Homily by Fr Frank Brennan, Rector Newman College, University of Melbourne, 20 May 2021.
The autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola commences with these words:
‘Until the age of 26 he was a man given over to vanities of the world; with a great and vain desire to win fame he delighted especially in the exercise of arms. Once when he was in a fortress that the French were attacking, although all the others saw clearly that they could not defend themselves and were of the opinion that they should surrender provided their lives were spared, he gave so many reasons to the commander that he persuaded him at last to defend it; this was contrary to the views of all the Knights, but they were encouraged by his valour and energy. When the day arrived on which the bombardment was expected, he confessed to one of his companions in arms. After the bombardment had lasted a good while, a shot hit him in the leg, breaking it completely; since the ball passed through both legs, the other one was also badly damaged.
‘When he fell, the defenders of the fortress surrendered immediately to the French who, having taken possession of it, treated the wounded man very well, with courtesy and kindness.’
This event occurred in Pamplona Spain on 20 May 1521. Allowing for the 8 hour time difference, the cannonball could have lodged at this precise moment 500 years ago almost to the minute. Here we are on the other side of the globe reflecting on the significance of this event five centuries later.
Tonight we commence our Ignatian year. Fr General Arturo Sosa wrote to us announcing, ‘It is my desire that at the heart of this Ignatian year we would hear the Lord calling us, and we would allow him to work our conversion inspired by the personal experience of Ignatius’.
If we are being honest with each other and with our God, we are feeling a little more like the knights who accompanied Ignatius on this day 500 years ago rather than Ignatius himself. We know that we are outnumbered and besieged, and we speak from experience. We see the wisdom in more than the occasional retreat. But like those knights and their commander, we are inspired by the valour and energy of Ignatius.
All around us, we see the options which Moses put to the people: ‘Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and gloom’. We will live and grow numerous if we love the Lord and walk in his ways. ‘If however you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish’. We have set down before us life and death, the blessing and the curse. We are invited yet again to choose life. We know that perishing is one realistic option on the table.
Like the disciples in tonight’s gospel, we are told by others, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’. In our searching, in our confusion, in our discernment, we hear Jesus asking us individually and collectively, ‘What are you looking for?’, and we hear the invitation from the Lord, ‘Come and see’.
Fr Sosa has urged us, ‘The Universal Apostolic Preferences have confirmed the call to our personal, community, and institutional conversion, which is necessary for our greater spiritual and apostolic freedom and adaptability. Let us take this opportunity to let God transform our life-mission, according to his will.’
Tonight, marking the 500th anniversary of Ignatius Loyola’s military injury which changed his life, we pray in thanks for all those who continue to find God’s will in the midst of adversity. During his long recuperation, Ignatius learnt the art of discernment. We pray in thanks for those in our midst who seek the magis, finding God in all things. We pray for the Jesuits of the Australian Province and all those committed to Jesuit ministries in this part of the world.
Embracing the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Jesuits, we pray for those showing others the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment. We pray in thanks for all those who walk with the poor, outcasts and victims of violence in our mission of justice and reconciliation. We pray for young people and for those who accompany them in the creation of a hope-filled future. As we face the challenges of climate change and inequality, we pray for our world leaders and those committed to care for our common home. We give thanks for our Jesuit Pope Francis who urges us to go to the peripheries while reminding us: ‘To serve Christ is to love this concrete Church, and to serve her with generosity and with the spirit of obedience.’
Back at Loyola after a couple of weeks waiting on his bed of pain in Pamplona, Ignatius underwent surgery without anaesthetic of any sort and a long convalescence. He read whatever was on hand. To return to the Autobiography:
‘When he was thinking about the things of the world, he took much delight in them, but afterwards, when he was tired and put them aside, he found that he was dry and discontented. But when he thought of going to Jerusalem, barefoot and eating nothing but herbs and undergoing all the other rigours that he saw the saints had endured, not only was he consoled when he had these thoughts, but even after putting them aside, he remained content and happy. He did not wonder, however, at this; nor did he stop to ponder the difference until one time his eyes were opened a little, and he began to marvel at the difference and to reflect upon it, realising from experience that some thoughts left him sad and others happy. Little by little he came to recognise the difference between the spirits that agitated him’. 
In the year ahead, let’s treasure those things that give us delight, and let’s be ever attentive to those rare moments when our eyes are opened just a little, allowing us to marvel, reflect, plan, and go forth, making a difference in our world, planting the seeds of the kingdom to come.
 The Autobiography of St Ignatius Loyola, translated by Joseph F O’Callaghan, Harper Torchbooks, 1974, p. 21
 Ibid, p.24