St. Ignatius' Autobiography, Part 8: The Challenge of Conversion
As he was going over in his mind what he should do on his return from Jerusalem, so as to live in perpetual penance, the thought occurred to him of joining the Carthusians of Seville. He could there conceal his identity so as to be held in less esteem, and live there on a strictly vegetable diet. But as the thought returned of a life of penance which he wanted to lead by going about the world, the desire of the Carthusian life grew cool, since he felt that there he would not be able to indulge the hatred he had conceived against himself. And yet, he instructed a servant of the house who was going to Burgos to bring back information about the Carthusian Rule, and the information brought to him seemed good. But for the reason given above, and because his attention was entirely occupied with the journey he was thinking of making at once, he gave up thinking about the Carthusians as it was a matter that could await his return. Indeed, feeling that he was pretty well restored, he thought it was time to be up and going and told his brother so. “You know, my lord, the Duke of Najera is aware that I have recovered. It will be good for me to go to Navarette.” The Duke was there at the time. His brother led him from one room to another, and with a great show of affection, begged him not to make a fool of himself. He wanted him to see what hopes the people placed in him and what influence he might have, along with other like suggestions, all with the intention of turning him from the good desire he had conceived. But, without departing from the truth, for he was very scrupulous about that, he reassured him in a way that allowed him to slip away from his brother.
When we start to realize our holy desires, they can lead us in many different directions. There are many ways to serve God, and various means by which we might reform ourselves. Our challenge is to find that unique path which God has set for us. How do we find that path? Saint Ignatius gives us some clues. He takes time away from normal busyness of his life (like Saint Ignatius, sometimes we have to take advantage of circumstances which force us to do this). He realizes the importance of spiritual reading as a means of feeding his desires. He takes time to pray and contemplate the beauty of God’s creation. Finally, he takes action in the pursuit of God’s will, even though the way still isn’t exactly clear.
These elements combine to form the substance of Ignatius’ religious conversion. Conversion is not an easy process. For even when we have overcome the obstacles within ourselves, as Ignatius seems to have to a great extent, we can find challenges to our conversion from without. Friends may not be comfortable with the new person we have become. Some might even not wish to be friends with us any longer. Family members, out of concern for our well-being, might try to steer us away from our holy desires, back in the direction of worldly success. Saint Ignatius’ brother tries to remind him of the great expectations that others have of him, expectations rooted in society’s honor and adulation. He even suggests he’s making a fool of himself. Other saints have met similar resistance. The family of Saint Thomas Aquinas, learning of his desire to become a Dominican, is said to have kidnapped him and locked him in a tower with a prostitute. We can’t blame our families for being concerned, but if we can’t find a way to reassure them, we might even, as Jesus warns, find ourselves alienated from them for a time. Many priests and religious tell stories of how adamantly and even severely their family opposed their choice of priesthood or religious life, only to, eventually (in most cases), come to appreciate and even admire their son, daughter or siblings’ choice to respond to God’s holy desires for them.