Most of us have probably found ourselves in situations where things went differently than anticipated or planned. The reality that unfolded may have been experienced as a painful tragedy, a glorious blessing, or even an unremarkably mundane occurrence. Whether dramatic or commonplace, positive or negative, desired or dreaded, profound or miniscule, these experiences disrupted our expectations. Such disruptions can be pivotal moments in our lives that catalyze change. These are cannonball moments.
Just what do cannonballs have to do with this? I’m so glad you asked! Last weekend we celebrated the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was born into a noble family in Spain, and early in life began working in a royal court. As a young man he dreamed of personal fame, fortune, and romance and desired to become a chivalrous knight. Ignatius served as a military officer, and while defending Pamplona against an attack by the French in 1521, a cannonball struck his legs, seriously wounding him in battle.
After initial treatment for his injuries in Pamplona, Ignatius returned to his family’s castle in Loyola to continue his recovery. Ignatius passed his time by reading the only books available to him: one on the life of Jesus, and another on the lives of the saints. He began to notice that when he daydreamed about his original desires for fame, glory, and romance, he was left feeling restless and unsatisfied. However, when he read about and contemplated the lives of Jesus and the saints, he felt satisfaction and peace. This time of convalescence ultimately led to Ignatius’ conversion to Christ. The cannonball changed the course of his life.
While they don’t typically involve literal cannonballs, many of us have experienced cannonball moments in our lives. These are decisive moments that make us stop, reflect, and think: What is God asking of me? They are moments when we discover new dreams and possibilities for our lives. They are moments that help us discover and become who God has created us to be. They are moments when God asks us to trust the work of the Spirit, let go of what was, and step forward into something new.
One of the cannonball moments in my own life came when I was walking to class as a grad student thinking about whether I really wanted to be a police officer. When a simple, “No” surfaced in me, it literally stopped me in my tracks. That was not at all what I expected. It became a pivotal moment as my life changed course and I began moving toward a life serving in ministry. What have been the cannonball moments in your life?
May 21st of this year was the 500th anniversary of Ignatius being struck by a cannonball. The Society of Jesus is commemorating the occasion by celebrating an Ignatian Year which will end next year on the feast of St. Ignatius. As part of this celebration, many Jesuits and others have been sharing about their own cannonball moments. You might enjoy hearing the stories they have shared on various social media platforms (#cannonballmoment #Ignatius500). Perhaps you’ll even consider sharing your own story as part of the Ignatian Year!