For as long as I can remember, I have appreciated St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spirituality. Almost five years ago, though, I came to appreciate Ignatius in a new way when I sustained life-changing injuries. Listening to his autobiography as I was convalescing gave me new insights into the person of Ignatius, and I found myself befriending this saint anew.
Here are nine reasons why anyone who is suffering from pain or unexpected changes in life plans may find it helpful to befriend St. Ignatius.
St. Ignatius understands:
- Pain. After the cannonball struck his leg and shattered his femur, Ignatius underwent three surgeries to reset it. Remember, there was no anesthesia in that day! Ignatius most certainly understands pain.
- Isolation. While Ignatius lay in bed convalescing, his family and friends continued on with their lives. Ignatius’s training for life at court was a memory, as were his days rabble-rousing with his buddies. His injuries isolated him from his world.
- Loss. After two surgeries, Ignatius was repulsed to see that his femur was sticking out above his knee. Still thinking that he was destined for life as a tight-wearing courtier, he requested his doctors shave down and reset the bone again so that it would not protrude under his tights. Sometime after that third surgery, he came to the realization that his dream of being a courtier would not be realized.
St. Ignatius recognizes:
- How God’s grace breaks in. As Ignatius was working through the loss of his dream, God planted the seed of a holy desire in his soul. When Ignatius asked for chivalric romance novels to pass the time, his sister-in-law brought him the only two books in the house: The Life of Christ and one on the lives of the saints. As he read about the saints, he thought, “If they can do it, I can do it!” By all accounts, the younger Ignatius would never have imagined wanting to be a saint.
- That the path isn’t without bumps. In his zeal for his new calling as a “soldier for Christ,” Ignatius suffered from scruples. Despite having made a full general confession to his confessor at Montserrat, he was in such mental anguish and so tormented by obsessive thoughts, that he considered throwing himself out a window. Psychologists have also posited that Ignatius suffered from severe depression during this period.
St. Ignatius knows:
- Determination can help one keep going. Because his leg was shortened during his third surgery, Ignatius walked with a limp and endured chronic pain for the rest of his life. A glance at his worn shoes reveals just how uneven his gait was. Yet, he didn’t let disability hold him back. Ignatius still walked all over Spain, Jerusalem, France, and Rome as he sought to do God’s will. It seems that Ignatius’s determination on his new mission superseded the pain.
- How to keep the faith when life throws curve balls. After Ignatius committed himself to serving God, he was initially surprised to find that it was still not all smooth sailing. He had thought he would serve in the Holy Land but was turned away nearly as soon as he entered. Yet, from the time of his conversion, Ignatius was always discerning the next best steps according to God’s plan, no matter what life threw at him. He carefully cultivated freedom from attachments, which allowed him, at least by his later years, to pivot gracefully.
- God’s healing love. The more he gave God the freedom to work in his life, the more Ignatius became inflamed with gratitude for God’s love. While he would suffer the physical effects of the cannonball strike for the remainder of his life, Ignatius’s reminiscences reveal a wholeness of mind and spirit that could only be attributed to the divine hand.
- Ignatius is a witness to hope. Ignatius’s generosity of spirit in response to the cannonball strike gave way to a partnership between him and God that left an immensely rich legacy through the Society of Jesus and The Spiritual Exercises and his other writings. Ignatius’s life story, particularly his response to suffering and change, gives witness to a joy-filled and life-giving hope rooted in Christ.