This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 16: Ignacio Ellacuría
By Ryan Carroll
Advent asks us to sit in darkness before the dawn of the Incarnation. Ignatian spirituality invites us to engage with these realities with our imaginations, to place ourselves, bodily and emotionally, in holy lives. But what happens when doing that is terrifying? What happens when you enter a holy life and you find despair?
For me, this was what it was like to pray with Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ.
Ellacuría was born in Spain in 1930, joining the Jesuits when he was 17. Later, as professor and rector at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), El Salvador’s Jesuit university, he became a fierce advocate for the nation’s poor and oppressed.
As he saw it, God was immanent to this work. God, Ellacuría said, is not apart from the fight against oppression, but rather joins us in it, helping us reach for a better world. Put simply, God doesn’t ignore our suffering. God is there, lighting the way toward justice and life.
On November 16, 1989, Ellacuría, five other Jesuits, their caretaker’s wife, and her daughter were murdered by a U.S.-trained Salvadoran death squad.
I’ve prayed on Ellacuría’s death to find meaning in it, but each attempt has ended in desolation. I’ve gazed at him, choked, grasping his hand as he dies. I’ve been him, trembling, crying for God, and seeming to receive no answer.
But it would be an insult to Ellacuría to let it end there.
Ignatian spirituality offers another gift: that of reflection, by which we can contextualize our experiences in light of God’s revelation.
Ellacuría fiercely insisted that suffering does not have to have the last word. God chooses, in each moment, to dwell among us in our pain and light the way forward. Even as Ellacuría’s life ended in an abyss of unmeaning, God was there with him. So impossibly, in the contours of Ellacuría’s suffering, we find the shimmering light of God’s promise — a life that reveals the sin of injustice and points the way to something better.
As I celebrate Advent, I hold Ellacuría close to my heart. His life reminds us, above all, that God joins us in the darkness of our lives — and from that darkness can come a better world.
Reflection: While the holiday season brings joy to many, what are the spots of darkness you experience during this season? Where can you imagine God in them — residing, comforting, calling?
Ryan Carroll is a Ph.D. student in English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He is a longtime enthusiast of Ignatian spirituality, having first become involved through the Ignatian Spirituality Ministry at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. In his academic and creative work, he is interested in uniting “secular” fields of literary studies with sacramental and liberation theology, especially that of figures like Ignacio Ellacuría, Edward Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner. He currently resides in Durham, North Carolina, where he mostly works on finding God in all things.