St Ignatius of Loyola: a cannonball effect

Saint Ignatius of Loyola is known for having founded the Jesuit order, which counts today more than 15,000 members in 112 countries. Most of them are priests, involved in education, pastoral ministry, human rights, theology, safeguarding of the creation, working with refugees and much more. But the inspiration brought about by this 16th-century Basque nobleman reaches far beyond the order.

Right now, we celebrate a special Ignatian Year. What we commemorate is the 500th anniversary of the dramatic event of Ignatius being wounded fighting for the King of Spain at the battle of Pamplona.

From Ignatius’ own account, his 30-year-old self – soldier and courtier – saw his life shattered when a cannonball crashed into his legs. Afterwards, there was no way he could resume the career into which he had formerly put his ambition. Still a young man, what would he do ? Through a long convalescence, he lived periods of depression, before finding a way forward. It is not dissimilar to some stories heard from Paralympic athletes. Ignatius noticed what happened with his “ups and downs” moods: when it happened, how long it lasted, what he was thinking or reading at the time. His life began to take a new meaning and purpose, in a newly discovered love for Christ Jesus and a way of living his faith encompassing everything in daily life. From this unique experience came what is the heart of his spiritual pedagogy: the Spiritual Exercises. He began to lead people in silent retreats using this ‘pedagogy’, helping each one to progress in interior freedom, listening to God’s voice in the Gospels and discerning their own spiritual vocation.

An invaluable input of the Ignatian spirituality is the prayer of the ‘Examen’, a review of the day – a day seen as a page of one’s Holy History – deepening the relationship with God. It leads to a greater awareness of God present in everything, caring, healing, leading us today as we saw him acting in the Scriptures.

Many are inspired today by Ignatius’ spirituality, meant for everyone. St Andrew is one of the many female religious congregations deeply influenced by it. What we do is directly marked by it. Here in Lewisham, one sister is a counsellor, another supports refugees and trains to teach English to them, another volunteers with the homeless. We meet people for spiritual accompaniment and retreats. We offer a place where God invites us to come aside and rest a while. The events of our programme are watermarked by this spirituality which has shaped each of the sisters. The space for groups coming for an away day fosters quietness for reflection and prayer.

From 21 May 1521, the date of his life-changing wound at the battle of Pamplona, to his death on 31 July 1556, St Ignatius’ life was dedicated to “praise, serve and reverence God from whom we have received everything”, (Spiritual Exercises 23), the impetus for his great desire to do everything ‘for the Greater Glory of God’. This is what we celebrate during the Ignatian Year from the 21 May 2021 to 31 July 2022.

Sr Marie-Christine

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