Sahayaraj Vijayan, SJ
The year 2021–2022 is yet another milestone year in the whole history of the Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits, along with their collaborators, observe it as ‘the Ignatian year’. Even though St Ignatius would expect all of us to be Ignatian at all times, he does render a clarion call to us, especially during this Ignatian year which marks the 500th anniversary of his conversion that we become more truly and ardently the Ignatian sons and daughters now. It is, of course, an invitation of great significance in this Ignatian year that reminds us of major twists in the story of Ignatius, both at Pamplona and Loyola, which again bring before our eyes freshly for one more time the transition of Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola into Ignatius of Loyola.
Vinita Hampton Wright, writer on Ignatian Spirituality, says that a story is a meaningful sequence of events during which the main character goes through a transformation. What a veracious statement it is in the context of the Ignatian year for we know pretty surely that this occasion is nothing but a solicitation to revisit the story of Ignatius, especially the moments of his shift over from being the soldier of men to the soldier of God.
A great deal of one’s spiritual health, writes Vinita, lies in one’s ability to see the story-ness of one’s own existence, mainly in the backdrop of the presence of another major character in the person of God, in one’s life-story. The wounded Inigo during the period of his convalescence at Loyola castle, precisely got himself involved in this sort of a spiritually healthy journey that he undertook by reading and relishing the stories of Jesus and those of the saints before his age. The story of Jesus, and his interventional moments in the stories of the saints did make the valiant soldier to courageously introspect his own story so far and realise how the Lord of history was making an entry in his own life-story, for a different purpose, to a different destination. It is to this historical and holy episode in the story of Ignatius that we, his followers are called to turn to, in this jubilee year.
The question that could possibly arise in our minds now is as to why we should turn our attention to those events in his life-story at Pamplona and Loyola, with so much gaiety. Well, the answer could be that an effort taken to go back to those past events can help us presently for future benefits. A moment of jubilation of this kind can always help us not only to offer our sentiments of gratitude for the graces received but also to review our state of life with the assistance of what is remembered. It is with this attitude that we both thank God for the change that he made it possible in the life-story of Ignatius, as well as review our own life-stories by remembering, recalling and retelling the story of Ignatius, in this quincentennial anniversary of his conversion.
The story of Ignatius is forever enchanting and enthralling. It’s not a story of an ordinary man, but that of someone who allowed to be challenged and changed for the help of souls and the glory of God. It’s a story that portrays a person who moved from the thought of conquering the world to conquering oneself. It’s a story of a sinner who turned to be saint, thanks to his radical openness and ravishing desire that let God write the chapters of his story-book. His famous Autobiography which he, at the dusk of his life, recalled as the head of the Order that he had founded, is nothing beyond a factual storytelling of how God had been so intimately travelling in his life, despite the ins and outs of life’s events, but to a peaceful conclusion.
For Eric A Clayton, the author of the recently published book — Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith — the art of storytelling is something that is inherent to Ignatian Spirituality. It’s true that he has rightly said it. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, reminds us that God desires to deal directly with every individual (story). It’s his belief that God is there ever-present in the nitty-gritty details of our lives, and that God delights in who we are and who we are becoming. Simply put, we can say that God connects himself intrinsically to each of our unique stories. Ignatius allowed that God to intervene strongly at the time of his conversion and thereafter, and as we commemorate and celebrate his conversion, we should sincerely ask ourselves if our spirit is really like his, to allow the same God to intervene in our stories for bettering ourselves. Clayton asks in his book that how often do we let the other story affect our story. It would do enormously good if we do not just stop being inspired by the other stories, while we should prepare ourselves to tell the world our stories, as a result of the inspiration drawn from the former.
The one concrete thing that the Holy Father and the Superior General of the Society of Jesus have been wishing to happen among those who celebrate the Ignatian year is personal conversion. For Pope Francis, conversion is never a finished-product, but an event of every day. A true conversion is possible when one is properly rooted in the practice of discernment. The famous Ignatian Examination of Conscience can be of great tool in this regard, as it is all about discerning one’s own life-story on a daily basis. The more we discover where we are strong and where we are weak; the more we go deeper into our own comprehension of how we let God function in us and how we close our doors to him; the more we become aware of our level of generosity and selfishness, the greater our stories will become meaningful and beautiful.
May the newness of conversion that helped Ignatius write new chapters in his life remain also with us much beyond this Ignatian year to see all things new in Christ, to do all things new for Christ.
(Fr. Sahayaraj Vijayan is a Jesuit Priest of the Chennai Province. He has a theology degree from Centre Sèvres, Facultés jésuites de Paris, France. He also holds a Masters degree in Tamil Literature and he cleared the National Eligibility Test in Tamil in 2018. He is currently based at Loyola College, Chennai, where he will soon start his teaching in the Department of Tamil.)