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Spiritual Reflection – Easter 6

Spiritual Reflection – Satisfaction

You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You. (St Augustine – The Confessions, Book 1)

The Rolling Stones song I Can’t Get No Satisfaction is a reminder of the struggle that human beings face to find meaning, or satisfaction, in life. Especially in today’s heavily  commercialised world, where we are constantly bombarded with messages of what it is we need to make us happy. Where people take to social media to post photos of themselves on holiday, or at the gym, or at the local restaurant, cafe or bar showing how happy and wonderful their lives are. And yet in reality, most of these people are dreadfully unhappy, but they feel the pressure to compete with friends and acquaintances who all appear (on the surface at least) to be living successful and happy lives.

The advertisers and the social media ‘influencers’ tells us that securing wealth, power, status, possessions, and enhancing our physical appearance, will make us happy and provide us with a feeling of satisfaction, and even a sense of purpose. However history suggests this is not the case.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), was the thirteenth child in a family of minor nobility. Like other boys coming of age at that time, he imagined himself as one of the knights he read about in the romantic novels of his time. Family connections helped secure him a position serving as a page to the treasurer of the kingdom of Castile. 

So he left his native Loyola at the age of sixteen for a life at court. The upwardly mobile young man easily fit into his new role: riding, duelling, gambling, dancing, and romancing young ladies.

When he was twenty-six, he took up the life of a soldier in the northern town of Pamplona. 

Ever loyal, he did not hesitate to come to the Crown’s defence when in 1521 the French attacked Pamplona. It was a lost battle from the start, with his small band of soldiers easily outnumbered. As a matter of honour, he refused to give up the town fortress. Through the walls of the citadel crashed a cannonball, which struck him in the legs. Impressed by his courage, the French soldiers tended to his wounds and carried him back to Loyola, where doctors reset his legs.

After his legs were re-broken and had begun to heal, he noticed that his right leg was shorter than his left and that there was an unsightly protrusion of the bone. He worried that these deformities would spell the end of his knightly life. So he had his doctors break and reset his limb again, saw off the bump on his leg, and stretch his shorter leg in a rack-like instrument. The pain was excruciating but, in his worldly estimation, worth it.

For six months, he convalesced. To pass the time, he asked his caregiver for some novels of chivalry to read, but all she could find were a popular version of the life of Christ and a collection of tales of saints. As he read and pondered these books, he noticed a change taking place within him. Daydreams of serving the king as a valiant knight and winning the love of a noble lady, though at first enticing, ultimately left him feeling inwardly dry and discontented. By contrast, when he imagined devoting his life to the service of God and others, as had the saints he was reading about, he experienced a deep sense of joy.

In his autobiography, written in the third person and dictated to a fellow Jesuit near the end of his life:

When he thought of worldly matters, he found much delight; but after growing weary and dismissing them, he found that he was dry and unhappy. But when he thought of . . . imitating the saints in all the austerities they practiced, he not only found consolation in these thoughts, but even after they had left him he remained happy and joyful. (Autobiography, no. 8)

This self-reflection of St Ignatius seems to echo the thoughts of St Augustine: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

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