I delivered this talk for the Christian Life Community Asia Pacific online gathering for the start of the Ignatian year on Saturday 15 May 2021.
We start this Ignatian Year in the middle of a global pandemic. Like Ignatius in 1521, our lives have changed course this year. Just as for Ignatius, God is calling us through our experience.
Our beloved Ignatius was hit by a cannon ball 500 years ago this week, while leading his fellow soldiers into battle at Pamplona. Returning to his family home in Loyola to recover, his injuries confined him to a bedroom and he was reliant on the care of others. He asked for books to read: tales of soldiers like him who excelled in chivalry, power and glory. Ignatius accepted the only books available: The Lives of the Saints and The Life of Christ. He began to imagine and daydream over his desires for the future.
Ignatius’ active imagination left him feeling tired. However there was a difference between the two kinds of thoughts he experienced. The desires and dreams for personal glory with armour and romance gave him temporary delight which soon faded away. The desires and dreams toward giving service to God left him feeling deep satisfaction and joy for a long time.
God spoke to Ignatius through his experience. The reflective Ignatius discovered the movements of the heart which lead to God and away from God – his initial grasp of ‘the discernment of spirits’. As insight dawned, Ignatius listened deeply and so heard God’s call. He responded to this call with an open, generous and trusting heart.
The painful injury and long recovery gave Ignatius an opportunity to begin life again. Who he was, what life was for, and how God moved, could all be seen from a new perspective. Ignatius walked away from Loyola as a pilgrim.
This graced story of God at work through injury, pain, transformation and recovery can help us to live this time of pandemic. Pope Francis writes in Let us Dream: “A ‘stoppage’ can always be a good time for sifting, for reviewing the past, for remembering with gratitude who we are, what we have been given, and where we have gone astray. These are moments in life that can be ripe for change and conversion. Each of us has had their own “stoppage”, or if we haven’t yet, we will someday: illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal. As in the COVID lockdown, those moments generate a tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.”
As with Ignatius’ experience, this pandemic has placed a stoppage on our former lives. We no longer travel to the same rhythms as before. We have been at home much more than usual, just like Ignatius at Loyola. Our communities and members have experienced pain, grief, lost jobs, upheaval for livelihoods, long lockdowns, family members contracting the virus, and the deaths of loved ones. Countless things have changed for us, some we do not understand. We have encountered our faith from a new perspective. Some CLC communities rightly describe this pandemic as a defining time in our lives.
In this meeting let us listen to God at work in our hearts. Let us open ourselves to hear God’s call. Let us reflect deeply and share with trust in each other.
We ask God our Lord for grace, that we may live this time with open and generous hearts. Saint Ignatius, pray for us!