Cannonball moment: a primer on Ignatian Year

May 21, 2021

A photo of the room where Ignatius recuperated after being hit by a cannonball. The sign reads, “Here Inigo de Loyola gave himself to God."On May 20, 1521, Ignatius of Loyola thought he was on his way to chivalric glory.  Something of a natural leader, he had just rallied the Spanish troops to defend the fortress at Pamplona against the French army.  Things did not go well for the Spanish troops, however, who were vastly outnumbered. Inigo himself was struck by a cannonball, which shattered one leg and badly injured the other.  He was taken home on a litter to his home in Loyola, Spain.

Ignatius had always been a man of action and was able to inspire others to get things done as well.  Now he was involuntarily laid up due to a health crisis. He had, perhaps for the first time in his life, uninterrupted quiet and time to reflect on his life.  He asked for chivalric romances to pass the time, but surely to his dismay, the only books available were a Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints.  As he began to read these, he also began to pay attention to the movements of his own heart and started to believe that God was communicating with him in these various movements. 

Most consequentially, he experienced a joy that he believed was given by God associated with the idea of doing what the saints had done and making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to be in the places where Jesus had walked and taught about the reign of God.  On the basis of this experience, he made a break with his former life as a courtier and started off on a new journey.  On the way he gave away his fine clothes to a poor person and took on the simple clothes of a pilgrim. He laid down his sword at an all-night vigil before Our Lady of Montserrat.  The vulnerability of being a pilgrim brought him into closer contact with the poor and he began to feel a new kind of solidarity with them.  On his way to Jerusalem, he stayed longer than planned at a cave near Manresa. Here he experienced more profoundly dramatic fluctuations in the movements of his heart which were helping him to understand how God was at work in his own experiences. He jotted down some notes based on these experiences that would later become his rules for the discernment of spirits, which are central to the dynamic of his Spiritual Exercises and his spirituality in general.

On May 20, 2021, 500 years after Ignatius’ cannonball incident, the Jesuits and their companions around the world began the celebration of the Ignatian Year.  The middle of the year on March 12, 2022, is the 400th anniversary of Ignatius’ canonization, along with fellow Jesuit Francis Xavier and three others.  The year will draw to a close on Ignatius’ feast day on July 31, 2022. 

During this Ignatian year, we will have several opportunities at Detroit Mercy to reflect on the following kinds of questions together:

  • Have you had a “cannonball moment” in your life – an event that stopped your normal routines and allowed you time to reflect on your life and pay attention in a new way to the deeper desires of your heart and what you want your life to be?
  • If so, how did this moment, which might have seemed only negative or a failure at the time it happened, turn out to be a blessing, or a moment of grace? 
  • How did it lead you forward on a new path of solidarity with others, and a deeper desire to love and be of service?

Additionally, there will also be various activities and other events planned to help celebrate this special year and we look forward to everyone from our community participating.

— By Fr. Patrick Kelly, SJ