Tilling the soil
The story of St. Ignatius tells us that after recuperating from having his leg shattered by a cannonball, he asked to have it rebroken and a protrusion sawed off to preserve his handsome physical appearance. His vanity overcame his fear of pain as he underwent the procedure — probably without benefit of anesthesia.
During his recuperation, when he read stories about Christ and the saints, somehow God’s spirit broke through. Ignatius experienced profound religious awareness and the insights he later wrote into the Spiritual Exercises that have influenced millions of people during the past nearly 500 years.
I have often wondered how Ignatius summoned the courage to have that procedure. And it was not his only act of courage. Imagine what it took to change his life direction from soldier to priest. Or what it meant for him to recognize his academic inadequacies and begin taking Latin studies as an adult alongside 12-year-olds. Or how he managed to stand before the examiners at the Inquisition and defend the spiritual path and theology that had become guiding principles of his life. He was imprisoned for his audacity but eventually released. Glimpses of courage abound in the story of Ignatius and the first Jesuits as they began their pilgrimages around the world, meeting people from different cultures.
Many people think courage is something we read about in books and see acted out by characters in movies. Yet, in our everyday experience, courage is evident in how we respond to the dilemmas and crises we face: the senseless, violent death of a young person; a cancer threatening the life of a loved one; the multiple deployments of our military alumni; a divorce that makes no sense; the loss of a job; or so many other examples of painful life turns. Our courage is manifest in our ability to face horrendous situations and still muster forth.
Courage is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; it is one of the four cardinal virtues. Sometimes referred to as “fortitude,” it is that strength within that inspires us to put one foot in front of the other, to open the door to what is on the other side even though we do not know what might await us.
Ignatius had the gift of courage. When he was healing in the castle at Loyola, he likely had no clue of the adversity and possibility that awaited him. He did come to know, however, that Jesus was walking at his side and that Jesus was no stranger to suffering and adversity. That meant everything. He recognized the lavish love of God, which we all share, and that gave him courage to venture forward.
During this Easter season, may that same knowledge of God’s deep and abiding love continue to provide the courage you need for whatever you face in the days ahead.
Dr. Susan Mountin, Jour ’71, Grad ’94, director of Manresa for Faculty, helps us till the soil of faith in a quarterly column on Ignatian values.