Draw lessons from St. Ignatius’ cannonball experience, Pope says

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Pope Francis delivers a message to an online prayer service marking the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola, in this still image taken from video released by the Vatican May 23, 2021. The pope said God's plans for individuals are greater than the plans they have for themselves. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) — Sometimes a person’s dreams and aspirations go up in smoke, but God always is there with bigger and better plans, Pope Francis said, pointing to St. Ignatius of Loyola as an example.

“In Pamplona, (Spain), 500 hundred years ago, all Ignatius’ worldly dreams were shattered in an instant” when he was hit in battle. “The cannonball that wounded him changed the course of his life, and the course of the world,” Pope Francis said in a video message May 23.

The pope, a Jesuit, joined his confreres, members of other orders of women and men who follow Ignatian spirituality, lay collaborators and others for an online prayer service as part of the Ignatian Year marking the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius’ conversion after being wounded in battle.

“That cannonball meant that Ignatius failed in the dreams he had for his life,” the pope said, “but God had a bigger dream for him. God’s dream for Ignatius was not about Ignatius. It was about helping souls. It was a dream of redemption, a dream of going out into the world, accompanied by Jesus, humble and poor.”

Father Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits, introduced the prayer service by explaining that while St. Ignatius’ conversion started with a life-changing event, it was a gradual process that lasted throughout his life.

“Ignatius learned on his way that conversion means to be available and open to God, to be trusting, laying his life completely in God’s hands,” Father Sosa said. That involved repeatedly setting aside his own ideas and preferences “to put Christ at the center.”

“The same thing happened with the founding of the Society of Jesus,” he said. “Things didn’t go smoothly like in some sort of business plan, rather it was a continual listening to the Spirit and a daily conversion, not putting a focus on the society as an institution, but on Christ.”

Usually, Father Sosa said, discernment and help in the continual process of conversion is aided by other people one meets along the way and through whom God works.

Pope Francis, in his message, said that “discernment does not consist in always succeeding from the beginning, but rather in navigating and having a compass in order to be able to set out on the path — which has many twists and turns — but always allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, who leads us to the encounter with the Lord.”

“On this earthly pilgrimage, we meet others like Ignatius did in his life,” the pope said. “These other people are signs that help us to stay on course and who invite us to convert again and again.”

“Conversion always occurs through dialogue — dialogue with God, dialogue with others, dialogue with the world,” he said.

Pope Francis prayed that all Christians who are inspired by Ignatian spirituality would continue their journey of conversion together, helping one another draw closer to Christ and reaching out to others as well.

“Only Jesus has shown us the way. We help each other to find and follow this path,” the pope said. “No one is saved alone; either we are saved as a community or we are not saved.”