I walked into my son’s room on All Saints Day morning, and as usual, he was still lying in his bed relaxing instead of getting dressed. In fact, his uniform was sitting exactly where his dad left it, on the edge of his bed. I sighed deeply, but I was also hopeful because I entered his room carrying a sword. I came close to him and sat on his bed as he slowly turned over. Then, he noticed the sword. He sat up quickly and grabbed it. “What’s this for, mom?”
“It is a sword for your All Saints Day costume. You are going to be St. Ignatius of Loyola.”
“He had a SWORD?!”
Instantly intrigued, he started slowly getting dressed as he asked me questions about the sword and St. Ignatius of Loyola. I told him that St. Ignatius wanted to be a great knight, but he got into a battle where he got hurt by a cannonball. Before I could go on, he said “Wait, why did he get hurt? If I was there, I would have told him to move out of the way like this.” He swerved his body first to the right and then to the left and finally ducked down as imaginary cannonballs soared at him. “That’s a really good plan, buddy,” I said. “Yea,” he replied, “If I were in battle, I would not get hurt because I am super strong. I can even carry a brick.” He loves telling everyone around him that he can carry a brick these days. I’m not exactly sure why that’s his measure of strength, but he seems satisfied that means he’s stronger than at least his younger brothers.
After he got dressed and we were in the car, I heard him telling his brothers about the first part of Ignatius’ story. “And then he got hit by a cannonball,” he said excitedly. He made sure to add that he knew how to evade cannonballs. Once he was the only one in the car, I reminded him of the second part of the story – that Ignatius laid down his sword and picked up his cross to follow Jesus. “Aw, is it because he lost?” he said. “If I were there, I would have shown him how to avoid the cannonball,” he reminded me serving again in his seat.
“Yes, buddy, but sometimes… sometimes getting hit by a cannonball is just what a person needs.”
He was a little confused, “It is good to get hit by a cannonball?”
I went on to tell him that bad things are always bad things, but sometimes what comes out of them is good. Ignatius was able to reform his life because he had time to sit and think about his choices. He mulled over this a little bit, obviously struggling a little with how good can come from something as painful as a cannonball. After a little while, he said, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be on the side of protecting the world.” Of course, my heart leapt at this, but he went on to say something that challenged me. He got a serious look on his face as he considered his words carefully: “But mom, I just don’t know what side I should be on to protect the world…” Taken aback by the magnitude of that, I breathed in and replied, “The side of love. Always the side of love.”
St. Ignatius was not always on the side of love. He started out filled with selfishness and pride. However, he got there eventually, and today we honor him as a saint. We have so many examples of this both in the saints and in Scripture. In fact, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus interacts with Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Zacchaeus is trying desperately to catch a glimpse of Christ over the crowd. Before Zacchaeus can actually say anything to Jesus, the Gospel passage says that Jesus comes to him. He says “Today I shall be with you in your house” and he receives Zacchaeus with joy. Jesus demonstrates what it means to act on the side of love. And through his actions, Zacchaeus repents and lays down his own “sword” in order to follow Jesus.
Acting on the side of love can change hearts. Acting on the side of love can change the world.
May we strive during this month of November to act on the side of love and recognize and celebrate that we walk among imperfect, human, saints.