The cannon ball moment: Seeing all things in Christ

We live in a painful cannon ball moment, real violence, confusion, hatred and temptation for more violence.

Dear Friends in the Lord,

It is a great joy to greet all of you. Happy Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola to all the Jesuits and their collaborators. Special wishes to our dear Pope Francis. His Jesuit culture and DNA continue to nurture the church. Happy Feast!

I welcome all of you, friends of Jesuits, religious and collaborators. This is also a blessed occasion since after three long years, we all are coming together as a faith community to celebrate this feast. May all blessings be on all of us. May our light of hope continue to shine. Let there be a new dawn.

I am grateful to all the Jesuits, for the warm welcome, to Father Girish Santiago, the superior of the Jesuit Mission Myanmar for this invitation, Father Mark Raper, the great pioneer of Jesuits. With abundant joy I see the Society of Jesus growing in Myanmar, becoming a Jesuit Region. Happy to see so many local priests and brothers. Mingla Ba.

This celebration is a very special event. The Jesuits celebrate the 500 years of a battle field wound of an exploding cannon ball and shattered the leg and the dream of a young and impetuous Inigo Lopez. That cannon ball is a metaphor of dreams that die young, shattered all his ambitions. But that is also the metaphor of the transformation of Inigo Lopez into the Ignatius of Loyola, into the loyal soldier of Christ.

Jesuits do not celebrate that cannon ball wound. They celebrate the explosion of a great epiphany of Grace in the life of St Ignatius. The Jesus event. The long recuperation resulted in the transformation of Inigo into Ignatius Loyola. In Jesus life the mystery of the cross changed into the message of resurrection. In the life of Ignatius, the wound of the cannon ball did not bury him, but made him a seed that fell into the ground and gave hundred hold.

That deadly accident of cannon ball event of 1521 changed not only Ignatius life, it changed the life of the Church, the Society of Jesus and the world at large. Ignatius will go on to found the great Society of Jesus. Thousands and thousands of young men followed the path of Ignatius and the world is a better place and millions continue to benefit from that wound of the cannon ball. Happy Feast of Cannon Ball, without which there will not be any 500 years of Jesuits in Myanmar.

For Myanmar people, this is special. The history of Myanmar Church is around 500 years. The history of Myanmar Jesuits is part of Myanmar Church history. The Jesuits were there from the beginning, in Syriam with the first Christian community. When persecution came, they fled with the first Christians to the Sagaing Region. Till today, those pioneer Jesuits remain buried in unknown graves. A vibrant Catholic Community grew in those villages. I come from one of those villages. I am grateful to trace my own history to that period. The second coming of Jesuits in the 1950s to start the seminary strengthened the Church. That was a short-lived tenure but deeply cherished memory to our young church.

Dear Jesuits, it is time to say a big thank you. I am glad the Jesuit presence today is of great blessing to the Church and the nation. God has been good to Jesuits, their mission is growing, their number is growing. On behalf of the Myanmar Church, our heart is filled with gratitude for the service you are doing to the people of Myanmar: in education, in pastoral care, leadership institute, accompanying our people in their great needs, promoting the Spiritual Exercises, helping in the formation of the local church and religious.

Your commendable fellowship with the local church in their socio pastoral needs is a great source of inspiration. Thousands benefited by your social outreach, especially during the calamities. You are small in number but your work is always MAGIS; reaching out to the maximum number of people. The diverse number of people reaching here bear ample witness to your quality service. All for the greater glory of God, in the Spirit of Magis.

What is the relevance of this feast to Myanmar today?

When Jesuits say they commemorate the cannon ball wound of Ignatius, I see a great relevance on Myanmar today. Ignatius Loyola lived in a society like ours: wars, conflict, displacement, human suffering, so much of confusion in the Church and the world of his times. Violence seemed to be the arbiter of the human life. Starvation, so much of human tears. Cannon ball moment.

During Ignatius’ days, the will of the might, determined who lived and who died. Inigo Lopez belonged to that logic of Might is Right. Ignatius Loyola was born Inigo Lopez in 1491. The youngest of 13 children. As a young man he was involved in all vices: gambling, admiration for women and violent conflict. In 1521 during his battles with the French aggressors, Inigo’s leg was shattered by a cannon ball. He was carried back to Loyola by French soldiers who admired him. His leg was broken. Life seemed to have turned suddenly into a nightmare. Dreams into nightmare. Familiar sight in history.,

Just to while away his time, he started reading Life of Christ and Life of Saints. A broken limb gradually rebuilt his humanity. His long and painful recuperation to get his leg into shape brought Ignatius into his encounter with God. Jesus became his king. The great feats of saints looked more heroic. Life to Ignatius is not about killing. A true courage comes to men who work for the welfare of others.

The biggest battles, Ignatius understood, were internal. In his sick bed Inigo was led into reflections: he understood unliberated egoistic evil men were the curse of the world, that animal nature often overcomes human weakness. The heart, needs to be cleansed from demonic infatuations. After long struggle with his animal instincts, he put himself into the hard road back to humanity.

