It’s only a flesh wound….

Many alumni from the worldwide network of Jesuit schools should be able to tell you of Ignatius of Loyola’s heroic attempt to defend Pamplona from the French.  Rousing the desperate troops into defiant resistance, they held on until a cannonball smashed his legs.  What the students might not tell you – is that the whole enterprise was also due to a certain dangerous madness of Ignatius.  According to the excellent book by the Basque historian Idigoras –  the French army advancing on Pamplona had over 12,000 men, with 26 pieces of heavy artillery. The fortress of Pamplona was unfinished, and the commander the Duke of Najera had fled to seek ‘reinforcements’ …….  we believe them. At the inquiry afterwards he said that it was better for the captain to be free…….  He left Pedro de Beaumont in command – who also soon fled with his 1000 men. Pamplona had become a ghost town – and Ignatius driven by honour and a kind of chivalric madness stirred the remnant to defend it.  This commitment to serve his Lord faithfully, even in the face of such odds is outstanding.  But it is also true that men died in the Battle – needlessly – there is a fine line between this commitment and a dangerous fanaticism.

As we know the cannonball didn’t only shatter the leg of Ignatius  –  it also shattered his self-image. During his long and painful recovery, he rebuilt this – but this time he vowed to serve the eternal King.

As we reach the end of the second week, Ignatius now proposes that we should consider three types of responses to this Eternal King.   The first class of response is those who would really like to follow Him but they procrastinate, they talk about it, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to follow the King, but try to do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up or changing their way of life. They are kidding themselves – it is a dead form of religion, one which Benedict XVI has identified as empty.  The third class wants to get rid of any attachments  that stop them following. They act on it – now – they dont just talk about it, pretend, procrastinate, they follow their hearts without regard to the consequences – their friends and family think they are mad –  Whatever God wants, they want, others see a type of madness in their commitment, but they have decided to put someone else at the centre of their lives.

In a word, they are the free ones.  This foolish devotion to the Eternal King is not a path to fanatacisim, or fundamentalism but freedom and joy. The Eternal King does not deceive us in the way that earthly rulers inevitably will.  However to harness this powerful loyalty you need to be rooted in a wise tradition and be accompanied by a wise director.

Please leave comments – but don’t expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence!