Province Celebration of the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola
30 July 2006
Fr. Johnny Go S.J., School Director
When was the last time you engaged in a little daydreaming? When was the last time you asked yourself, “What if I were…, or what if I did…?” St. Ignatius himself asked a couple of “What if?” questions when he was recovering from his broken leg. Iñigo, as he was known then, had decided to play hero at a battle at Pamplona, but thanks to that now famous cannonball, he ended up instead being carried back home on a litter. Bored and bedridden in the Castle of Loyola, he read–of all things—two religious books because they were the only books he could get his hands on. When he got tired of reading, he daydreamed. He daydreamed about worldly things—about a lady, for instance, that he was infatuated with, and he wondered, “What if I did this or that for her?”
But he also daydreamed about hermits and saints, of becoming like St. Francis and St. Dominic, of imitating their heroic deeds for God. He asked himself, “What if I too did this or did that for God..?”
For Ignatius, it all began with daydreams. You see, when that cannonball shattered his leg at Pamplona, it had also actually shattered his dreams—his dreams of worldly honor and fame, of serving kings and pursuing women. Lying in bed crippled at the age of 26, he could have indulged in self-pity, and brooded endlessly on what could have been. But thanks to God’s grace and thanks to what we may call his “holy daydreaming,” he discovered new dreams in the very places where his old dreams lay in ruins.
Those first “What if?” questions gave him the audacity to leave Loyola and his old life behind, and to—both literally and figuratively—learn to walk again. This holy daydreaming would actually characterize and shape the itinerary of his life. Whenever he met a roadblock on his journey—and he encountered numerous roadblocks—he would ask his “What if?” questions and look for new possibilities. And eventually he would discover in those very dead ends new and unexpected paths. It was also this capacity to daydream that gave him the courage to take those apparent detours to continue his journey.
When Iñigo left Loyola, his big dream was to go to Jerusalem, to visit the holy places and, in his words, “to help souls.” But as it turned out, the Franciscan friars in Jerusalem would have none of it because they were concerned about the danger that he might cause himself and others. Threatened with excommunication, Iñigo left Jerusalem. He could have sulked or even thrown a tantrum. He could have questioned himself about his own limitations and headed back to Loyola to resume his old life. Instead he asked himself: “What if I study first?” Maybe, he thought, he would be taken more seriously, and maybe he would be able to help more people.
And so he returned to Spain: In Barcelona, at age 33, he found himself in a classroom full of preadolescent boys learning how to conjugate Latin verbs. In Alcala and Salamanca, where he continued his studies, he would, on the side, give his Spiritual Exercises and converse with others about God. For engaging in these spiritual activities, however, Iñigo fell under suspicion from the Inquisition and was imprisoned not once, but twice. He must have been bewildered, if not discouraged, by the harassment he was getting. He could have complained about the kind of Church he had to deal with, and he could have given up. But instead he asked: “What if I just move to Paris to study at the university there?” At least there, he thought, he would be beyond the reach of the Spanish Inquisition. And so, once again in the face of yet another setback, he sought new possibilities. Once again, God used his what if’s to lead him in his journey.
In Paris, it was also through his imagination that he eventually discovered what God wanted him to do. It was there that he met his roommates, Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, his First Companions. He immediately recognized the obvious holiness of his roommate, the gentle Peter Faber, who helped him with his lessons in philosophy.
But it probably took a lot more imagination on his part to see something in his other roommate, the intelligent but worldly and ambitious Francis Xavier. He must have taken one look at Xavier and wondered, “What if…?” And in true Ignatian fashion, he must have proceeded to explore those possibilities. Ignatius’s what if’s also helped him to discover the promise that lay hidden in other people.
In 1534, six companions, including Faber and Xavier, joined him in taking vows of poverty and chastity in the chapel at Montmartre at a Mass presided by Peter Faber. Together these “friends in the Lord” resurrected Ignatius’s old dream of going to Jerusalem to devote their lives “for the good of souls.” But as they waited in Venice, they saw that their dream of Jerusalem might not be realized because of the war with the Turks. They could have complained about the political situation. Instead, taking their cue from Ignatius, they stepped back to take one good look at their Jerusalem dream and asked, “What if we go to Rome instead and put ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Father?”
And so after a year had passed and Jerusalem continued to be inaccessible, they did just that. Ten years later, Ignatius and his companions formed a new religious order called the Society of Jesus.
Who would have thought that this limping pilgrim who left Loyola to set off for Jerusalem would end up founding and heading what would later be one of the largest and most influential and controversial religious orders in the Church? Certainly not Ignatius. And certainly if he had not continually asked those “What if?” questions, Ignatius could have given up early on in his journey.
