“SOLDIER. Sinner. Saint.” So goes the subtitle of the first full-length color film on St. Ignatius, “Ignacio de Loyola,” whose feast day we celebrate today. And, as if by design—no, by God’s design, rather—today’s Sunday readings follow the flow of grace and love in the spiritual journey of St. Ignatius, Iñigo de Loyola.
“Vanity of vanities. All things are vanity,” says Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. Ignatius could very well be the patron saint of the vain. As a soldier, he was driven by vanity—that of his social class and chosen profession of soldiering, and stoked by a childhood “trauma” of desiring to earn the approval of his father.
Vanity, right or wrong, gives birth to passions and desires. The desire to achieve, to excel and to be noticed, may begin as a benign project, rationalized by the good the project can bring. But, as it awakens passions and desires, then the tricky choices confront us.
It is our choices that turn the benign into an insidious malignancy. So it was in Ignatius’ story. His vanity drives him to push for the heroic. Yet, following the film’s narrative the situation leaves the Spaniards with not much choice.
Ignatius’ heroics happen during what will always be known not just as the Battle of Pamplona, but also as the time the cannonball shatters his leg—which leads to the shattering of his ego, and its reorientation.
Such a reorientation is eloquently described by Paul: “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry… since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3: 9)
It was thus that Ignatius takes off the old self, leaves the Castle of Loyola and rids himself of all his worldly attachments. Reaching Montserrat, he plans to go through the rites of a knight who would do his vigil and then offer his sword to Our Lady.
By then Ignatius’ sense of chivalry is radically reoriented, for he is now a knight of Christ and his chivalry is dedicated to Our Lady. After three days of writing his general confession, he offers his sword and dagger at the altar of Our Lady of Montserrat.
He then embarks on his new spiritual journey as the pilgrim of Christ.
So it is that the soldier starts his journey to sainthood, a journey that has its turning point in his coming to terms with being a sinner.
Ignatius’ journey through these personas is not linear, nor is it circular. It is a spiral process of healing and reintegration that, at every cycle, integrates the soldier and the sinner to the saint.
The soldier and the sinner never leaves the saint. These personas are reoriented toward what is now his greatest treasure, his one great passion and desire, his one great love: Christ, his God.
Today’s Gospel—as well as the Gospel readings at daily Mass the past week—teaches us this. Christ tells all that, in the end, what matters are the treasures we have in heaven. This theme is the synthesis of Ignatian spirituality.
“Take and receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take all my will, my mind, my memory. All things I have and that I am you have given all to me, to you I return them that you may dispose of me totally according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace; these make me rich, I ask for nothing more.”
He comes full cycle and reaches the integration of the solider, the sinner and the saint.
The enduring appeal of stories like Ignatius’ and the stories in Scripture, especially the Gospels, is that they evoke in us our own story, the story of our journey, the journey of healing, reintegration toward wholeness and holiness.
In the story of Ignatius’ spiritual journey, the movie beautifully represents this journey at key points, using flashbacks to the significant moments of his life. It emphasizes one major contribution of Ignatius to spirituality, as well as formation and education—the importance of awareness, the awareness of our story, who we are, our identity, and why we are here, our mission.
This awareness leads to reintegration in acceptance, but the challenge is how to transition from awareness to acceptance. We all struggle with this, because acceptance makes us vulnerable and raises our fear of pain. Acceptance, I think, is now the
shift from self-centeredness to other-centeredness.
The shift becomes a reorientation when discovering the unconditional love of Christ, a love that was, is and will always be present. This love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, as St. Paul puts it, becomes our one desire, our greatest treasure—our greatest love is Christ.
I asked a young boy who saw the movie what his favorite scene was. He said it was when Ignatius was talking to Christ, uniquely portrayed as a young boy, in the river.
This is the defining moment of Ignatius’ great illumination at the River Cardoner in Manresa, of which he writes in his autobiography: “… though he did not see any vision, he understood and knew many things, both spiritual things and matters of faith and learning, and this was with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him. It was as if he were a new man…”
The movie portrays it beautifully where Christ tells Ignatius, if I recall correctly, to remember that “I loved you first.”