Question 3: What do you need to let go of?
by Paddy Gilger, SJ
Ignatius’s sword wasn’t just decorative. When he laid it at the feet of the Black Madonna it wasn’t a toy he was putting away; it was a weapon, one he had used before. Indeed we read in his autobiography that Ignatius had thought of running that very same sword through a man he’d met on the road just days before, one he felt had insulted the Virgin.
So why was Ignatius—this man upon whose words so many (myself included) have built our spiritual lives—thinking this way? Was he simply bloodthirsty? A thug-for-God?
I don’t think so. I think that sword, and the life of that sword, was all he knew. It was the only way to do the good things he wanted to do for God. And he gave it up.
I’ve had to do the same in my own life, and I’m sure you have in yours. For me it came (it comes, really, because the process is never over) while making the Spiritual Exercises during my first year as a Jesuit. I was in the first week of the retreat and praying about being a loved sinner. I’d been praying about this for days, with nothing but a dry heart to show for the hours. Not knowing what to do, I’d return to what I knew: action, imagining the great things I wanted to do for God as a Jesuit. I would cross and re-cross spiritual ground that had been fruitful a week before to no avail. Dry bones and dry heart persisted.
It wasn’t until I began to get desperate that I noticed I’d never even thought to ask—to beg even—for actual help. I think it took those days to realize that prayer, that being a Jesuit, that life, wasn’t something I could do alone. And then it took facing the fact that thought alone was insufficient. I would actually have to ask for help.
When those words came so did the rains.
I think all of us, in our moments of greater rather than lesser honesty, know what it means to put down our weapons so that we can follow God with fewer defenses, greater freedom, and more trust.
Life is more vulnerable lived this way, but it’s better. My life is better, God, when I’m willing to learn and relearn how to lay down the things I’ve used to defend myself. My life is better, Lord, when I am willing to lay down the habits of my life at your feet. Thank you for asking me to let go.
Fr. Paddy Gilger, SJ, lives and works at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He is editor-at-large for The Jesuit Post, and editor of the new book, The Jesuit Post: #Faith #God #Frontiers #Culture #Mystery #Love. Follow him on Twitter at @paddygilgersj.