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Anniversary of St Ignatius’ encounter with a cannonball



20 May marks the five hundredth anniversary of a chance event with large consequences. In 1521 a stray cannonball ricocheting off a castle wall in a minor skirmish broke the leg of a knight defending the castle. The cannonball, a symbol of the knight’s culture, also represented in its errant path the fracture of the ties that bound him to that culture. It had large consequences for him and for the world. The long convalescence of Ignatius Loyola after the siege of Pamplona changed the direction of his life and shaped the church and world that we inherited.

Main image: Ignatius and the First Companions making their first vows at Montmartre.

Ignatius himself was a representative of his culture. He had high aspirations, his heart set on life at court, on military prowess, achievement in war, on success in love, on public esteem and on rising fortune. He was a doer and a goer. Being laid up with a busted leg that out of vanity he had had rebroken, with nothing to dream about but jousting and lovemaking, with nothing to read but the lives of Christ and saints, was not part of his plan. He found himself imagining alternately each of these opposing ways of life. And crucially, he began to reflect both on his dreams and on his life, and then to reflect on his reflections.

In this process he found God’s calling to follow Jesus’ way. As he devoted all his energies to following it, he began to open this reflective way of life to others. He lived as a beggar who in the marketplaces engaged people in conversation that led them to reflect on their own lives. These conversations helped shape the Spiritual Exercises, a program of prayer that led people to reflect on the world around them, on what mattered to them in their daily lives, to imagine a better way of living and to find something beyond themselves. Both his way of life and the practice of reflection that he taught were antithetical to the values of the culture of his day. His commitment to reflection and to finding a fuller way of life, however, also drew him back into the complex world from whose culture he had turned, and to a desk job running the Society of Jesus. There was an inherent tension between the commitment to the human world of scholarship, of business, of human and cultural relationships, and his embrace of values contrary to those prevalent in that world.

In Ignatius’ time that tension was less noticeable because the public world in which he lived was a Christian world in which Christian faith and church allegiance were taken for granted. In Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, Christian faith and a reflective way of living are bound together, as they were for those with whom he spoke. Reflection took the form of prayer; what mattered was spelled out in the love of God and the following of Jesus; a generous and reflective life was lived naturally through service in the Catholic community. The change in life that might flow from making the spiritual exercises would involve deepening an explicitly Catholic faith and practice.

Even in the exercises, however, there is a distinction between the heart of Christian faith that had inspired Ignatius’ change of life and the reflective way of life that was his gift to the world. Among those who came to him seeking wisdom, he envisaged a larger group who would make only the initial part of the exercises that invited them to reflect on their lives and on what mattered and to cultivate a habit of reflection. Those seeking something more would make the full exercises. This would take them deeply into the radical heart of the Christian Gospel that turned the values of their world upside down. At the centre of the exercises, as of the Gospel, is the invitation to follow Jesus in choosing poverty rather than riches, insults rather than honours and to be considered a fool with Christ rather than have a reputation for worldly wisdom.

This radical Christian vision, aspired to by few and lived consistently by fewer, animated Ignatius and his companions to found the Society of Jesus and to embody in it both the call to a reflective life and to the radical following of Jesus. It inspired a breadth that took people beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church, to engage in conversation with anyone who asked, and to recognise that God was to be found in the margins. Among Jesuits it was expressed most notably in their adaptation to the religious culture of India and China and to patient exploration of points of contact with other religious cultures. It also animated attempts to build bridges between Catholic and Protestant in Europe, and in the foundation of schools for the children of cultural leaders. In each case they commended a reflective way of life that found expression in gratitude.

This vision also inspired in many Jesuits the radical desire to follow the poor Jesus in humility, poverty and the expectation of finding life through death. From the perspective of the Spiritual Exercises, their death and suffering were seen as gift.


'Ignatius’ genius was to hold together the radical heart of the Gospel and the gift to the whole world of attentiveness and reflection. Later Jesuits accepted the same challenge to hold them together.'


If these two movements of the Ignatian spirit sat naturally together in Christian societies, they are in tension in societies which are not bound together by a shared faith and religious literacy.  

