St. Ignatius of Loyola’s leg was shattered by a cannonball in the Battle of Pamplona in 1521. Because of that cannonball, the damage it left and his own vanity (he had bone in the leg removed after it had initially healed to remove an unsightly bump), he had a lengthy convalescence. As a result of this stationary and solitary time, St. Ignatius read a book on Christ and a book on the lives of the saints. This was the start of his conversion. What would his life been like if that cannonball did not hit his leg?
I’m pretty sure Ignatius did not expect to reform his womanizing ways, give up his wealthy lifestyle, form a new religious order, go back to school and, most notably, become a saint! The cannonball was a surprise to Ignatius—but a sign of the Holy Spirit working in his life.
These God-surprises are abundant in our lives as parents but we often resist the work of the Holy Spirit.
Canisius College just celebrated our Mass of the Holy Spirit to welcome in the new academic year. Our staff reflected on an April homily of Pope Francis to consider the message of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis said, “the Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the Church forward.” He said that we wish “to calm down the Holy Spirit, we want to tame it and this is wrong…that’s because the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it’s what gives us the strength to go forward.”
I love control, organization and planning. Parenthood, of course, has thrown me and every other parent-who-loves-knowing-what’s-next as much as I do! I was recently hit by a cannonball. My husband and I found out at the beginning of the summer that we are expecting baby #2! We were hoping to expand our family at some point but the news did come as a surprise. Starting the New Year with a 2 year old and a newborn will definitely erase any hopes of traveling and other individual goals we had just begun to think about tackling. My joyful news took some getting used to. I wanted to tame the Spirit to me on MY timeline!
When I saw the question, “What is your Cannonball?”, I reflected on the ways I was trying to resist the work of the Holy Spirit in my life as an individual woman, mother and wife. Sometimes God’s surprises can lead to greater joy—pregnancy, a new job, rediscovering the love of a partner or friend, or even unknowingly beginning the path to sainthood. What happens when these God-surprises may be hurtful (like getting hit by a cannonball) or full of loss (miscarriage, divorce, death)?
St. Ignatius dealt with the aftermath of his cannonball by cyclically taking stock of his resources (reading books, making like-minded friends), asking for God’s guidance and grace and taking action. His model of continuing to prayerfully discern God’s plan in his life after many metaphorical “cannonballs” demonstrates for us as individuals and as parents a plan. As our families experience growth and loss, the cannonballs that instigate these changes must not only be identified but be dealt with through several spiritual questions: What is the Holy Spirit asking of me through this experience? How is God guiding me and my family? How should we proceed?