A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Good Old St Ignatius

by Joy Cowley

A favourite millennium joke concerns a tableau staged in Heaven to celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Christ Jesus. As I remember it, it goes like this:

It was a great celebration. The angels were in fine voice, and Jesus consented to be a baby again. He lay in Mary’s arms while Joseph sat to one side, smiling protectively. One by one, the Saints advanced, bringing gifts to the young King of Kings.

St Ignatius
by Peter Paul Rubens

St Francis came barefooted, carrying a little white dove which he placed at Mary’s feet. The angels sighed with pleasure.
Then came St Thérèse of Lisieux with a bunch of roses. Oo-ooh! went the angels again.
Big Teresa of Ávila walked across, carrying all her original manuscripts. The angels were very impressed. Aa-aah! they cried as St Teresa offered her writings.
And so it went on.
Finally, in came St Ignatius of Loyola. As he limped towards the Holy Family, the angels noticed his hands were empty. No gift! This sent ripples of shock through the angels. They nudged each other. Typical Jesuit!, they muttered.
Worse was to come. Ignatius ignored Mary and Jesus. He walked straight past them and stopped on the other side of Joseph. Then he leaned over and said in Joseph’s ear, “Have you thought about his education?”

It’s a good story, but the reversal lies in the fact it was Jesus who taught Ignatius of Loyola. 

St Ignatius’ Conference Room, in which he died

A nobleman and soldier, Ignatius was crippled by a cannon ball. With broken bones and ambitions, all he could do was lie in bed, read, think and dream. It was the life of Jesus in the gospels that spiritually mended and reshaped his life.

I can connect with this. I’m made aware of the ways God has sent cannon balls to disable my plans for myself. Some of you will know exactly what I mean.

It can be a literal blow – accident, illness, sudden loss or failure. Whatever, we are made helpless. Some part of ourselves has gone and even prayer seems empty. The phrase “feeling gutted” becomes reality.

Then the resurrection happens. Like Lazarus we stagger out of the tomb, dropping our bandages. There is new life in us, something bigger than what has been taken away, and given time we may well think that the ‘cannon ball’ was the best thing to happen to us.

As for Ignatius? Well, 30 years ago, Br Marty Williams SM showed me around Rome, and the most cherished memory was seeing the room and bed where St Ignatius died. Both were bare, starkly beautiful in their poverty. I gazed at the little iron bed, knowing that the man who had lain on it, was very different from the man bed-ridden with a shattered leg. The wounded soldier had been small; the man who had died in Rome was spiritually immense.

The plaque marking the place where St Ignatius died

I still think about that. I imagine the younger Ignatius unable to walk, in pain and helpless, and Jesus whispering in his ear, “Have you thought about your education?”   

This piece was originally published by CathNews NZ Pacific on 4 December 2017. It is used with permission.


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