Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re celebrating 31 Days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore cannonball moments—moments that changed the course of a life, just as getting hit by a cannonball changed the course of St. Ignatius Loyola’s life. The inspiration for our theme is the Ignatian Year, which marks the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’s injury and conversion.
A sudden nosebleed drove me to seek refuge in the men’s washroom at work. A troubled soul stared back at me in the mirror; I was going to have to do something drastic to solve this.
Working in IT in England in 1988, I had gradually stopped enjoying my job and was deeply unhappy. Even leisure activities such as windsurfing didn’t work their magic any more. I was forced to look inside at what was going on, and out of desperation I drove my sportscar to a Benedictine monastery on the Isle of Wight to get some answers. Even as a lapsed Catholic I knew that there would be a nearby retreat house. That weekend was unremarkable in many ways, but there was one moment sitting in the chapel alone at night, lit only by the sanctuary lamp, when I had a moment of clarity. I realized I had to do something radical to resolve this soul-destroying lacuna. This search would bring me to the Jesuits several years later.
I had become disillusioned with the yuppie lifestyle of consumerism and superficial living. It had begun to corrode my soul and was against all the Catholic values with which I’d been raised. Living on a farm had instilled in me strong family, religious, and community bonds. Corporate England was not a good place for me, and I felt it keenly in my body as stress and some measure of depression. Looking back, I realize now that St. Ignatius would call this desolation. I was moving away from God and my true self. Reflecting then, I realized a certain sense of pervasive meaninglessness. All I was doing with my life was designing office software and playing the capitalist game, neither of which were bringing me any real happiness. The deep sense of unease and restlessness was the impetus to revive my lapsed faith, explore my inner life, and get some direction forward. Something deep in me had rebelled against this extreme individualism and consumerism, awakening the suspicion that there was some other life path to walk.
I began to attend Mass again and participated in some meditation classes. Eventually I emigrated to Australia to get a fresh start and try to find answers to the existential questions that were bothering me. It was there I discovered spiritual direction and imaginative contemplation that brought the Gospels to life for me. I was the man who was blind, sitting at the side of the road, lost and begging, whom Jesus heard, healed, and called to new life. Spending more and more time at the local Jesuit retreat house, I had a rare sense of peace and simply feeling at home. Eventually it became clear to me that I was being called to be a Jesuit.
Much later as a Jesuit novice, I read the autobiography of St. Ignatius and could closely relate to his story: the “cannonball moment” that shattered his dreams and hopes, the discovery of God working within to draw him in another direction, and the change of lifestyle. I especially related to the understanding of how God works through desolation to stir up the soul and bring the person back on track. I knew that God was working through my unpleasant experience of desolation to give me a wakeup call to review my life, make decisions, and get back on track. Recognizing that has been crucial to my understanding of Ignatian spirituality. Hindsight makes me grateful for this awakening.
Use the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius on your favorite social media, and share your cannonball moments.