20 May 2021

Faith Matters - The Cannonball

Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

Faith Matters - The Cannonball

At the College we explore the life of St Ignatius of Loyola with students in many ways. The primary way in which students do this is in their study of Religious Education. 

In Year 7 students come to know St Ignatius within their first unit of study. In Year 12 students reflect upon their formation at the College and examine again the life of Ignatius and what it means to be a graduate of an Ignatian school. What is always interesting to me is the thing every student remembers is the cannonball! Which is not surprising. Getting hit by a cannonball was pretty uncommon, even back in the time of St Ignatius. The anniversary of this significant event in the life of St Ignatius occurs within the week commencing the 20th of May.

At the College we embrace the student’s recollection of the cannonball as a reference point as our students are reminded that this catastrophic incident was the catalyst for reflection, prayer and transformation. This is the key to spiritual growth, and that is the lesson we hope our students have learnt.

In this theme I offer a reflection written by our friend Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ who is an exceptional author and tireless worker at Jesuit Social Services. I hope you enjoy this reflection and find that this illuminates this point.

May 20 the Anniversary of St Ignatius’ encounter with a cannon ball

Most events, even though they seem very big to those who took part in them, are soon forgotten within the history books. Other events, however, are remembered for things that seemed very small at the time but had huge consequences.

Both these things are true of the attack on the Castle at Pamplona that took place 600 years ago. It seemed big at the time. It pitted the Spanish King who was attempting to unify Spain against forces from the local kingdom of Navarre aided by French soldiers. It was, however, a relatively unimportant incident among hundreds of such skirmishes which occurred over a 20 year period, many of which involved Pamplona, and have coloured the subsequent history of this fiercely independent Basque region.

The small event for which the battle is now best remembered was the wounding of a knight defending the Castle of Pamplona. His leg was struck by a ricocheting cannonball. His injury led to the inevitable surrender of the castle. For the wounded knight, Inigo of Loyola, it also led to a long convalescence which changed the direction of his life and shaped the church and world that we inherited.

The key to this change lay in the history and the inner life of the injured man himself. He was representative of his age – with high aspirations, his heart set on life at court, on military prowess, achievement in war, on falling in love, on public esteem and on rising in society. He was a doer and a goer. Being laid up with a busted leg that, out of vanity, he had rebroken, with nothing to dream about but jousting and lovemaking, with nothing to read about but the extraordinary lives of Saints, was not part of his plan. He found himself dreaming about both these opposing ways of life. And crucially, he began to reflect both on his dreams and on his life, and then to reflect on his reflections.

In this process he found God’s calling. As he devoted all his energies to following it, he began to open this reflective way of life to others. He lived as a beggar who in the marketplaces engaged people in conversation that led them to reflect on their own lives. When the religious authorities stopped him from doing this because of his lack of qualifications, he went to Paris to study. There he gathered around him a group of fellow students whom he also taught to reflect on their lives, and to ask where God was leading them. Their shared journey led them eventually to form a religious congregation characterised by its gift for spiritual conversation and by its treasuring Ignatius’ way to a reflective life. He named the congregation after Jesus, whose following was central both to the path he took, and to the reflection he encouraged.

Ignatius’ experience lies at the heart of the Ignatian tradition that Jesuit Social Services has inherited. The reflectiveness that led him to ask what matters is also central to our way of working – of seeking out the people who most need our help, of helping them also to find what they want most deeply in life, and to reflect constantly on our own way of working to ensure that we continue to serve others and not just ourselves.

We do not know what happened to the cannonball which bounced off the castle wall on to Ignatius’ leg. But it's apparently accidental path remains an image of Ignatius’ own change of trajectory, one to which he brought all his natural gifts of leadership and persistence. He harnessed these to the radical new life he discovered through reflection on where God was leading him. In doing that, he left us all indebted to him.

Yours in Christ,

Brendan Nicholls
  Liturgy Coordinator