In a secluded cave, near the Catalonian town of Manresa, there was a man. The dancing candlelight pulsed over his clasped hands like a heartbeat. He stood uneven on his knees, for one leg had been rendered shorter from having been wounded in a battle.
“Lord, why is this happening?” he surely must have whispered while praying in that cave.
This praying man had converted recently, in the year of Our Lord 1521, while recovering from the wound that he’d received in battle. As penance he’d given his belongings away and hung his sword and dagger at Our Lady’s Altar in the town of Montserrat. He’d been living since like a holy fool by begging for his keep.
His conversion was genuine, and yet dark thoughts had consumed his mind in the days since, that his own mind had become his own demon. He’d been considering suicide, obsessively on some days, and only his fear of offending God had prevented him from plunging a dagger into his own wrist.
He knew what it was to have a heart called by Heaven, a body grounded on Earth, and a mind still seemingly trapped in hell.
“When will this pass?” he surely must have asked about his plight. “O my God, will it? Have you forgotten me already? Or is it that You never really wanted my heart in the first place?”
No, a thing like this wasn’t “supposed” to happen after his conversion, according to so many of the impressions made upon on him. He was “supposed” to have a heart and mind pouring out with joy and gratitude. And yet it was happening.
There was no hotline for him to call, no therapist for him to visit, no medications for him to swallow. Even less was known back then about clinical depression and how it may be treated. All that he knew he could do was pray. And so he prayed, and he kept on praying.
St. Ignatius of Loyola knew very well that he was helpless. His mind’s unwelcome and incessant urging to despair proved to him that he wasn’t even able to control his own thoughts, and that any human effort by him to do so was utter vanity. All that he, or anyone, could really do was surrender to God.
Such darkness is blinding. He couldn’t see that in those pitch-black moments his heart was softening, arousing compassion which soon would be paired with his very keen intelligence. This experience with mental anguish would bless him for the remainder of his life with a greater sensitivity to the pain of others. The very God whom his mind had accused of abandoning him was placing his feet on the path to a very unique destiny.
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