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Cannonballs & Conversions


Today marks five hundred years since poor old St Ignatius of Loyola got his leg smashed to pieces by a cannonball.

Imagine that. Imagine having your leg blown off, and thinking that in five hundred years time people would actually be reminiscing about it. Your hideous accident would be worth celebrating as an anniversary.

What if the cold callers started doing that, or the people who pester you in the street, “Have you had an accident or a trip or a fall in the last six months Madam? No? It’s not that we can help you get compensation. It’s just that in half a millennium, should the world still exist, we might want to make a bit of a big deal about it. You know, a series of talks and retreats and some bird might even write a column about it.”

So what was so special about this cannonball incident? Who was St Ignatius? Well, he was just plain Ignatius at this point I should say, or indeed Inigo to be precise. He was a soldier and a womaniser, and quite accomplished at both by all accounts.

And that’s okay, because if you are a man you can kill and womanise as much as you like and still turn it all around and become a saint.

There are quite a few of these ex-Casanova saintly types, whereas when I once mentioned in a piece I wrote that I had a different boyfriend before I was married, people wrote to the bishop and complained.

What has been good for the goose in the church for centuries is not remotely acceptable for the gander in the twenty twenties.

Alas I digress. Inigo was living His Best Life or so he thought, until the 20th of May 1521, when that cannonball hit him.

A lot of surgery followed, and while he was convalescing someone gave him a book about saints. Now before this, he liked to read trashy romance novels, the sort of sixteenth century equivalent of Hello magazine we imagine, all gossip and debauchery. And he noticed something.

He noticed a very simple something, which was powerful enough to resonate for five hundred years. What he observed was that when he read his trashy books, and fantasised about womanising and soldiering, he felt rubbish. However when he read his book about Saints, and his Bible, he felt good.

So, he started to do a bit more of the thing that made him feel good, and a bit less of the thing that made him feel rubbish. And then a bit more and another bit more. Which, I think, is something we can all learn from.

Its not rocket science, but then most of the best things aren’t. I might even advocate making a list.

My things to be include; reading about people who used to be fat but now are thin, reading about people who used to be thin but now are fat, television programmes where people don’t have facial expressions anymore, attending meetings as a person under forty where the main agenda is complaining that people under forty are not involved enough, doing The Online Shop and making meals that involve more than two pans.

My things to do more of, other than the obvious things like praying and listening to Leonard Cohen (if those two are not the same thing) are; stroking the cat, looking at the sky, swimming, talking to humans, listening to humans, getting soil on my hands, tv programmes where people make things out of other things, wearing my husband’s jumper and stroking the cat some more.

Finally, I suppose, crying my eyes out watching Call the Midwife. Tears were no a bad thing for Inigo as it happens. Indeed tears were a sign of the good spirit - not the dark spirit - on the move. Which is also very helpful I think. Especially now…

Think for a moment about the person you most long to hug, about the things you are missing that move you to tears. And let those things be your guide. A world where we squeeze our neighbours a little tighter then sit and sob over March of the Penguins would surely be a better place.

Even if you read this a long time after the anniversary of Inigo’s cannonball incident, I still encourage you to cast a metal detector over the shattered pieces of your own life at the moment (because lets face it, we are all just in bits, that’s a given) and just notice.

Notice the warmth and the joy and the tears and let those things point the way to the freedom and the creativity and the peace, oh please God the Peace.

Because I don’t think any of us are going to make it as saints (well certainly not me, I have had too many boyfriends), but we can all do a bit less of the bad stuff, and a bit more of the good stuff.

And we can be grateful when we manage it, and say sorry when we don’t. And maybe we might just start to get the hang of it, this business of living.

Feel our breath slow, hear the deep silence behind the cat’s purr, and know the stillness that is always underneath the storm. Always. n

Sally Fraser

St.Ignatius recovering from his leg explosion in Anzuola


If you’re a man you can kill and womanise as much as you like and still turn it around and become a saint


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