Some may recall the unexpected sight of a Pokémon advertisement during the 2016 Super Bowl as part of the 20 year anniversary of the franchise. (Which can be seen here on the official Pokémon Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F46tGehnfo) The theme running through the ad is people seeing other trainers and saying to themselves or others “I can do that,” or “We can do this,” or “You can do that,” respectively, and, in turn, becoming the inspiration for the next person shown in the commercial. In each case, their journey begins with the declaration, “I can do that.” The same holds true outside of the Pokémon context. When we set out to accomplish something or achieve some goal, it very often begins with us telling ourselves something similar.
This process is not unprecedented in the spiritual arena: Ignatius of Loyola had just such an experience. Once a man consumed by desire for the sort of fame, fortune, and perks that come with being a romantic knight, he is best known for founding the Jesuit religious order and authoring The Spiritual Exercises, a widely influential book concerned with the spiritual life. This change in his life’s trajectory came after he was gravely wounded by a cannon ball in battle. The projectile broke one of his legs and horribly mangled the other, leaving him bedridden and subject to what had to have been excruciating surgeries aimed at preserving his life and ability to walk. During his recovery, there was little for the injured Ignatius to do but read. Fortunately, there were many a book on courtly love and knightly exploits to be had. Unfortunately, none of these titles were available to him. Instead, the only books he could get his hands on were a commentary on the life of Christ and a compendium of the lives of various saints. Despite it not being his first choice, Ignatius took what he could get. Then something unexpected happened: as he read, he found himself drawn towards and fired up to serve God with his life. As he read about the lives of saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, Ignatius found himself thinking, “I can do that.” So it was that, after completing his recovery, Ignatius of Loyola set out to commit his life to God’s service.
In the Christian landscape today, we often perceive examples taken from the Bible or the lives of other Christians, not as inspiration, but as either “filler” for our spiritual lives or, perhaps more disheartening, examples dangled before us of what we ought and fail to be. Neither really fans the spiritual flame or moves us to action. However, this is precisely what these examples are there to do. Consider the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews: in it the author enumerates the many people of faith we find in the Old Testament such as Abraham, Moses, and David. If there were ever a list to make us feel inadequate and insignificant, this would be it. However, as he begins the next chapter, the author writes something that abruptly changes our perspective:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t think we measure up, we are called to take heart and persevere on account of these people who have gone before us. These examples are given to us to help get us fired up. We look at how they lived their lives in faith and say to ourselves, “I can do that.” We may not have the same spiritual experiences they had, but that is neither the measure nor the goal that is set before us. They were imperfect people just as we are imperfect, but they held fast to their faith in God and made that the cornerstone of their lives. We too, setting our eyes on Christ, through whom we are and continue to be saved, aspire to live our lives in faith. We pursue God in all we do and seek to draw ever nearer to Him as we cooperate with his formative work in our lives. The effects of doing so are greater than we can imagine, both in our own lives and the lives of others. As we live our lives with God, others, seeing our life and example, may in turn say to themselves, “I can do that.”