In Australia, for example, the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic is in decline, and familiarity with religious language and belief is not widely shared within society. As a result Catholic exploration of the wider national culture and its margins is narrowed and is done largely by individuals. The institutional connection to the wider culture is maintained largely through faith-based educational, health and social service institutions, founded and once staffed mostly by religious congregations whose tradition and values they carry. The majority of people working in those institutions, however, are either unfamiliar with specifically Catholic or Ignatian language or are alienated by it. This poses a challenge to nurture in the institutions the values enshrined in their inherited traditions and to sustain in the religious congregations their identification with the young, the poor and the sick of society.

For the Catholic Church generally the challenge will be to keep religious faith and language alive among its adherents, and to represent in its life and teaching an attractive and radical living of the Gospel. Catholic schools will have an important part in contributing to religious literacy and in encouraging faith.

For the faith-based educational, health and social outreach organisations the challenge will be to nurture in those who work within them and so in society at large the great gifts of their own tradition. In Ignatian organisations this is the gift of attention to one’s inner life and world and a reflectiveness that both leads to action and weighs it. This gift expresses itself in fraternity both in the organisations and in the world. In organisations where few workers are religiously literate or are committed to Christian churches, the language of most programs in which this gift is articulated will necessarily be inclusive and equally open to people of all religions and none. These programs, like the early part of the Spiritual Exercises, might also lead some people to that enter more deeply and explicitly into the faith tradition and to its radical values. Many of those who accompany people who are disadvantaged are already attracted to those radical values.

Ignatius’ genius was to hold together the radical heart of the Gospel and the gift to the whole world of attentiveness and reflection. Later Jesuits accepted the same challenge to hold them together. In a world where there the shared language and symbols of a Christian society are fading, the link must be shown primarily in the lives of those to whom the whole world is their oyster, and who are recognisably poor with Jesus, humble with Jesus and accepting of humiliation with Jesus.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Ignatius and the First Companions making their first vows at Montmartre. 

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, St Ignatius Loyola, cannonball, Catholic



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Existing comments

"Break a leg" takes on a whole new meaning.

john frawley | 20 May 2021  

Just goes to show in your lowest and worst moments in life when the door closes on one pathway , an even better one may open up if you have faith and seek it

WAYNE McGOUGH | 20 May 2021  

Another splendid piece to add to the body of work that you have shared through Eureka Street over the years Andrew. Always thoughtful and genuinely individual. Congratulations.

Joseph Castley | 20 May 2021  

Grace builds on nature. We see it in the conversion of Paul from zealous Pharisee, persecuting Christians to Apostle of Christ to the Gentiles; Augustine, the brilliant enfant terrible in Milan, dabbling in Manichaeism & Neo-Platonism, reads Roman's 13: 12-14, is baptised, returns to Africa & becomes a redoubtable defender of Orthodoxy; & here we see the strategic & tactical skills of an ambitious Basque army officer injured in a siege put at the disposal of a new King. And what a recruiting genius he was! And what a program of induction he drew up. Father Hamilton's article shows Ignatius was the man the Church needed to lead a commando of preachers @ teachers & missionaries in 16th century Europe. Thank God, Pope Paul III approved.

Uncle Pat | 20 May 2021  

Thanks Andrew for a thoughtful article - and a great title,

Anne Benjamin | 20 May 2021  

I always saw Inigo as a sort of dashing former Guards officer type who was once a dab hand with the ladies. Born Catholic in Spain, and a Basque at that, one of the most macho of the macho, he had a genuine religious conversion. He was graced to see what life was ultimately about. He took all his bravery and military organisational skills into religious life. The Jesuits to me are the Coldstream Guards of religion. The Coldstream motto is 'Nulli Secundus' ('Second to None'). Some Anglican religious orders, such as the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, have attempted to emulate the Jesuits. I am not sure how successful they have been. I did spend three years at a Jesuit secondary school in the early 1960s. I was there till Year 10. I was not exposed to the Ignatian spiritual exercises in that time. My own spirituality is more in the Carmelite tradition. It has taken me a while to come to that understanding of God and the reality of religion. Inigo was blessed. It all happened rapidly with him. The Jesuits preach intelligent, involved faith. It is much needed in our times.

