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A 'cannonball moment' that changed the world

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Belen Jesuit Prep on feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the new chapel of Our Lady of Belen on the campus of Miami’s Belen Jesuit Prep, on the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, July 31, 2022.

This day’s feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola brings to conclusion a special jubilee for the Society of Jesus: 500 years ago, Ignatius the soldier was injured by a cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona. And 400 years ago, Ignatius was canonized a saint. Today, July 31, is the day of his birthday into Eternal Life. And today we also celebrate a total of 300 years of priestly service of six Jesuit priests who celebrate their golden jubilees: Fathers Pedro Suarez, Eduardo Barrios, Pedro Gonzalez, Manuel Maza, Alberto Garcia, and Willy Arias. This beautiful chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Belen, which I consecrated in May, and its organ, which I blessed at the beginning of today’s Mass, are certainly fitting ways for Belen Jesuit to commemorate the Ignatian Jubilee of 2021-2022 and its 60 years in Miami.

The theme of this Ignatian jubilee has been “To see all things new in Christ.” Ignatius began to see things new in Christ during the time of his convalescence. His injury perhaps represented a failure – his failure as a soldier. It was certainly a disruptive moment – because all his plans were upset. He was forced to reexamine his chosen priorities. There’s a proverb that says, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. A cannonball changed the course of young Inigo’s life – and changed the world. His battlefield wound and his convalescence in his family’s castle in Loyola resulted in his conversion – and the process of this conversion led to the formation of the Society of Jesus and gave birth to the Spiritual Exercises which have led to the conversion and spiritual growth of successive generations of Jesuits and many, many others.

A “cannonball moment” afforded Ignatius the grace of conversion which allowed him “to see all things new in Christ.” I am sure that most of us – and certainly our golden jubilarians – can speak of their own “cannonball moment” in which we responded to grace that gave our lives a whole new direction, new priorities, and new plans.

Of course, it didn’t have to turn out this way. Grace can be resisted – and sometimes refused. Ignatius could have allowed himself to wallow in self-pity, to curse his bad luck in having been wounded in battle. But thankfully he read a Life of Christ, and the lives of the saints that gave him a new horizon, a new viewpoint from which to see things anew.

The world in which Ignatius lived might seem far removed from our own. But his experience can teach us how to deal with those disruptive moments in our lives, those times when our carefully made plans are frustrated through what he would call a discernment of spirits. St. Ignatius can show us how our disappointments or seeming setbacks can be “cannonball moments,” occasions of grace and conversion.

These are unsettled times – we speak of the “great resignation” – thousands of people have quit their jobs. Nobody can say where all the truck drivers have gone, our airline pilots, or waiters. And, of course, in the past three years or so, we have experienced a global health crisis, social unrest, economic uncertainty, political turmoil, and cultural warfare. As Pope Francis has said on several occasions, we are living not through an era of change but through the change of an era. Ignatius can help us navigate the stormy waters through which we are sailing – through his prayers to be sure but also through the tools he left us to reflect on these “cannonball moments,” to re-examine our lives and our chosen priorities. A discernment of spirits can help us make sense of the turmoil around us – the ideological colonization, the globalization of indifference, the polarization in both Church and in society – and to see all things new in Christ.

As the Gospel reading for today’s feast of St. Ignatius makes clear: If we are to follow Jesus, it must be on his terms – and not on ours. To walk in the company of Jesus means the giving up of self-interest and competing loyalties. A Jesuit education, which is what Belen Jesuit is about, attempts to form “men for others” through a three-fold process: being attentive, being reflective, and being loving. This leads to good decision making or what could also be called that discernment that brings us closer to God and to his will for us. As Jesus says: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me, he cannot be my disciple.”

To hear the same Jesus who tells us to love our enemies that we must hate our parents and families can be a bit jarring to some unfamiliar with Semitic idioms. But to be a disciple of Jesus means that he is to be preferred before all others. To answer Jesus’ call, “Follow me,” is both a gift and a demanding task only possible through conversion of our minds and hearts, a conversion that allows us to embrace the cross and “to see all things new in Christ.”