His “What if?” questions gave him the vision to see new possibilities in his life even amidst failures and the courage to explore them. His daring imagination, his great and holy desires, expressed in those initial “What if?” questions, made all the difference in his life.
Now, what his “What if?” questions had done for Ignatius and his First Companions, they also did for the Society they founded. If we look at the history of the Society of Jesus, we will see how this Ignatian brand of holy daydreaming has always characterized its mission and made possible its accomplishments. The Society did not allow its own limitations, or the limitations of the Church or the states that they dealt with to stop them from seeking new possibilities of serving God and people.
When we think about it, Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality of what if’s—a spirituality about desiring more, about daring to dream to do and to be more. It’s all about an almost stubborn optimism that seeks opportunities amidst failures and stretches the possibilities it finds, all for the greater glory of God. After all, for Ignatius, God labors in the world through all its evolutionary detours and dead ends, and He works no less in human history even through all our weaknesses and wickedness. This daring, optimistic, holy daydreaming characterized the First Companions, just as it has always characterized the best of the generations of Jesuits and lay collaborators that followed them.
What the “What if?” questions did for Ignatius and the Society of Jesus, they can also do for us today. “What if?” questions can also give us the creative vision to see hidden opportunities in the worst of situations and hidden potentials in what seem like the worst of people. They can alert us and open us up to God’s surprises. And they can give us the courage to explore possibilities amidst uncertainties and setbacks.
So here are some questions we may want to ask ourselves today:
First: When was the last time you wondered about the what if’s of your life?
Perhaps it has been a while. After all, many of us are busy enough with family and work without having to worry about all this. It’s tough enough to get through our days without discarding old dreams and pursuing new ones.
And as we know, it’s difficult enough to deal with failures, to survive them and pick ourselves up without having to try to look for new opportunities and new dreams.
Second question: When was the last time that we as a people wondered about the what if’s of our country?
It has probably been some time too. It gets pretty tough to keep asking “What if?”—to keep dreaming and to keep hoping—when all our collective efforts and schemes seem to be going nowhere.
For instance, how many more Cha-Cha initiatives are we supposed to oppose? Aren’t we sick of this dance yet? Meanwhile, millions of Filipinos remain poor and hungry. An SWS survey conducted last March 2006 showed a new record high of hunger reported by respondents in the last three months.
Also, how many more generations of alumni are we going to award our diplomas to, enabling them to assume positions of leadership in society, only to watch—in helplessness and in horror—as some of them use the very skills we taught them to oppress others?
It can get pretty tiring to ask “What if?” questions given the unending series of setbacks we’ve been facing in our national history. It’s easier to look away because we’re too discouraged, too cynical, or simply too tired or busy.
But could it be that on this Feast of St. Ignatius, on this Jubilee Year of the First Companions, we are being reminded to ask our “What if?” questions again? Could it be that we are being invited to dare to dream again, to seek opportunities and stretch possibilities, to believe that there is still something more, something better waiting to be discovered and to be done? Could it be that the one grace that God wants to give us today—precisely because it is what we as a people need most today—is the grace of great and holy desires for our country again?
But how are we supposed to do that? What is the secret to Ignatius’s consistent and persistent holy daydreaming? To find the secret, I think, we need to go back to Pamplona, that battlefield where he was wounded and felled. In his poem about Pamplona, the Australian Jesuit priest and poet, Andy Bullen, writes: “The wound will heal all his life.” It would take nothing less than a lifetime for Ignatius’s wound to heal. What does that mean?
Let’s take a look at this strange abstract sculpture, an artist’s attempt to represent Ignatius after his injury in Pamplona. There’s something wrong with the picture. Note that there is a hole not in the leg but—of all places—in the chest. The reason? Rumors have it that when the cannonball struck Ignatius, it did not hit his leg. It shot through his heart.
He did not know it then, but that day in Pamplona, Ignatius was smitten by God, and that has made all the difference. That hole in Ignatius’s heart is the secret to his holy daydreaming, and to his continuing capacity to seek opportunities where others found only failures, to discover new paths where others saw only dead ends, and to find new hopes and desires where others saw only the ruins of old shattered dreams.
The secret to holy daydreaming and the continuing capacity to hope and to ask “What if?” questions, is nothing other than the love of God. Great and holy desires can emerge and grow only out of that hole in our heart.
Each of the First Companions also had a hole in his heart. Faber and Xavier, just like Ignatius, were smitten by God with a love that enabled them to engage in holy daydreaming in the best of times, but also—and especially—in the worst of times. They never stopped asking their “What if?” questions, always seeking to do more for the Eternal King.
On this Jesuit Jubilee of the First Companions, let us turn to them who are our fathers in the mission—Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Peter Faber. As one Ignatian community, let us ask them to intercede for us: that the Lord may give us His love and His grace of great and holy desires—both as individuals and as a people.
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