Monday, May 20, 2013

It Took a Cannonball...

[Detail of mosaic at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church, New York City]

On May 20, 1521, a 30 year old soldier named Inigo de Loyola who was serving in the Viceroy of Navarre's army to defend against an attack by the French on the city of Pamplona. Although the Spanish army was outnumbered, the vain and haughty Inigo wanted to fight on. But a cannonball shattered one of Inigo's legs and broke the other and he needed to be carried home to his family castle in Loyola. 

 It was a long convalescence over several months, and Inigo had nothing to do but read. Inigo preferred the Sixteenth Century version of soap operas--Romance novels, but there were none to be had. All his familial castle had was a book on the life of Christ and a hagiography (book on Saints' lives). Inigo had complications with his convalescence. His leg was set but did not heal, so it was necessary to break it again and reset it, all without anesthesia. The procedure was unsuccessful and attempts to make Inigo battle ready failed and left him with a permanent limp that ended his military career. Moreover, Inigo's health declined and doctors told him to prepare for death. Ignatius grew worse and was finally told by the doctors that he should prepare for death.

 Desperate, Ignatius began to read the religious books. This vulnerable state made the once haughty Inigo to be open to the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God. The more Inigo he read, the more he considered the exploits of the saints worth imitating.

 Inigo noticed that  that after reading and thinking of the saints and Christ he was at peace and satisfied. Yet when he finished his long daydreams of his noble lady, he would feel restless and unsatisfied. The Society of Jesus (a.k.a. Jesuits) consider this to be the beginning of Ignatius of Loyola's conversion and his techniques of spiritual discernment which he later incorporated in the the Spiritual Exercises.

 So it could be said that it took a cannon ball to get Ignatius of Loyola's attention.

Personally, I am satisfied for less dramatic experiences of the divine than being struck by lightning, a cannonball or other such theophanies. But the Spirit works in mysterious ways. 

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