Yesterday Becky Eldridge, one of the writers at dotMagis, asked: What would you say if St. Ignatius came to visit? I can't claim to have ever imagined that scenario before, but I have often wondered about the encounter we might have had in the 16th century. I've always, ever since I was a little girl reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, imagined myself spending time with the people who have populated my imagination, so it's not surprising that I would have done the same with someone whose life work has had such a profound effect in mine.
I wish I were a fiction writer but, sadly, I never get beyond four or five pages. But here's what I think such a story would look like:
Let's make my father in the 1530s the same kind of man that he was in the 1950s: a small business owner (since we're talking 16th century England, we'll make him a textile merchant) with little interest in religion or, especially, in pomp and ceremony, but a passion for educating his children, girls and boys alike.
In a world in which some observance of Christian faith was expected, he might well have been drawn to the Anglican church emerging from Henry VIII's 1529 dissolution of his relationship with the Pope. He would have understood Sir Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher to have been men of integrity and would have been dismayed by their executions in 1534, but he would have thrown in his lot with the Anglicans. He might have liked the Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549. I doubt that he would have been much impressed by what he learned through his European business travels of John Calvin's theology of predestination, but he would have been attracted to the Reformers' ideals of less in the way of church hierarchy, their commitment to simplicity in worship, and their emphasis on preaching in lieu of ritual.
As for myself, I imagine a young woman much like Thomas More's daughter Margaret: literate, educated, and aware of and interested in business and politics. Since in my real life my mother died during my childhood, I would write the story of my 16th century self along the same lines, and see my fictional self by 1550 as a companion and assistant to my father, traveling with him on occasion and more knowledgeable about other European cultures and customs than many of my peers. I would have been comfortable among Jews and Catholics as well as Protestants, due to my exposure through my father's work to worlds beyond my own.
Forward to 1553: Henry's daughter Mary ascends to the throne and, as a follower of her mother's Catholic faith, immediately turns the tables in England and institutes a determined persecution of the Protestants, which will continue until her death five years later, when Elizabeth, Henry's Protestant daughter, becomes queen. At this point, my story takes a dramatic turn. I imagine my father whisking us out of England for an extended business sojourn on the continent in order to elude Mary's henchmen, and I imagine that at some point in 1553 or the next year we find ourselves in Rome.
And I further imagine myself always intrigued, just as I am in my real life today, by different expressions of religious faith, by art, and by music, and wandering in and out of various churches in Rome, sometimes lingering for mass ~ and one day happening to attend a mass at which an intensely serious and yet radiant priest presides. I would have asked around and learned that this priest was named Father Ignatius, and I would have been intrigued by the sense of God that his very person seemed to convey, and would have asked to meet with him.
And then what? Ignatius was very discriminating in discerning to whom to give the Exercises, wanting to be sure that someone was "ready," so I doubt that he would have extended that opportunity to me. But I am a reasonably persistent person, so I imagine that we would have met for several conversations, and then continued to correspond until his death. That scenario might sound a bit presumptuous, but in my real life, I made the Exercises with someone whose reputation would have completely intimidated me, had I known about it at the beginning, so I think that it would be fair to say that my 16th century self would have blundered ahead in the same way with Ignatius himself. (I once asked my spiritual director, some years after the fact, why he had agreed to guide me through the Exercises, and he said, "Because you asked." Desire, even the smallest tidbit of incipient desire, gets you a long way in Ignatian spirituality! But probably Ignatius himself would not have been quite so accommodating.) And Jesuits, just as Ignatius was, are great correspondents, so I have that example upon which to rely in imagining a correspondence taking shape.
In real life, Ignatius died in 1556 and Mary, Queen of England, in 1558. My father and I would have returned to Elizabeth's Protestant England and our family's drift toward a Puritan expression of faith would have commenced shortly thereafter. Perhaps my fictional self would have had a descendant on the Mayflower, just as my real self had an ancestor aboard. I like to think, however, that my fictional self, like my real self, would have experienced a deep and fruitful awakening of faith in conversation with the founder of the Society of Jesus.
Image: According to wikipedia, this is how a young woman of mid-16th century England might have looked!