Last spring, then senior Andru Miller delivered a beautiful presentation to the Board of Directors about the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola. He set as the context for his speech the moment in Ignatius's life when everything changed for him, the Battle of Pamplona. Andru's premise was how amazing things came because of this truly unexpected adversity. Looking back, his speech was downright prophetic! How little we knew about the pandemic that was about to hit the world.
The battle was really a skirmish that erupted when French armies invaded the northern city of Pamplona where Ignatius had been serving. A ricocheted cannonball hit him soundly in the right leg. He definitely did not see it, and its aftermath, coming. This cannonball, and the devastating wound it left Ignatius, most certainly radically changed the planned trajectory of his life. He would lie recovering in his father’s house for months. During that time, he underwent a spiritual awakening and a sense of mission that would be in service to and for the glory of God rather than for earthly Dukes of Spain, or, more to the point, for his own glory. Long story short, if that cannonball had not hit Ignatius Loyola in the leg that day—there would be no Jesuits and there would be no Gonzaga Prep. So, in a weird way, we are grateful for that seemingly unexpected and brutal injury! What seemed like a desolation, was a consolation in disguise!
No one saw the unexpected and brutal cannonball named COVID coming our way! I can attest, as a non-digital-native teacher, that the sudden need to provide an online learning environment for my students felt every bit like a cannonball to the leg! And the aftermath of our “cannonball” was experienced everywhere in our school (as it did everywhere in the world). Students, teachers, administrators, the advancement team, coaches, parents, and alumni—all laying on the battlefield, with an out-of-the-blue ricocheting virus that would change all our planned trajectories!
And it must be noted that the social and cultural earthquakes surrounding equality and inclusion of all God’s children, comes in the midst of the pandemic cannot be a coincidence—they are part and parcel of that cannonball. And the requisite reflection and action must be part of the healing.
So, we are blessed to be able to take a lesson straight from the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola. We can trust, that what was true for him as he lay bleeding on that battlefield, is true for us in the midst of this pandemic. We can trust that somehow this seeming desolation can truly become a consolation in disguise—if we are open to it, willing to take time to reflect and glean meaning from it. It is hard to know all the ways that will happen. We will have to wait expectantly as it unfolds. But clearly, we have been given the gift of time and perspective. We will all be approaching every facet of Gonzaga Prep with renewed appreciation and creativity.
It is a difficult lesson, but, as with Saint Ignatius, wonderful things can come with the experience of something beyond our control. A time when we cannot predict what is coming next, when our efforts are not enough. This is a gifted time, a unique time for surrender and trust.
Who knows what wonderful graces will come to us because of COVID-19? Our ancestors will be able to tell that story with a huge smile on their faces!
by Dora Nikolova Bittau, Located in the Seattle University Chapel of St. Ignatius