Ignatius of Loyola became a soldier, and in 1521 he found himself and his small group of fellow warriors defending the fortress of Pamplona against the French. They were seriously outnumbered, and a more prudent—and less zealous—leader might have negotiated a surrender, but Ignatius (Iggy) was not the type to do anything halfway. They were roundly defeated by the French, and during the battle a cannonball ripped through Iggy’s legs, leaving a mangled mess. Because Ignatius was a sort-of nobleman, and because rules of engagement back then—at least among some armies—demanded basic courtesy to other soldiers, even conquered enemies, the French carried Iggy on a two-week journey back to his family’s castle in Basque country.
We can only imagine the following long months of recuperation: surgeries with very little in the way of anesthetics, severely limited knowledge of how to deal with infection, and so on. Probably just as unbearable for Iggy were the isolation and the inability to do anything. All he could do was read and daydream, and the only books his sister-in-law found for him were on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints—certainly not the courtly romance novels he had asked for. (These stories about great ladies and the knights who defended them were all the rage at the time.)
So, Ignatius spent a lot of time in his head. His daydreams took him to scenes of his heroic actions that would win the heart of the lady he loved. Alternately, the stories about Christ and the saints stimulated daydreams of his becoming a great saint—greater than all the other saints, in fact!
Then he began to notice that, after daydreaming about courageous acts of knighthood, he was left feeling empty and unsatisfied. But after a daydream about becoming a saint, he felt his soul lifted up. Maybe because he was stuck in bed for days on end, Ignatius paid close attention to his inner state, and he began to think that his mental and emotional reactions to these two very different kinds of daydreams were trying to tell him something.
By the time he was able to walk again, Ignatius of Loyola carried a new vision for his life, and he was headed in a direction quite different from before. He emerged from his months of convalescence intent on dedicating his life to God and following Christ.
In 1522 Ignatius left the Loyola castle on a mule and made the difficult journey to the summit of Montserrat, where he laid down his sword and dagger before the sacred statue of Our Lady of Montserrat, there in the Benedictine abbey. Iggy gave his clothes to the poor and, no longer a soldier, went looking for his new life.
For more about Ignatian spirituality throughout the month of July, follow 31 Days with St. Ignatius.