Luke 14:25-33, Solemnity of St Ignatius de Loyola
Here in this parish we are well acquainted with the conversion story of Ignatius. Each year we rehearse how a cannonball shattered his leg and his dreams of serving as a knight; how he recuperated for months on end in pain and boredom; how he then began to notice movements towards good and evil deep in his heart which taught him how to distinguish God’s action from movements contrary to the spirit of God. We might be mistaken if we assume that Ignatius’ conversion was straightforward. There is an event in this narrative, related in his own words, which challenges the idea that conversion happens once and for all.
In his autobiography, Ignatius relates a moment when he met a Moor (thus, a Muslim) on his pilgrim path. Along the way they talked about religion and argued. Before parting ways, the Moor insulted Our Lady, leaving Ignatius angered and confused over what to do. Fired with the zeal of his recent conversion, Ignatius considered riding up to the Moor and killing him. As he plotted vengeance, Ignatius, riding a donkey, came to a crossroad. Unable to decide which road to take nor what to do, Ignatius let the donkey decide. Fortunately, the beast took the path away from the Moor and from bloodshed. In our typically sardonic humour, Jesuits joke that since then all difficult decisions in our order have been left to donkeys!
Often in life, like Ignatius, we might find ourselves at crossroads — when choosing what studies to take, what jobs, what to do when our marriages break down, what treatment to take when we or others suffer from a terminal disease. Moved by strong feelings within us and having no clarity in our thoughts, we might be unable to make decisions. Ignatius often found himself at crossroads and his spirituality and our readings today present us with some insights about how those crossroads teach us something about ongoing discernment and conversion.
Consider our Gospel reading today, Jesus presents us with two parables: one about building, another about waging war; one about planning so that one can continue to build, the other about knowing when to give up when all is lost. Jesus tells these parables about deliberation and choosing after he has said whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Perhaps then Jesus is inviting us to consider all significant decisions in terms of the end for which we are made for: to follow Christ that we might live in God’s love. All decisions for this or that are made in the light of the cross and resurrection. Thus, when our journey brings us to crossroads, the question we must first ask ourselves is which road will bring us to the end for which we were made for. Each path is but a means, not an end in itself.
We know that sometimes both paths seem perilous, fraught with suffering. I think that this is precisely the situation in which Jeremiah finds himself in our first reading today. Just a verse before our readings today, Jeremiah complains that if he does not speak what God has commanded him he feels tortured within; there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (v. 9). If he speaks out, the people torment him (v. 10). Indeed, Jeremiah is damned if he preaches, damned if he does not.
Each of us here today might have found ourselves in similar situations, like Jeremiah, as we face serious decisions. Life does not always present us with win-win situations. There is not always a choice we can make without some measure of suffering, of pain, of anguish. Jeremiah’s choice is instructive, he chooses not to succumb to suffering but to succumb to God. He chooses not the complexity of the choice, but the simplicity of the God who loves him and enables his freedom. This choice makes all the difference. Ultimately choosing which path is not as important as choosing whom we walk with — the God who wishes to always be at our side.
Perhaps this is what it means to find God in everything, that central insight Ignatius left us. It means that at every crossroad we reach in our lives we learn to stop and pray for light and guidance, humbly trusting as Ignatius did that God will help us choose when we know not how. Each time we pass through that moment of uncertainty at crossroads, our hearts are converted once more away from violence and pride and turned towards the heart of God. This is the lesson Ignatius learnt at the crossroad riding a donkey.
How then is God teaching you to choose?
*image from the Internet