The conversion experiences of saints are important. For Ignatius Loyola, whose feast we celebrate today, his conversion came about as he was recuperating from a serious battle wound in his family’s castle.
He was looking for something to read, and the only books his sister-in-law had available were a Life of Christ and Lives of the Saints. The Life of Christ, by Ludolph of Saxony, invited the reader to enter the gospel story, and so Ignatius, the battle hardened soldier who already knew the basics of faith from the time of his Baptism, began to know more fully the Jesus of the gospels. The soldier who showed no mercy, learned mercy. The man trained to be hard and unfeeling, became tender by reflecting on Jesus and the story of his Passion. He became a soldier of another kind.
The saints invited him to be a disciple too. They were from every century, place and social situation. You didn’t have to be a fisherman from Galilee to follow Jesus, they said, but when you follow him you must stay with him day by day, And so Ignatius, the soldier, learned to accept the daily graces he was given.
The Passion of Jesus was the gospel story Ignatius reflected on most . Go in and stand with someone there, see what they see and listen to them, the book he read said. Isn’t it likely that Ignatius the soldier would stand with the soldiers there, familiar as he was with those hard, efficient men finishing the job and anxious to head back to the barracks? Yet the day Jesus was crucified, one of them, the one in charge, suddenly saw Someone Else hanging on the cross with the criminals of the day.”Truly, this man was the Son of God.”
Everything, everyone else on that dark hill changed then: the leaders shouting for death, the soldiers finishing up, the curious passing by, the women looking on from a distance. The earth quaked and the tombs were opened. Everything, everyone changed. The Son of God saw them all as his Father’s children.
Too much to take in? Too much for the mind and moreso for the heart. That’s why the mystery of Jesus, especially his Passion, became a never-ending school for Ignatius. “Truly, this man was the Son of God,” who humbled himself to come among us, accepting even death on a cross. God loves us so.
It’s a school for our feelings too. Feelings of inferiority or superiority, resentment and judgment, futility and denial. The hard soldier and the women looking on learned compassion together. The passion of Jesus is a school of compassion, where we learn to see things and feel things as he did.