Today, the 31st of July, is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a military officer in 16th century Spain. He was a wild young man. He kept himself well-groomed, because he loved the ladies! While fighting the French at Pamplona in the north of Spain, a cannon ball, passing between his legs, tore open his left calf and broke his right shin. Ignatius endured many painful months of recuperation.
While bedridden, he requested some of his favorite reading, stories of knights and chivalry. They weren’t available, so what were brought to him were stories of Christ and the saints. He experienced his conversion while reading those books. Ignatius decided to use the energy he formerly devoted to warfare to the cause of Christ. He became the founder of an order known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
In his book, The Spiritual Exercises, he includes a section entitled, “Discerning the Spirits.” His use of the word “spirits” reflects a medieval concept; today, we might say “inclinations.” Discerning the spirits, discerning one’s inclinations, is central to making decisions.
One key Ignatian theme in decision-making is being aware of spiritual desolation: times and events that present a crisis. It is unwise, Ignatius says, to make major decisions during “desolation.” I can recall a time when my mother, without being aware of this terminology, gave me sound Ignatian counsel.
In my final semester at Middle Tennessee State University, I got the idea in my head that I should leave school and go to California. My interests had shifted considerably from the time I started college.
My major was Political Science, but with my exploration of religious faith—Christianity, and to a lesser extent, Buddhism and Zen—I began to see myself as a seeker of truth, wandering the Earth. (Though probably not wandering as far as Tibet!) Combining that with my great love of music, I decided that I should return to the land of my youth, San Diego, and get a job in a record store. I even went to the school library, looked through a San Diego phone directory (this was in the dark ages before the internet), and found a store near the ocean.
So I called my mom and told her what God was leading me to do! She didn’t have very much to say. She suggested that I go ahead and finish out the semester, since I was so close to graduating anyway, and then see what I thought. If God really wanted me to make this fairly major change in my life, waiting a few more weeks wouldn’t hurt.
And after a couple of days had gone by, it occurred to me that God really didn’t want me to run off and do my wandering seeker bit!
So, thank you, Mom, and thank you, St. Ignatius…