Edward Fido | 21 May 2021  

A reflection worthy of the occasion that speaks to our times, Andrew. (And good one, j.f.!)

John RD | 21 May 2021  

Andy's giftedness shows yet again, though his editor might have been a tad more attentive to a proof-read. (A minor carp). To 'live with' the Jesuits over many years is to 'rediscover' them often and, inevitably, Ignatius. In my youth, spent mainly in a highly secularised and overwhelmingly Protestant England, they featured prominently as zealous religious heroes, garbed in black robes while flitting across moor and manor house to be secreted in priest-holes in-between saying Mass for the faithful and getting caught and, consequent upon their political influence, hanged, drawn & quartered in numbers far greater than the martyrology of others records. In adult life a new awareness dawned of men committed to the global justice project: a worthy template for Catholics otherwise given to worldliness, apoliticism and the predominantly escapist other-worldly spiritualities associated with a deepening of faith. In old age, I am arrested by a spirituality of theirs that straddles both justice and the inner life. For me no other congregation does that so consistently, persuasively, ubiquitously, steadfastly and, by and large, unerringly. And yes, John; your namesake Johnny Fraws, proves himself, once again, to be ES' punster extraordinaire! Where indeed is there another journal like Eureka Street?

Michael Furtado | 21 May 2021  

Andrew Hamilton understandably is proud of Ignatius. He was a man of his time and an innovator who managed contradictions of private and public life. Reflection is mentioned several times as a hallmark of Ignatian spirituality. However neither individuals nor organisations can manage unbiased self reflection. So from a greater distance some questions. Did Ignatius’ military formation make for a binary view of goodies and baddies world? After a kind of MGM melodrama of hell (does hell still exist?) his Exercises offer an election and there are only two choices. Jesus or… This seems more like a recruitment drive than life options choice. Then again, the Spiritual Exercises looks like an arrangement of superseded dogma than a spiritual/mystical play book. Ignatius‘ mysticism scarcely gets a look in among Augustinian body hatred and Manichean mortification. Scarcely spiritual. And Australian Jesuits who offered an esteemed education in the hope of forming leaders created a niche market for their product. But they seem to have been taken cultural captive, Stockholm Syndrome style by their ex students and parents. So much so that what is conveyed is enrolment in social, political and business status. Some of the least Ignatian or Christian ex student political leaders have come out of Australian Jesuit college inequalities.

Michael D.Breen | 25 May 2021  

Hello Andrew: are you sure about St Ignatius, really sure? Over the years I have known devout Protestant friends who have spoken the same way about Martin Luther. They saw Martin from a Protestant romance. Are you sure you are not seeing Ignatius from an equal Catholic romance? I am only an ex-pew sitter who knows nothing much about Church history. Nevertheless, my guess – if I am allowed – is that the next wave of Christian scholars will not look at the Reformation from the trenches of the War between Catholics and Protestants but from the perspective of the waste that should never have happened. From that perspective Ignatius and Martin Luther will be revised as diminished figures. Yes, they did live in a time of great change but collectively did they really witness authentic Christian teachings? Are torture, public executions by burning, politico-religious fanaticism and thirty year killing field really the teachings of Jesus? My first encounter with Protestants was back in the late 60’s while I was coming to the end of my brainwashing. Our parish began a “dialogue” with the Anglican parish in the spirit of Vatican II. After our first meeting – a bible study discussion – a thought kept re-cycling in my head: “we have been lied to”. The people I had just met were as committed in their Faith, and their biblical scholarship made us Catholics look simply stupid. After attending an Anglican Eucharist service it was even worse: “they’re like a divorce couple who have forgotten why they’re divorced”. A few years later I joined the young people walking out on the divorced couple.

