Five hundred years ago, a cannonball changed the world! It was on May 20, 1521, that Ignatius of Loyola was wounded in battle, a cannonball shattering his knee. During his long period of rehabilitation, Ignatius read the only literature available to him: books on Jesus and the lives of the saints. Upon reflection, he realized he was fighting for the wrong army and fighting the wrong battles. He eventually laid down his sword and dedicated his life to Jesus Christ, later founding the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and writing the Spiritual Exercises, both of which have impacted the world significantly.
In commemoration of this extraordinary event, the Jesuits have declared an Ignatian Year beginning May 20, 2021, and lasting through the Feast of St. Ignatius on July 31, 2022. Throughout the year, numerous events will highlight the contributions of St. Ignatius and the Society of Jesus in their history of proclaiming the Good News and “setting the world on fire.”
Why does any of this matter to catechists? Permit me to offer the following reasons why catechists should care about the Ignatian Year.
- St. Ignatius himself was a catechist. He used to walk through the streets ringing a bell as a signal for children to gather around him for lessons.
- Ignatius cared greatly about education as is evidenced by the establishment of numerous schools and universities under the auspices of the Jesuits. Religious education was and is always at the heart of Jesuit education.
- Ignatius taught a catechetical methodology summed up in the phrase, “Enter through their door, but be sure to leave through your door,” meaning that a catechist needs to understand and enter into the world of his/her audience before leading them to a deeper understanding of the Gospel as it relates to that world.
- Ignatian spirituality is indispensable when it comes to effective faith formation. Today, more than ever, catechists seek to deepen the spiritual lives of those they teach, emphasizing transformation and not just information.
- Ignatius taught the Daily Examen prayer, which has become an integral part of many catechists’ lessons.
- Ignatius refined and perfected the notion of guided reflections or meditations, which enable people young and old to use all of their senses and imagination to enter into deep conversations with Jesus and to reflect on the Gospel more deeply.
- Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality that seeks justice—a concept that is crucial for faith formation, lest our faith be reduced to empty words.
- Ignatian spirituality promotes the notions of cura personalis (care for the individual person) and living as a “person for others,” which is essentially the mindset that catechists seek to instill in those they teach.
- Ignatius promoted the notion of magis (translated as “more”), a mindset that seeks to rise above expectations and strive for “more,” for others and for God. Catechists seek to encourage others to serve as a lasting part of something greater than themselves.
- The concept of finding God in all things, which is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality, captures what catechists seek to instill in all learners and is even the name of one of the most-loved catechetical programs in the United States. We learn to see every part of life—from success to adversity—as a lesson from God, and we are never far from the opportunity to realize the gifts we are given.
- The Ignatian motto of Ad majorem Dei gloriam (“For the Greater Glory of God”) serves as the inspiration for why catechists do what they do year in and year out!
What other reasons can you think of for why catechists should care about the Ignatian Year?