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September 2012
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Recently, I finished writing a chapter on Ignatius of Loyola for a forthcoming book that focuses on the importance of the saints in the context of the Catholic Church in crisis. (The book is edited by Catherine Wolff and is called Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience (HarperCollins, 2013)).

While writing this chapter, I was confronted again with the ways in which Ignatius’ old life survived, after his “conversion,” in his new life. Often, stories of conversion emphasize the discontinuities between old ways and new ways. In the story of Ignatius, 16th century Basque mystic and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), some contemporary research makes us more attentive to the continuities.

One of those continuities is his taste for combat. Early in his life, he is a courageous and sometimes foolish fighter, frequently eager to vanquish foes with force. Once he dedicates his life to Christ, that zeal for weaponry does not die but is funneled differently. He takes to characterizing Christian life as a battle of the forces of Christ against the forces of Satan, and he continued to struggle against his own impulses to command and defeat others. This is no simple criticism of Ignatius but rather an attempt to contribute to a reframing of what his conversion was about. (A rethinking of conversion is on the way on many fronts in contemporary theology.)

I had Ignatius’ famous story in mind as I recently listened again to Ace Frehley’s “Rock Soldiers,” in which Frehley addresses his fans, from the far side of a “conversion,” as soldiers for rock and roll. Frehley was a guitarist for KISS who took up a solo career in the 1980s and had a hit with this tune in 1987. In “Rock Soldiers,” Frehley tells the apparently autobiographical story of a car accident he had in the early 1980s. The path to the accident is marked by an internal battle about how (and even, like Ignatius at one point, whether) to live: He goes speeding down the road “With a trooper in my mirror, and Satan on my right.” Here is the video:

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It is a conversion story (“my only high was just a lie / and now I’m glad I saw”), replete with an explicit reference to beating the devil. Its arc is similar to that of Ignatius and thousands of other such stories in and out of religion: dissolute young adulthood,