Yesterday, Fr. General Arturo Sosa opened the Ignatian Year in Pamplona with a solemn mass. This is the homily he held during the mass.
“On the day when the bombardment was expected, he confessed to one of his companions in arms. After the bombardment had lasted a good while, a shot struck him on one leg, shattering it completely.”
This is what Ignatius of Loyola says in Rome when he is asked to recall his life. These lines are found at the beginning of his Autobiography, sparing himself from speaking about the previous thirty years. Tradition has placed this event on 20 May 1521, 500 years ago today. Five hundred years is five centuries; a long time. Therefore, our first reaction to this anniversary is one of astonishment and gratitude. We owe multiple thanks: to God, who blessed and accompanied the journey of this “young adult” Inigo until his death in 1556. To the Jesuits who have preceded us, for transmitting from one generation to the next, the charism of the Order founded in 1540. To all the other men and women who have been and are living witnesses of the spirituality inspired by Ignatius of Loyola. During these five centuries, the Holy Spirit has been present giving light and strength to our predecessors. All these deserve our heartfelt thanks.
Would Inigo have been “a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent man” before this cannon ball injury, as we have just heard from St. Paul? Even if these terms do not apply to him, we know that he lived for himself and what he calls “the vanities of the world”. Nevertheless, he was, at the same time, a Christian who went to confession before going into a battle of some importance such as the siege of Pamplona. He had an experience of faith and followed religious practices learned as a child. However, like St. Paul, Christ Jesus his Lord, intervened at the right moment, made him capable, trusted him and entrusted him with a ministry by taking him into His service. Moreover, he had compassion, and the grace of the Lord, together with the faith and love that have their foundation in Christ Jesus, abounded in him. And we also know that in His own way, the Lord showed patience and favor to Ignatius, so that he could become a model for those who would follow him, to believe in God and thus have eternal life.
During this Ignatian Year that begins today, 20 May, precisely on the day on which the Church remembers St. Bernardine of Siena, the great propagator of devotion to the name of Jesus, we will have the opportunity to go to the origins of this conversion of Ignatius, both in Loyola and in Manresa. Like St. Paul, he acknowledges that he was a sinner, a sinner saved by Christ. Moreover, he gives thanks to God for his conversion and his new life. The newness, as for all converts is, above all, Jesus Christ. No more is Ignatius indifferent to whether he lives without Christ or with Him. This is the difference between before and after. The novelty of the Lord is decisive; it is what will decide his future. To be with Him, to know Him, to love Him and to follow Him is what makes him realize that he is no longer the same, and that this newness is worthwhile, that his life is at stake. Ignatius then allows himself to be led by God. This meant that the young Basque would no longer want to be the protagonist of his future, nor seek his own glory. He allowed God to guide him, as he would admirably do when writing the book of the Spiritual Exercises, a manual of encounter with God in which its self-sacrificing author remains in the background.
The reading from the book of Deuteronomy helps us to better grasp this change. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, Israel tries to rebuild its faith. To do so, it repents, turns to God with all its heart to listen to His word and recovers its hope in Him. Consequently, it emerges from its ruins, opting for life over death and for good over evil. Something similar happened to Ignatius after the cannon ball shattered his leg and destroyed his superficial search for happiness in himself alone. It paved the way for him to emerge renewed after the process of conversion.
“Seeing all things new in Christ” is the motto we have adopted for the Ignatian Year. Thanks to the newness that Jesus Christ brings with His life and His message, everything else takes on a new meaning. It is not that life loses its hardness or its difficulty – we are living it all over the world with the pandemic – but that we find a way of dealing with it. Helping to live life well is the aim of the four integral elements that the Society of Jesus now proposes as the Universal Apostolic Preferences. They are meant to permeate all our evangelizing action. Thus, all things must serve to show the way to God, but especially the means so dear to Ignatius: the Spiritual Exercises and discernment. As Ignatius did, we are to strive for reconciliation and justice, an attitude inseparable from closeness and friendship with the poor, in everything we do. Accompanying young people in their quest for a hope and God-filled future and taking care of creation so that the work of the Spirit present in it can bear much fruit are part of our quest to see all things new in Christ. As I say, the newness of Christ that led Ignatius to work so that the Kingdom of God would become more manifest, is the same one that in this Ignatian Year we hope will lead each one of us, Jesuits and our friends, in this mission of the Church.
The Psalm reminds us of the goodness of the Lord’s commandments: they are enlightening, righteous, restful to the soul, gladdening to the heart, more precious than gold and sweeter than honey. They are faithful, instructive and true words of eternal life. They constitute God’s very desire for us, what we call His will. This is something that the persevering pilgrim of Loyola will not tire of seeking after he was wounded at Pamplona, convinced that it is possible to find it and re-find it. We could say that for Ignatius, this exercise is the confirmation of being alive, moving from one beginning to another, but each time with greater freedom and inner audacity.
There is no doubt that Ignatius would have assimilated throughout his life the enthusiastic and generous phrase of Jesus’ disciple: “I will follow you wherever you go”. Since his conversion, he learned that being with the Lord and walking by His side was more important than the necessary concreteness of the place and circumstances in which to work. His love and grace were enough for him. Authentic consolation would always lead him wherever it was necessary to go and stay at any given moment, to Jerusalem or Rome, for example. Applying the Gospel to him, Ignatius did not put his hand to the plough and look back. He understood already from his providential healing in Loyola that his following of Jesus would mean abandoning so many of the material, family or social securities he might have enjoyed, in order to enter fully into the “way of proceeding” of Jesus himself. With poverty of spirit and at times material poverty, he wanted to conform himself to Jesus Christ by adopting the essential characteristics of His life, and not putting conditions, as do the other two characters in today’s Gospel. He wanted his proclamation of the Kingdom to be “in poverty”, aware as he was of his fragility that the cannon ball in Pamplona revealed to him. This led him to put his trust in God.
Before continuing with the Eucharist, I do not want to miss an occasion that occurs in few places, and that allows us to combine a devotion that is widespread throughout the universal Society with the devotion to the patroness of the place. I am referring to Our Lady of the Way both in Pamplona and in the Church of the Gesù in Rome, both of which contain an invocation that is very appropriate for today. With more insistence than ever, then, let us ask Our Lady to accompany and bless our journey during the Ignatian Year, as she did with Ignatius, wounded in Pamplona five hundred years ago.