"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Surrender and Awaken: Invitations to Conversion from the Life of St Ignatius [Homily delivered on July 31, 2021 by Fr Jordan Orbe SJ]

Slight Change of Plans. This is quite the understatement about the last few days and the past year and a half. This is also the title of a podcast [1] that I’ve started listening to recently. It features fascinating accounts of people navigating the disruptive and often painful changes that come when life suddenly takes a turn. One of the episodes for example, featured a young cancer researcher who had to deal with his own stage 4 diagnosis. The creator and host of the podcast, [2] a behavioral scientist, was on her way to becoming a world-class concert violinist. She studied in the top music school and trained with a famous musician but then, at 17, she tore a tendon in her left hand which ended her music career. We have an idea of what this is like, when we are confronted with more than just a slight change of plans. We think that our life is going one way, then something happens, and life as we know it ends. We are left disoriented, groundless and grappling. For some, it may be a cancer diagnosis or a career-ending injury. For others, it may be a death of a loved one, sudden unemployment, an accident, or a bad decision. For us Jesuits, it may be a new assignment. Or it may not even be a single event, but the gradual onset of diminishment and old age. In many and various ways, life hits us hard. For the entire world, it was and still is, Covid 19, now with a raging Delta variant. And for the saint we celebrate today, it was a cannonball.

This year, the Jesuits around the world are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the cannonball hit that ended a Basque soldier’s military career and dreams of worldly glory. “This event forced a change of plans that would lead this man to dream bigger dreams, no longer centered on himself but rather on God.” [3] Quite a dramatic turnaround, one that seems very neat and linear, like a “before” and “after” testimonial. However, reading Ignatius’ story more closely, and I hope you would, you will realize that his conversion was hardly neat and linear. His dreams of glory may have been initially replaced with a desire for penances and saintly deeds. The dreamer, however, was the same: vain, impulsive, and egotistical. And he remained so for quite some time. Ignatius had a long way to go before becoming the calm and wise master of discernment that we now know him to be. For this to happen, he had to go on a pilgrimage of the spirit that would take him through very deep, dark, and long periods of crisis. At one point he even struggled with the temptation to take his own life. Our Superior General, Fr Arturo Sosa, in his book Walking with Ignatius, rightly points out that Ignatius’ life shows how “the transformation that conversion involves cannot be experienced without times of deep crisis.” [4]
Moments of crisis come with great pain and suffering. “Suffering can either make us fearful, bitter and closed down or it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open.” As Franciscan writer Richard Rohr noted, “Suffering can make us feel like we have nothing more to lose and take us to the edge of our inner resources where we ‘fall into the hands of the living God’ even against our will.” [5] This is what happened to Ignatius. He fell into the hands of the living God. Again. And again. And again. The resounding failure in Pamplona was only the beginning of what biographer Jose Idigoras calls a “chaplet of unfulfilled desires, of unexpected results.” [6] Many of the things in Ignatius’ life did not end up as planned. He planned to be an ascetic and surpass the severe penances of the saints. He failed because of his frail body. He planned to be an itinerant preacher in the Holy Land. He failed and was deported back to Spain. He wanted a hidden, and anonymous life. Instead, he became the head of a global religious order. And this wandering pilgrim spent his final days mostly stuck behind a desk, dispatching letters to his brothers around the world. Yet through all the failed plans and frustrated desires, Ignatius did not end up bitter, cynical, or afraid. On the contrary, he became free. He even famously said that if the Society of Jesus, the Order he founded, were to be abolished, he would need only 15 minutes in prayer to compose himself and go on his way. This freedom filled Ignatius with hope, boldness, and joy. One witness who met Ignatius in his later life described him as a “tiny little Spaniard, a bit lame, with joyful eyes.” [7]

Ignatius’s conversion story remains deeply relevant for us today. He left a template to help us remain hopeful, brave, and joyful in today’s uncertain world. I will attempt to summarize this template into two movements: a) surrendering the ego, and b) awakening to grace.

Surrender the ego. So much of who Ignatius was before he was converted remained consistent until the end of his life: his piety, his determination, his generosity of spirit. There is no question however, that the orientation of these qualities drastically changed. This came about as Ignatius learned to surrender his ego. By “ego” I mean the image of the “self” built from external labels, expectations, markers of identity, success, and even sanctity. Psychologists also refer to this as the conceptualized self. [8] We all have this idea of ourselves as we go about the world; and we spend a good part of our lives building it up. It is necessary and helpful, up to a point. Our former superior general Adolfo Nicolas described the spirit of the contemporary individual as “distracted.” And the biggest and most central distraction of all is the ego. [9] The ego distracts us because it puts the focus of our minds and hearts out of place. Without knowing it, the ego makes us see the contradictions and difficulties we encounter, the unplanned changes and disruptions we face as “a plot against the self.” We feel persecuted and spend remarkable energy protecting and defending our wounded self. The ego then becomes a source not only of distraction, but of suffering and pain. There is a difference, however, between clean pain and dirty pain. [10] Clean pain is unavoidable. Clean pain comes from the hurtful events and painful realities of life that happen without our intention or control. Dirty pain, on the other hand, is optional. Dirty pain comes from the way the ego imposes itself on reality; our defensiveness, our negative judgments, our need to control, our denial of reality and inability to accept. Dirty pain comes from one’s attachment to the ego.

