This summer’s look at the Ignatian Year began with a recounting of the pivotal event in the life of Inigo Lopez de Loyola: the shattering of his right leg by a French cannonball at the battle of Pamplona in 1521. This moment changed the course of the life of this brave soldier, and, by extension, the history of the world.
After his convalescence and conversion Inigo began a pilgrimage that would take him to the Holy Land where he had planned to spend the rest of his days. The first part of his journey began at his ancestral home in the Basque region of Spain, just south of the Bay of Biscay near the French border and the Pyrenees Mountains, and concluded at a cave outside Manresa near the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat.
The trip covered a distance of 640 kilometers, approximately 400 miles. That’s about the distance between Cleveland and Philadelphia...and he did it on foot...with a bad leg...over rocky terrain. No one ever doubted the intensity and dedication of the man from Loyola.
While at Montserrat he spent time in front of the altar dedicated to the namesake of the monastery: the Virgin of Montserrat, also known as the Black Madonna. This statue of Mary and Jesus is described by the scholar Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J., as “elegance personified,” “peerless beauty,” and “capable of bringing its beholders to their knees.”
This is exactly what happened to Inigo as he knelt in prayer throughout the night, dedicating himself to Jesus and His Mother. As a sign of his conversion from being a soldier for the earthly Kingdom of Spain to being one for the heavenly Kingdom of Jesus and Mary he laid his sword on the altar and continued on his pilgrimage.
The offering of one’s sword to a king or queen was an essential part of the ritual of knighthood, a symbol of dedication of one’s life to the monarch. In performing this act at Montserrat Inigo transformed and sacramentalized it, using it as a visible sign of his inner metanoia or “change of heart.”
This gesture not only provides the modern Christian with a beautiful picture of the conversion of Inigo, but gives an example of what it means to be a soldier for Christ. It compels anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus to search her or his soul to find the sword that must be presented to the Lord and Lady of Heaven.
For Inigo, as a soldier, nothing could have compelled him to travel without his sword. It was that to which he would cling as if to life itself. It, in conjunction with his worldly skills, was that upon which Inigo put his faith. To lay that sword before the Black Madonna and to walk away was to put his trust in her and her Son rather than a piece of sharpened steel.
The Christian is called to trust as Inigo did at the Abbey of Montserrat, yet how difficult it is to lay down our swords. For Inigo Lopez de Loyola it took a cannonball to get him to look at where his life was heading and to give him the courage to lay down his sword. What is our cannonball and what is our sword? And more importantly, are we willing to kneel down before the peerless beauty of Madonna and Child and then walk away from the earthly attachments that weigh us down on our pilgrimage to the eternal Holy Land?