Two of the more popular Catholic Saints, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius Loyola, shared more than their love of God in common. They, like many of us these days, spent a significant amount of time in isolation.
Francis and Ignatius were both wounded in war, ending their once heroic aspirations. Francis was taken captive for over a year. Upon returning home, he became severely ill with an undiagnosed sickness. Ignatius had a cannon ball ripped through his legs. He spent months in isolation until he recovered.
Their lives once featured great dreams of earthly glory as soldiers. Then their worlds crashed around them, and there was a literal and figurative crack in their armor. Reminded of Leonard Cohen’s lyric, “there is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in,” what appeared as the end was just the beginning.
Heavenly light entered in the cracks and shattered dreams of Francis and Ignatius. When they eventually rose from all the darkness, the limitations, and the despair- they were a new creation.
Their lives were transformed, as was their dreams.
Many historians credit Francis’ sickness as a turning point. Francis would still enlist after his recovery for another battle, only to have a vision where God told him to return home, saying “this is not your life.” He then has an encounter with a leper, and because of his inner transformation in isolation, he could finally see Jesus in what repulsed him the most. Francis embraced the leper, and his life was never the same.
Ignatius, while in isolation, read stories of Christ and the Saints, and his imagination shifted. He used the time in silence to understand how his soul was stirring, and that he was called to serve God. Ignatius would leave his castle on a mule, laying down his sword and dagger before a statue of the Blessed Mother. His life was never the same.
There is indeed a crack in our lives as this global pandemic brings us to our knees. Limited, hurting, and mourning, we find ourselves in isolation. Some of us are ill. None of us will be the same.
We are invited by the gentle stirring in our souls to write a new story moving forward- one that is extraordinary. Like these great Saints, our aspirations must not be earthly ideals, but heavenly ones.
Here are three simple steps to start:
For hundreds of years, countless pilgrims on this earthly journey were and are inspired by Francis and Ignatius. As we examine their lives, their time in isolation served as a critical turning point in their path to sainthood. Might we also see our time in isolation, with all of its sacrifice, fear, and hurt, as an invitation for transformation.
During these difficult days, might the light of our God shine through our cracks and into our heart. We can return and reflect that same light by living a reflective and authentic life of service.
In the words of St. Ignatius, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”