May 20, a mere nine days from now, begins the worldwide celebration of the Ignatian Year. As announced by Father Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, the year is being celebrated as a way to remind us of our daily opportunity to experience conversion. The Ignatian year begins on May 20, 2021 and ends on July 31, 2022.
The end date coincides with the 2022 feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. But why May 20 as a starting date?
Up until the age of twenty-six, Ignatius described himself as “a man given to worldly vanities, and having a vain and overpowering desire to gain renown, [finding] special delight in the exercise of arms.” He became a soldier, and found himself in 1521 defending the fortress of the town of Pamplona against the French. On May 20 of that year, Ignatius was wounded by a cannonball.
When the injury healed, one of his legs was shorter than the other, with a visible lump where a bone protruded. This was something of a problem for Ignatius. Joseph Tylenda writes that “Ignatius still burned with the desire for wordly renown, but with one leg shorter than the other, and with a ugly bone protruding, how could he wear the close-fitting boots then in fashion? How could he project a dashing knightly image if he had a limp?”
Ignatius solution was to instruct the doctor to cut away the offending bone and to attempt to lengthen the shorter leg. Ignoring the advice of both his doctors and his brother, he was determined to undergo the incredible pain of this plan.
His long recuperation at the family castle in Loyola, Spain was the beginning of Ignaitus’ process of conversion. Rather than longing for riches and worldly exploits, he began to imagine a life lived in imitation of Christ and of some of the saints he read about.
While the prompting of Ignatius’ conversion was a dramatic one, we have all had cannonball moments – experiences where we can look back and say “something happened here”, something that turned me more toward God than I had been before. Indeed, during our lives, we all have many moments of conversion.
So, as we move toward the beginning of the Ignatian year: What is your cannonball moment or moments?