The readings for this Sunday made me instantly think of the story of St. Ignatius. Maybe it’s because I have been writing a lot and talking a lot about him lately, and so his story is fresh on my mind. If you are not familiar with St. Ignatius, the short story is that the man wanted to be a great knight and win the hand of a lady. However, he got injured in a battle, and while he was recovering, he had a transformative experience in which he was able to hear God’s voice and soften his heart enough to understand the new course God was calling him to.
Today the psalmist implores: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” (Psalm 90)
I imagine that there were times when Ignatius was a boy dreaming about becoming a great knight that he felt twinges in his heart that maybe this was not exactly what he was supposed to do. If we had the same lectionary in the 16th century while Ignatius was still dreaming of knighthood, I would imagine that on this particular Sunday, he would have felt very challenged by the words in Ecclesiastes, Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, and Luke’s Gospel. After all, all of these passages suggest that there is another way to live. And all of these passages suggest that perhaps the things Ignatius, and by extension us, hold onto most tightly are not the most important things after all.
It was not until St. Ignatius was injured and laid up in a castle unable to do anything else that he was finally able to hear God’s voice and let God’s message into his heart. Even after he understood that God was asking something different of him, however, he still did not have it all figured out. He went from seeking the glory of knighthood to seeking different glory by living a life of extreme poverty and asceticism. Over and over again, St. Ignatius had to figure out how to soften his heart to understand what God was really asking of him. And when he finally did hear God’s voice, he was able to leave us an immense treasure in the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian Spirituality.
So, imagine if he wasn’t able to soften his heart?
It also takes a lot to soften my heart to hear God’s voice. My ears are so often closed out of fear that I will not be fully prepared for what God is asking of me. I am often scared God will ask me to give up some of the things that I hold onto tightly, the things of this world that I love. I wonder often if I am pursuing the path God has called me to or if there is more in store for me that I am not yet aware of.
The problem is, however, that sometimes by holding on tightly to certain things I am unable to let myself experience the joy and love available in the things God has in store for me.
I think the readings this Sunday are mostly about listening. Opening our heart and our ears to what God is saying to us as well as trusting that the road God will lead us down will result in greater fruits than we could have possibly imagined.
On this Sunday, right smack in the middle of ordinary time, I think we are being invited to take this precious and ordinary time to notice the movements in our heart and respond with trust that God will give us all we need.
[My sketch is based off an image I found at https://catechistsjourney.loyolapress.com/2014/06/july-and-the-feast-of-st-ignatius-of-loyola/ done as an exercise in prayer]