Ignatius initially thought that the way to freedom was to take what our Lord said in today’s gospel literally, to divest himself of external trappings: his title, his wealth, his rich clothes, his weapons, even his physical appearance. He soon realized that the more powerful attachments were internal, including his plans to achieve holiness and control his own destiny. He eventually learned that letting go of the false self would lead him to discover the very principle and foundation of his identity, rooted not on his own strengths and limitations, but on his relationship of love with his Creator and Lord. This surrender of the ego is the dynamism behind the Ignatian prayer, the “Suscipe”: Take and receive O Lord all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.”

Today’s uncertain and volatile world requires us to be psychologically flexible and spiritually free. This is only possible if we let go of the ego. Without the need to constantly defend the ego, we are more able to regard reality for what it is and respond more readily. Our willingness to surrender our false sense of self frees us to hear and follow the Lord. Hence, the call to conversion for us today requires a sobering look at how we cling to our ego, our conceptualized self, and how we inflict unnecessary suffering on ourselves and others. This pertains not only to our individual selves, but also to our collective ego, our false, self-serving ideas of who we are as a community, as an institution, as a religious order, as a Church, as a country, and as the human race. Our gospel today reminds us of the cost of following the Lord. So, we ask: how are we invited to greater surrender?

Awaken to grace. Ignatius’ surrender of the ego was made possible because he experienced an awakening to the tremendous movement of grace. With an economy of words, Ignatius described in his autobiography the insights and spiritual illumination that came to him. His spiritual diary contained effusive accounts of his profound mystical experiences. He received profound spiritual visions like the one on the river Cardoner or the one in La Storta, which shaped his discernment. However, aside from the mystical illuminations, equally moving for me was the palpable presence of grace in his encounters with various persons. We can only guess how differently things would have unfolded if it were not for these graced moments. For instance: Ignatius confessing to one of his companions right before he was hit by the cannonball. Or the victorious French soldiers taking care of the wounded Ignatius, allowing him to be brought home. Or Ignatius meeting with a wise and holy confessor in Montserrat who provided him with counsel and some spiritual texts. Or being provided sustenance by the pious and generous women he met in Manresa. And so it goes with so many others throughout his life. Ignatius met people so moved by his devotion and wisdom, who then aided or accompanied him in his spiritual journey.

The gift of encountering these channels of grace was not lost on our awakened pilgrim. Ignatius realized that, despite his plans being upended and the obstacles he faced, he was constantly sustained. This insight is most evident in the way the Spiritual Exercises ends with the Contemplation to Attain Love. This prayer consideration summarizes Ignatius’ conviction that Divine Grace dwells and animates all of creation: God the source of all, is in all and sustains all. We are the blessed recipients as well as the designated channels of this sustaining grace. Like the prophet Jeremiah, Ignatius was enflamed with this burning conviction that led him to have spiritual conversations with many of those he met. He awakened in them the capacity to see the presence and movement of Divine Grace in their daily lives. So, we ask: How can we awaken more to the movement of grace in our lives?

This is the legacy of Ignatius that we are enjoined to carry on today: to be heralds and channels of grace in a world that badly needs to experience it. I honor my brother Jesuits and our mission partners in the frontlines, who care for the sick, the prisoners, the poor, and the ones deprived of care. I honor my brother Jesuits and our mission partners who continue the work of education despite the challenges of remote learning. I honor my brother Jesuits and our mission partners who are undaunted by the so-called new normal and carry on their work of consolation, whether it’s counseling online, saying Zoom masses for the dead, or providing support to those in distress. On this feast day, we honor in a special way our Jesuit Jubilarians whose lives of generous service and apostolic zeal continue to inspire to this day. You are all heralds of grace to me and to so many in these difficult times. You help awaken in God’s people the capacity to see through the darkness and to hope. And there are things to be hopeful about. Amidst the uncertainty, we are sustained.

This Ignatian year, we ask for greater conversion, that is, to awaken to grace and learn to surrender our ego. Let us continue to walk in the limping footsteps of Ignatius, as he himself walked in the company of his Lord and Friend. In doing so, may we too learn to see with courage and joyful eyes, even when life confronts us with uncertainty and more than just a slight change of plans. St Ignatius, pray for us.


[1] A Slight Change of Plans podcast: https://www.pushkin.fm/show/slight-change-of-plans/

[2] Dr Maya Shankar, host and creator of A Slight Change of Plans. https://mayashankar.com/bio

[3] About the Ignatian Year: https://jesuitseastois.org/ignatian-year

[4] Arturo Sosa, Walking with Ignatius: In Conversation with Dario Menor. Loyola Press (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2021), 7.

[5] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Publications, 2009)

[6] J Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras, Ignatius of Loyola: The Pilgrim Saint, trans. and ed. Cornelius Michael Buckley SJ (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1994)

[7] From Remembering Iñigo: Glimpses of the Life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Memoriale of Luís Gonçalves da Câmara

[8] Steven Hayes, Kirk Strosahl, & Kelly Wilson. Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: The Guilford Press 2012).

[9] Adolfo Nicolas, From Distraction to Dedication: An Invitation to the Center (La Civilta Cattolica website, 2020) https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/from-distraction-to-dedication-an-invitation-to-the-center/

[10] From Steven Hayes, founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy


  1. Thank you for sharing this homilee of Fr. Jordan Orbe. The message is very close to my heart especially when it mentions about Divine Grace...Now I can see where God is leading me...to truly live out this religious name and be a channel and bearer of His grace to others...I am inspired and hopeful as I resonate with the life story of St. Ignatius with his desires and frustrations. Thank you very much Fr. JM!


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