Today 20 May 2021 starts the Ignatian Year which will last until 31 July 2022. The Society of Jesus and the entire Ignatian family will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of a lost battle, of a wound that for Ignatius meant a failure. Celebrating a failure, is that not odd?
Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier and courtier who was aspiring to great military feats and important positions at court. He was even dreaming of marrying a lady high above his station. His worldly ambitions knew no bounds. On 20 May 1521, he was leading an army defending Pamplona against the French attackers. Hugely outnumbered, the defense was futile, but the vain Ignatius went through with it anymore. A cannonball struck his legs and his dreams of worldly success were shattered.
This moment of apparent failure initiated a long process of conversion in which Ignatius discovered that God had a plan for his life that was much bigger and greater than he could ever have dreamt of. God did not want worldly success for Ignatius, but He wanted Ignatius’ salvation and his commitment to help souls. The cannonball moment was a sudden, hard hit. But the conversion was gradual and never-ending. Only nineteen years later, Ignatius would found the Society of Jesus with his friends in the Lord. Thus, a movement started that continues until today. Ignatius’ life shows that if we let God work in us, greater things than we can imagine will happen.
This Ignatian Year is an opportunity for all of us to stop and take stock. To reflect on our lives and mission, and to let ourselves be transformed and renewed gently by God. It is an opportunity to fix our gaze even more on Christ and thus to see all things new in Him.
Concretely, as academic institutions, we can study the concept of ‘conversion’ from a multidisciplinary angle. We can look at the UAPs and notice how we are transformed and converted by them and where there is still room for growth. The four UAPs are all in one way or another about conversion, about redirecting our lives and putting Christ ever more in the centre.
Ignatius’ experience happened 500 years ago, in quite a different context from our own. But conversion is possible for everyone, no matter his or her background, age, culture… The General Curia in Rome is developing a project called Cannonball moments to highlight this. It consists of short video clips where diverse people share a moment of conversion in their lives to inspire others. We are also developing a website for the Ignatian Year (ignatius500.global), an online prayer for the entire Ignatian Family on 23 May, an animation series on the life and spirituality of Ignatius, a smartphone app to visit the Ignatian places spiritually, and much more. On 12 March 2022 we will be remembering 400 years of the canonisation of Ignatius and Francis Xavier. This will be marked by a celebration in the Gesù in Rome and in many other places in the world. It will be a highlight of this Ignatian Year.