By Mike Gabriele
Pride goeth before a fall. This familiar phrase describes all-too-well a very fateful day on May 20, 1521, when the governor of Spain urged a Basque soldier named Ignatius of Loyola to avoid an unwinnable clash with the people of Pamplona, who were now backed by the French. The arrogant Spanish warrior, however, did not heed this warning. With an ego fueled by wine, women and war, Ignatius was determined to fight. After a bombardment that lasted for six hours, Ignatius of Loyola was cut down by a cannonball through the leg—a cannonball that would change his life forever … and countless lives for generations.
While lying for a year in convalescence waiting for his leg to mend, Ignatius experienced a transformation that finally turned his eyes away from his own selfish desires and toward the call of Christ. Once healed, he set off on a pilgrimage of prayer, reflection, cave dwelling, begging, education, excursions to the Holy Land and finally to Rome. After being ordained with several of his close companions, which included Francis Xavier, they formed the Society of Jesus, an order of the Church that was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 with Ignatius as the first superior general—less that 20 years after that fateful cannonball did its job.
So here we are in 2021, 500 years after St. Ignatius nearly had his leg blown off, coming off a pandemic that severely crippled us as well. If there was ever a time the world at large needed a year of spiritual renewal, this is it. On May 20, the anniversary of that eventful day in Pamplona, the global Society of Jesus embarked on an Ignatian Year dedicated to renewing and rediscovering our Ignatian roots—an opportunity to see all things new in Christ.
Lisa Hastings, director of spiritual direction initiatives for the province’s Office of Ignatian Spirituality, equates Ignatius’ spiritual renewal that followed his tragedy with our own. “The Pandemic caused profound disruption in our daily lives,” she says. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t affected. Yet, out of crisis comes opportunity, and the Ignatian Year invites us to discern our way forward through the focused lens of our Ignatian Spirituality. Where is God calling me at this time, in this place? What does it mean, in this post-pandemic time, to see all things in Christ?”
“The Ignatian Year should be a shared experience,” says Fr. Joseph O’Keefe, SJ, provincial of the USA East Province. “We want this year to be one of spiritual renewal, centered on our Ignatian identity and how our work throughout the province can enhance this even more.”
Work for the Jesuits means a focus on the four Universal Apostolic Preferences: showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises, walking with the excluded, journeying with youth, and caring for our common home. How can this Ignatian Year help target these areas? “When you fold conversations on the four UAP’s into ‘seeing all things new in Christ,’ we have an even sharper focus and reminder for whom we are doing all this,” explains Fr. Michael Tunney, SJ, the new provincial assistant for higher education. “Jesus is still carrying his cross in places next door and in faces worldwide. There is a bounty of ways to respond to the question, ‘What ought I do for Christ?’”
Fr. Jim Conroy, SJ, a founder of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps and former director of the Jesuit Collaborative, agrees that an Ignatian Year is a time to re-think our actions toward social justice. “As Ignatius said, deeds are more powerful than words. There is no ambiguity in compassion—no lack of justice in truth. This is a time when an invitation to be our better selves is balm to the sin-sick soul.”
That is a good description of what the Ignatian Year offers—an invitation. The Jesuits and their lay colleagues in mission are inviting their students, alumni, faculty, parishioners, indeed everyone, to seek new ways of looking at their faith and their relationship with God through others. “Conversion is hard work,” admits Fr. Conroy. “It requires honesty and humility to say to our God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves that I am wounded and incomplete. Help me. Help us. Believers in Christ see what God did for Ignatius and wonder if God would be that good to me?”
The simple answer to that is yes; God calls each of us into a deeper relationship with Him and wants us to experience a transformational encounter that leads to new beginnings. Jesuit schools, parishes, and retreat centers up and down the East Coast can help in many ways. Lisa Hastings is excited at the possibilities. “We hope to see more interest in the Spiritual Exercises and other forms of Ignatian prayer, as well as Ignatian Spirituality experienced through the arts—music, poetry, and theater.”
“God gave Ignatius fresh eyes, a renewed heart and restored vision,” adds Fr. Conroy. “In our time, we ask the same.”
Please visit the JesuitsEast.org website for updates on the Ignatian Year that runs through July 31, 2022—St. Ignatius Day. You can also find information on our many institutions and apostolates that are committed to helping us “see all things new in Christ.”
Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, offers some words of encouragement for our journey together during this Ignatian Year. “We need to put Christ in the center every time, again and again. This process is a pilgrimage along winding roads, up and down, sometimes having to retrace our steps, sometimes feeling lost. But we meet people along the road who indicate the way and reach out their hands to us.”
Thanks to a wayward cannonball, Ignatius journeyed his way through a conversion that led him to lay down his sword and take up a mission to serve others in Christ. What must we lay down to do the same?