approach you. God gave us guts and intuitions for a reason.
- When in doubt, go to church. God is not only in church, but church is often a place where people are open to pilgrims. And it is a place to regather and recover one’s peace.
- Practice patience. No need to rush to the next destination. To quote one mentor, “Prudence allows for providence.” Patience also helps to reduce our human tendency to lose the present for our plans. Pilgrimage is 90% about where we are, and 10% about where we are going!