Fosco | 25 May 2021  

Fosco: ‘their biblical scholarship made us Catholics look simply stupid.’ Same experience, except for the long-winded self-generated prayers going around the table. The answer was simple: brush up on the Bible reading and ceteris paribus for the rest. It wasn’t long ago that Japanese manufacturing was only shoddy imitation of quality. That has since changed, and the Japanese are still Japanese.

roy chen yee | 26 May 2021  

Michael Furtado: Your comment here (21/5) on Jesuit spirituality rings bells of the chap who, as a tourist, having visited Ignatius' museum in Rome, returned to his country and announced enthusiastically to his friends: "I've even seen his dagger!" One wondered and asked if this was the extent of the impression made by the Society of Jesus' founder. I find myself wondering the same when you claim being "arrested" by Ignatian spirituality, which includes thinking with the Church and an emphasis on the vow of obedience (not a word of welcome connotation to children of the 60s, I grant) - in your ES post of the same day: "A Skeleton for the Plenary Council Agenda" (21/5) you describe yourself as one who inhabits "the periphery of the Church." So, Michael, which is it: "arrested" or "titillated"?

John RD | 31 May 2021  

JohnRD, By the periphery to which I cling - sometimes barely and only just with my finger-nails - I mean I am a back-pew Catholic and happy to be there, with one foot inside and the other out. What makes so many like me that way inclined, one may well ask, as you seem to do here? And the answer is: 'For fear of some of those inside who cling to the front pews'. I think Jesus may have alluded to it in his Parable of the Pharisee & the Publican. Where, pray, do you sit? And why didn't you stick for once with your affable, even gentle and unusually amiable, talent-spotting remark, (while profoundly sad that such a lavish expectation mocks me)?

Michael Furtado | 31 May 2021  

Michael Furtado: I fail to see how where one sits in church necessarily yields anything so conclusive as you adjudge of one's spiritual disposition, let alone another's ability to pronounce it pharisaical or otherwise. Most of the occupants of the front rows in our parish church are the elderly, on the one hand, and parents with small children who like to see what's going on, on the other. If I do have a preference, it's for the left transept, about six pews back, near where I sat with my parents and siblings as a child before the church was renovated and enlarged; the acoustics are pretty good there, too, which is more than handy for hearing the faith-nourishing homilies and sermons we receive - a reason why the parish regularly attracts Mass-goers from other parishes. Last Sunday's sermon on the Trinity was so inspiring that I encouraged the priest who delivered it to forward it to "Eureka Street", whose mandate, together with the promotion of justice, encourages vision and the faith that inspires it.

John RD | 01 June 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘back-pew Catholic’ I always sit in the back pew. People breathe forward so, presumably, the germs are fewer where I am.

roy chen yee | 01 June 2021  

What a pity that both John and Roy read my leprous self-identifying metaphor so literally, Roy for reasons of self-protection from the sullying germs of modernism, and John to suck up to those who publish ES, when every post of his countermands the generously liberal inflection of the views they offer here for public discussion. Were I to switch cranial hemispheres, I too would have to admit that I actually kneel (always, out of habit!) where John does because, as a quavering drawing-room tenor (not all that's quavering about me), I can actually see the projector, although Mama was a front-pew fervorista, shrouded in a mantilla, hands shackled in a Franciscan Rosary (two extra Aves per decade to atone for the Sacred Wounds of Mary and in case one of her three sons miscounted) while Papa, not unlike cheerful Roy here, attended 5 am Mass in the 'Indian Christian' back-pews, head bowed in perpetual unworthiness and pleasure-condemning Jansenist mortification ('By the sweat of Thy brow Thou shall earn Thy Bread') which disposition he cheerfully visited upon all around him, especially moi, his gay middle-son. Have I an excuse to be as mad as a cut snake, you may well ask.

