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‘Cannonball moment’ of St. Ignatius brings life out of the darkest tombs — Effie Caldarola

Father Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits, speaks during the presentation of the book, "Walking with Ignatius," in Rome May 11, 2021. The book is based on an interview journalist Dario Menor conducted with Father Sosa. It anticipates the May 20 opening of a special Ignatian Year marking the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. (CNS photo/courtesy General Curia of the Society of Jesus)

The weather was nasty as I hunkered on a Saturday morning over my computer with a cup of cocoa. Rain, wind and icy shards of snow battered the window in my attic office as if to remind me that spring remained elusive.

In Ukraine, near to all our hearts right now, the Russians were advancing on Kyiv. Although this assault dominated the news, there was still room for more dire climate predictions.

Psychologists who had previously discussed how hurtful the years of COVID-19 isolation were are now called in to advise us on how to overcome our angst about Ukraine and its wider implications.

Somehow, the weather and the news conspired to be an appropriate backdrop to Lent.

We search for celebration, and our faith provides it: Who doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick, apostle to the Celts, on March 17? And March 12 was the 400th anniversary of the canonizations of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and his companion and great missionary, St. Francis Xavier.

Effie Caldarola
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.” (CNS photo)

Our Ignatian Year continues. This means from May 2021 until July 2022, we celebrate St. Ignatius, whose Spiritual Exercises continue to inspire millions.

March 4-12 also marked the Novena of Grace. This is a preached novena observed in most Jesuit parishes throughout the world, celebrating St. Francis Xavier.

In my former parish on Creighton University’s campus in Omaha, Nebraska, this year’s novena was livestreamed, enabling me to participate. A variety of great preachers, both women and men, focused their attention on cannonball moments.

What’s a cannonball moment? It’s an event that changes the trajectory of our lives.

When Ignatius was a young soldier, he was devoted to chivalry and military achievement as a path to glory and a way into young ladies’ hearts. But at the Battle of Pamplona, a cannonball shattered his leg and his plans.

The cannonball itself did not send Ignatius on his quest for God, one of our novena speakers said. It was what followed the cannonball that made all the difference. Ignatius found himself bedridden, bored, in pain. In a castle with no reading material save the Gospel and the lives of the saints, Ignatius found God.

Another speaker told of being suddenly fired from the job in which he had felt successful. All he could think of after his boss blindsided him with that cannonball were the words from Psalm 16 that had captured his imagination at Mass that very day: “You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence.”

Those words brought him a strange sense of peace, of rightness. It strikes me that cannonball moments demand this of us: that we pay attention, and grace follows.

During this Ignatian Year, it’s helpful to recall our own cannonball moments. Here’s one of mine.

Decades ago, I sent for a little booklet called “Invest Yourself,” which listed volunteer opportunities throughout the U.S. There, in small print, I saw the words “Jesuit Volunteer Corps” and felt a certainty I’ve seldom experienced. I paid attention, and my life’s whole future, where I would live, whom I would love, were changed by those words.

A few weeks ago, few could have predicted Europe’s cannonball moment. It reminds me again of those famous words of Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings”: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

That’s our choice: to listen to God, to act with charity, to fill the silence not with worry but with God, and celebrate a Lord who brings life out of the darkest of tombs.