Editor’s note: Throughout July we are celebrating 31 days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles available here, posts on dotMagis this month will examine cannonball moments – moments that changed the course of a life, just as the hit from a cannonball changed the course of St. Ignatius Loyola’s life Has. The inspiration for our theme is the Ignatian Year, which marks the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ injury and conversion.
A sudden nosebleed drove me to seek refuge in the men’s room while working. A troubled soul stared at me in the mirror; I had to do something drastic to resolve that.
When I was working in IT in England in 1988, I gradually stopped enjoying my job and was deeply unhappy. Leisure activities such as windsurfing also no longer have any effect. I was forced to look inside, and out of desperation I drove my sports car to a Benedictine monastery on the Isle of Wight for answers. Even as an apostate Catholic, I knew that there would be a retreat house nearby. This weekend was unremarkable in many ways, but there was a moment when I was sitting alone in the chapel at night, only lit by the sanctuary lamp, when I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I had to do something radical to resolve this soul-destroying void. This search led me to the Jesuits a few years later.
I was disillusioned with the yuppie lifestyle of consumerism and superficial living. It had started to eat away at my soul and it went against all the Catholic values I had grown up with. Living on a farm had instilled strong family, religious, and community ties in me. Corporate England was not a good place for me, and I experienced it as stress and some level of depression in my body. In retrospect, I now realize that St. Ignatius would call this devastation. I moved away from God and my true self. Then when I thought about it, I saw a certain sense of pervasive insignificance. All I did in my life was design office software and play the capitalist game, neither of which made me really happy. The deep feeling of discomfort and restlessness was the impetus to revive my fallen faith, to explore my inner workings and to find a direction forward. Something deep inside of me had rebelled against this extreme individualism and consumerism and aroused the suspicion that there was another way of life.
I started attending mass again and took some meditation classes. Eventually I emigrated to Australia to make a fresh start and find answers to the existential questions that preoccupied me. It was there that I discovered spiritual guidance and imaginative contemplation that brought the Gospels to life for me. I was the blind man who sat by the roadside, lost and begging, whom Jesus heard, healed and called to new life. As I spent more and more time at the local Jesuit retreat house, I had a rare feeling of peace and just felt at home. At some point I realized that I was being called to be a Jesuit.
Much later, as a Jesuit novice, I read the autobiography of St. Ignatius and was able to relate very much to his story: the “cannonball moment” that destroyed his dreams and hopes, the discovery of God who worked in him, to turn him into one pulling another direction, and changing lifestyle. I was particularly referring to understanding how God works through the devastation to shake the soul and put the person back on track. I knew that through my uncomfortable experience of devastation, God was working to awaken me, review my life, make decisions, and get back on track. Realizing this was critical to my understanding of Ignatian spirituality. In retrospect, awakening makes me grateful.
Photo of Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash.
Loretta Pehanich says Yo-Ho! Yo-Ho! Ignatian Life for Me in today’s special article for 31 days with St. Ignatius.
Use the hashtag # 31Days with Ignatius on your favorite social media and share your cannonball moments.