Gradually he realized, there was another cannon ball, that is the Spiritual cannon ball that shattered his false self. Long hours of prayers transformed him. He set himself on a spiritual adventure, which resulted in Manresa revelations. The worldly solider became the solider for Christ and see the whole reality through the eyes of Jesus. He understood, God speaks to the humble heart. God became a reality. God was everywhere. This spiritual discovery he would give to the world the great treasure of Spiritual Exercise.

The cannon ball become the encounter what Saul had on the way when Jesus made him Paul. And his great mission. Like him through prayer and penance, Ignatius entered into a conversion. He would become a student again, go to Paris where he met companions like Francis Xavier. With them the Society of Jesus was formed. The invalid Inigo became an enlightened Ignatius. It was an explosion of creativity and human spirit. Every Jesuit became a cannon ball of MAGIS, provoking the greater good for the greater number of people. Every Jesuit became a hardened and uncompromising soldier for Christ. The mystical letters SJ became a seal of commitment and a worldwide spectre of mission. Ignatius worked out a miracle in him, in the Society of Jesus and through it “he set the world on fire.”

Today’s Mass readings summarize the wonder of spirituality of the Jesuits.

First: The Spiritual Exercises change every Jesuits into a man of God and Man for others. Once trained, his zeal takes him to every part of the world. The Spiritual Exercises give a fire in their heart. The spirit of Jesuits always astounds us, just look at our Pope Francis, who can very easily echo the world of Jeremiah: There is something like fire burning fire shut up in my bones. Even at this age his prophetic journeys and exhortations continue to inspire the world.

In the second reading, St Paul talks about the spirit of Magis: All for the greater Glory of God. Do it well. So many Jesuits are excelling in their field — great priests, liturgists, theologians, Scientists, writers, professors, formators, preachers, among others.

The Gospel reading of today talks about planning. Jesuits are masters in planning, creating an impact: The great universities of the world, schools and seminaries are monuments to human civilizations. Jesus instructs that one of the hall mark of being a disciple is a good planner. Without planning one cannot be a disciple. Jesuits are professionals in whatever they do.

Yes. The Jesuits accept the challenge. Today Myanmar is not different from the various struggles of what Ignatius confronted.

If Ignatius were to be here today amidst us what would be his message? Telling the Jesuits, telling all of us gathered here today?

We live in a painful cannon ball moment, real violence, confusion, hatred and temptation for more violence. COVID was a cannon ball moment. More and more tragedies in this country, more and more cannon balls in the world, including the Ukraine war. The UN data of displacement, hunger and conflict in Myanmar tells us that we are, indeed, living in another “cannonball moment.” He will advise us cannon ball moments are experiences that force us to stop how we are living and invite us to live in a new way. It is easy to give way to hopelessness, despair and hatred.

Surely, he will console us. He will say that the Jesuits and the Church need to accompany the way of the cross of our people. It is the face of Jesus in the tears and brokenness of our people. He will urge us to examine: How can I follow this wounded Jesus more closely? He will say these are cannon ball moments. He will also urge us that the way of the cross will end in hope. All the more reason the Jesuits to join the people of Myanmar in their journey of hope, to look at the world as Jesus would look compassionately.

Ignatius often prayed for a sense of generosity. This is urgently needed when millions are suffering.

Ignatius will urge us: Love needs to be shown in action. Ignatius gave a method: discern. Greater good for greater number of people. Discernment: How to do good? How to show God to people whose suffering is immense? That is the challenge for all, especially to the Jesuits

Ignatius taught the Jesuits a method: Discerned Love. That is urgent in Myanmar. That is threefold:

  • Of seeking out the people who most need help,
  • Helping them also to find what they want most deeply in life, bringing the Spiritual Exercises
  • Reflecting constantly on our way of working to ensure that we continue to serve others and not just ourselves.

Yes, Jesuit friends and all others. Let me summarize today’s reflection.

  • Ignatius struggled hard to liberate himself from selfish ego. His famous prayer for generosity is NOT me BUT you and we. He will say: Give without counting.
  • Ignatius will end his spiritual exercise with the mediation on Love. The message of this year’s Ignatian feast, “seeing the reality through the eyes of Jesus.” Ultimate power is the power of the human heart, no power on earth can mutilate the dream of human spirit.
  • Cannon balls can break the leg but not the human spirit. The cowards who tried to kill the young Inigo, underestimated his resolve. That day million dreams were born. The Jesuit spirit exploded that day with the battle cry “Set the World on Fire!” Ignatius set free the human spirit, brought the best in human spirit.

To be a saint is to celebrate the humanity. Ignatius lived that dream that day. Don Bosco would agree with him. Don Bosco dedicated his life to make the dreams of youth a reality.

This is the faith journey of all of us. The way of the cross did not end with the Calvary; but it ended with the empty grave with the risen Christ; the victory of life over death, victory of wanton violence over resurrection of hope. The longest night of silent tears will always end in a dawn.

That is the message of the 500 years anniversary of the cannon ball. That is the hope of all of us today. Let us reimagine a tomorrow in the light of Jesus who proclaimed, let us reimagine a Myanmar where there will not be any more tears. Let thousand Inigos rise from shattered cannon balls into a new dawn of hope.

Happy Feast.

Homily of Cardinal Charles Bo, SDB, Archbishop of Yangon, during the celebration of the Feast of St Ignatius Feast at St Augustine’s Church in Myanmar on July 30, 2022.

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