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Cannonball moments

It’s the 500th anniversary of Ignatius of Loyola being knocked off his feet by a cannonball and being forced to lie down with his legs up, taking stock of his life, over the summer months of 1521. Check out the video below for an introduction to this Ignatian year.

Because the cannonball moment was what changed Ignatius’ life and turned him into the founder of the Society of Jesus, Jesuits worldwide are keeping this Ignatian year, and encouraging people to consider what might have been their cannonball moment. See this page on YouTube for videos about the 500th anniversary.

Ignatius was a courtier, gambler, womaniser, and fighter, always romaticising about a glorious battle on behalf of a beautiful lady, and he ended up in charge of the defence of Pamplona against the superior numbers of the French. Everyone wanted to surrender to the good deal being offered by French, but Ignatius wanted the glory of a hopeless defence. So the French shot his legs out from under him with a cannonball, and then Pamplona surrendered.

Because they admired Ignatius’s courage, the French carried him hundreds of miles over the mountains and hills back home, during which his legs set in the wrong places. So they had to be broken again, and a large stump of bone which had broken through the skin was amputated – sawn through without anaesthetic! – and he was confined to bed in his father’s farm/castle.

Statue of Ignatius of Loyola in his bedroom

His bedroom is now a chapel in the Spirtuality Centre in Loyola, where I went to do the 35 days of the Spiritual Exercises. Here is a statue of Ignatius in his actual bedroom in Loyola (above), resting with his leg up – just as I was doing when I took this photo! – and receiving a vision of the Madonna of Montserrat.

I went to have a silent retreat at the Society of Mary and Martha at Sheldon in Devon for this period, which included the third anniversary of the sequence of events which knocked me off my feet and led to me stepping down as Dean of King’s after 25 years. This led to my going freelance, and recentering my life away from university admin to research and writing about Jesus and the Gospels. Hence I put on Facebook: I am resting and waiting for the vision God wants to send me.

Pilgrim staff

As always at Sheldon, I spent most of my times of prayer and reflection in the Sanctuary of the Suffering Shepherd, where in the corner is a small copy of the Madonna of Montserrat, with the infant Christ on her lap dressed as King of the Universe. It was before this statue that Ignatius spent all night in prayer as knights were accustomed, but laid down his sword at her feet, and took up instead his pilgrim’s staff – and here is mine (above), which I brought back from my retreat at Loyola.

He left his sword on the altar (and it can still be seen today) and went out and swapped his fine robes with a beggar for his rags, begging bowl and staff. That is why I brought a staff back from my retreat in Loyola – to remind me of being a pilgrim.

Can I lay down all the struggles of the past, especially of recent years, and go out from here to find what adventure God still has for me in the future?