In the week preceding our eight-day retreat in Manresa, we were given a sapiential [from sapientia, wisdom] reading of both Ignatius’ Autobiography and Spiritual Diary. We were to read these two documents in a contemplative manner, as archetypal stories, in which we can recognize our own.

Let us take the battle of Pamplona (30 May 1521). Iñigo de Loyola is just thirty, a brave courtier and soldier who has just convinced his captain to fight off with a few dozen men hundreds of French soldiers. He is wounded in the leg, badly. He is so courageous in the face of adversity that his enemies pay him homage and carry him back on a litter to his castle in the Basque country (it took the men two weeks to reach their goal — an agony for the young man). Inigo who had not given up his dream to be a great courtier does not like the way his leg has been set and has it broken again. Alone in his room, with nothing to do, he asks his sister-in-law, who’s been raising him from the age of 7 till 14 when he left to become a page, to give him something to read. Two books can be found in the house: one on chivalry (fiction) and a life of the saints.

What happened is well-known: he read both books, at first preferring the one on chivalry, which led him to daydream about feats and conquering the heart of a particular noble lady. Then the life of the saints appealed more to him. After a while, he found out that he felt much happier after daydreaming about becoming a saint than being a proud soldier winning his lady’s heart. [It turns out, by the way, that Inigo had been quite a ladies’ man, which he will continue to be all of his life, really. From a ladies’ man to a ladies’ spiritual guide.]

The cannonball changed Iñigo’s life, from a valiant soldier to a limping pilgrim saint. His days at the Court became part of the past; his journey with Jesus started on his bed in Loiola and finished in the Gesu, in Rome, with thousands of miles walked back and forth up and down Europe in-between. During his weeks recovering in his father’s home, his mind went from the Court of the King to the Kingdom of Godde. Regressing to former days, progressing to where he was meant to go.

A question which was given to each one of us during our Immersion Course was: what is the cannonball which shattered my dreams? What grace came out of it? What are the old me and the new me (my words)? Am I progressing or regressing?

Ignatius’ genius is that he was able to notice Godde’s work in his life, to reflect upon it, write about it, and help others with it.

As I reflect upon my life, I notice several cannonballs really. The first one being undoubtedly my father’s death when I was 16. This drastically changed my life’s direction. Every major drama ever since did the same, till I find myself here today…

The other major dream of Ignatius was to go to Jerusalem, live where Jesus had lived, and save souls there. First, the Franciscans did not allow him to stay. Then, life put one obstacle after another on his path. But he understood his need to study to become acceptable (and less scary) to the Church authorities. After many years of studies, he reached his own Jerusalem, which turned out to be Rome, where he did save souls, there and everywhere else where he had developed friendships. He also trained companions to help souls and founded the Society of Jesus.

What is my Jerusalem? That ultimate beautiful goal that cannot be but which morphs into another goal, so different and similar to that original one.

What is your Jerusalem?

All of this just for you to ponder. As I do keep pondering…

One with you in the Risen Christ.

Photo: Ignatius at the Battle of Pamplona