Michael Furtado | 03 June 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘two extra …bowed in perpetual …. Have I an excuse….’ What can I say? Personally, I’m not given to devotional excess. There’s the Word, there’s the Eucharist, there are ancillary symbolisms to remind me of the culture that I am meant to sustain in this world and then there’s home and outdoors where I can practice the lessons. Choirs are overrated, soloists are poseurs and if I was never inclined to listen to as accomplished a tenor as one Farrokh Bulsara formerly of Zanzibar (who would be a young 74 this year if he hadn’t been stupid about some life choices), I doubt I’d be interested to listen to any other tenor, quavering or not. Being a disgruntled hyena missing its daily dose of laughing gas (with a little caustic soda for astringency), I would suggest that being descended from two Munchausens doesn’t predetermine one to staying one oneself. Be free and fly, but according to the aviation tower that is the Magisterium.

roy chen yee | 04 June 2021  

Hello, Roy; Mum had all the pious devotionalism of JohnRD and Dad your unmistakable Jansenism. Of that there can be no doubt. However, in one respect you are most egregiously mistaken: Freddie Mercury was no mellifluous tenor but bawled his songs out toothily, much in the way you 'megaphone' your theology. Now if it were Juan Diego Florez you were citing - not just in terms of his voice but also his killer looks - you'd hit the spot!

Michael Furtado | 08 June 2021  

Unlike you, I defer to magisteria. When the magisterium of vocal science suggests he might have been a baritone rather than a tenor, I must defer. As I must to another magisterium, the Spiderman Doctrine, which states that with great privilege comes great responsibility. It would seem that throwing away all that privilege by the mid 40s would seem to be somewhat provocative of the Doctrine, which may or may not be related to another magisterium with which you may be familiar, albeit in the mode of combat. https://consequence.net/2016/04/new-scientific-study-confirms-the-audience-freddie-mercury-had-an-unparalleled-singing-voice/

roy chen yee | 09 June 2021  

Hopefully, Roy - and as with your stiff-necked theology - your musical tastes will improve and your heart also melt: Bella enamorada - Juan Diego Florez (tenor) - YouTube

Michael Furtado | 24 June 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘stiff-necked theology….’ Christ referred to Moses’ permission of divorce as a concession to the stiff-necked, although, as He said, ‘in the beginning it was not so’. Hordes of heterosexuals taking to divorce undermined the institution of marriage as a lifelong principle and paved the way for homosexuals to say that heterosexuals, being so poor at marriage, had no ground for denying it to homosexuals. The gays had a point. If anyone wants to know where the liberty of same-sex marriage came from, look no further than the licence of heterosexual divorce.

roy chen yee | 25 June 2021  

So, Roy, might we take it that you disapprove of the process called canonical annulment?

Michael Furtado | 26 June 2021  

So, Sir Roy, are you seriously suggesting that two persons wishing to get married would take their cues from two others desiring to be divorced? Is your's yet another example of your perverse logic or are you making a whimsical point, unprofound to all but yourself, about the law of unintended consequences?

Michael Furtado | 27 June 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘canonical annulment?’ Given the synod reformasi’s wish to shine a light on everything, they’ve surely, already, proposed an agenda item to shine a light on this? Or they only want to look at some things but not others. https://catholicleader.com.au/news/too-many-annulments-pope_44942/ https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=350

roy chen yee | 27 June 2021  

Alas, 'page not found', dear Roy. And is this the same 'Catholic Leader' in which the Editor, Peter Budgen, has said he is powerless to exercise his editorial prerogative to publish because of the threat of archdiocesan censorship?

Michael Furtado | 29 June 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘Alas, 'page not found'….’ Your computer must be in partial dissent (isn’t that the cool thing these days?) from the magisterium of your will. Mine isn’t. Copying and pasting the link from ES to the browser works fine. ‘has said he is powerless to exercise his editorial prerogative to publish because of the threat of archdiocesan censorship?’: And why would you want to say this if you can read the other link?

roy chen yee | 30 June 2021  

Que? No comprende, El Roy! I tried again and the computer said 'No!' (A bit like your magisterium?) Anyway that's what Budgen said and it doesn't dislodge his damning indictment of the monsignor who stood over him!

Michael Furtado | 01 July 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘I tried again and the computer said 'No!'….Anyway….’ And you’re going to give up, just like that?

roy chen yee | 03 July 2021  

No. I heard the mating love-call of a male cuckoo.....

Michael Furtado | 07 July 2021  

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