This was the second time I visited Montserrat, a mountain range about an hour’s bus ride northwest of Barcelona. The first time was when I was 17 and fortunate enough to be on a trip to Europe with other boys my age. A few months afterward I entered the Catholic religious order known as the Jesuits and stayed there until I was twenty-six.
The name Montserrat means “serrated (as in a knife) mountain.” Hikers are attracted there by the mountain trails and others by the Benedictine Monastery that houses the centuries old statue of Our Lady of Montserrat. You have to get in a long line of pilgrims to that shrine. The line, which is dangerous for people too old to climb the steps, weaves its way up around the main altar of the monastery church up to the statue and then back down again. Photos of that climb, which I made on this trip for the second time, are below.
Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits (second last statue below), was devoted to Our Lady of Montserrat. Also, as you descend the mountain of Montserrat on a bus, a sign points you to Manresa, now an industrial city but historically famous as the place where Saint Ignatius Loyola began to formulate his influential little book called the Spiritual Exercises (last photo below).
The brilliance of Ignatius was in his ability to blend Catholic doctrine with an early Renaissance awareness of the importance in our lives of our “states of mind.” So if we want to “discern” (his word) what it is best that we do, we should pay attention to whether the thought of doing it is accompanied by “desolation” or “consolation.” These words do not mean just “feeling bad” or “feeling good.” Desolation is probably close to what we mean now by a depressed state of mind while consolation is an inward joy deeper inside us than just an emotional high.
Another sign of the great importance of Ignatius in the history of Western spirituality is his desire for the Jesuits, and for anyone who goes through his spiritual exercises for that matter, to balance prayer and action in their lives. The Jesuits were a new kind of religious order in his day in that they were not predominantly monastic–that is largely cut off from the world. Rather their action in the world was to be inspired by their solitary prayer, especially by their noticing of what consoles them and what makes them desolate.
The impact of Ignatian spirituality is evident in the large number of Jesuit retreat houses still in existence named Manresa. Manresa is where the main contributions of Ignatius got their start. They were part of his conversion from the life of a Spanish soldier and man-about-town to one of service to Christ and neighbor.