Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Born the youngest of 12 children in 1491 into a noble Spanish family, Ignatius served as a page in the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and, as eventually as a soldier in the Spanish army.
Ignatius enjoyed life in the court, and although we have little detail of his life there, he confessed to having been a “great sinner”. The rest is left to our imagination.
All this changed in 1521 while fighting in France, when a cannonball severely injured his leg. Captured by the French and brought to Loyola, Ignatius underwent surgery to set and repair his leg which was left permanently injured. A serious fever threatened his life. On the eve of Saints Peter and Paul, his fever broke. This night seems to have become a turning point in his life.
His many hours of convalescence prompted him to ask for books to read. Well, the only books available were stories of the Saints and the life of Christ. These stories competed with his desires for court life and all its trappings. Finding his old life lacking, he became more and more drawn to the joy and peace written in the pages before him. Catholic Encyclopedia relates:
One night as he lay awake, pondering these new lights, “he saw clearly”, so says his autobiography, “the image of Our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus”, at whose sight for a notable time he felt a reassuring sweetness, which eventually left him with such a loathing of his past sins, and especially for those of the flesh, that every unclean imagination seemed blotted out from his soul, and never again was there the least consent to any carnal thought. His conversion was now complete. (source)
After he left the hospital, his thirst for God only increased and what followed were many years of prayer, education, and works of charity (you can read more of the details of his life here.) Not without struggle, this life led him closer and closer to Jesus, and in 1534 he formed the Society of Jesus, known today as the Jesuits, a derogatory name donned by his detractors. The primary rules of the order are:
- To be at the disposal of the pope.
- To go wherever he ordered them to go to save souls.
- To accept a bishopric etc. unless the pope ordered it.
- To wear no special habit.
- To be no special mortification’s, e.g. no fasting without a medical report.
- They were excused from communal prayer and masses.
- All members were to take the three traditional monastic vows. An elite would take a fourth vow of direct obedience to the pope if he sent them on a foreign mission.
- Faith was to be spread by preaching, spiritual exercises, charity and education in Christianity. (source)
Rising in the midst of the Reformation, the Jesuit order played a significant role in educating and catechizing the faithful, working to clarify the confusion of that time period. They strengthened the Faith in Europe and propagated it to Asia and the New World. By 1749, the Jesuits ran 669 colleges and 235 seminaries.
One final and lasting mark from this giant of the Church is Ignatian Sprituality
Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality for everyday life. It insists that God is present in our world and active in our lives. It is a pathway to deeper prayer, good decisions guided by keen discernment, and an active life of service to others. (source)
…and its associated Spiritual Exercises:
The Spiritual Exercises are a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices developed by St. Ignatius Loyola to help people deepen their relationship with God. For centuries the Exercises were most commonly given as a “long retreat” of about 30 days in solitude and silence. In recent years, there has been a renewed emphasis on the Spiritual Exercises as a program for laypeople. The most common way of going through the Exercises now is a “retreat in daily life,” which involves a monthslong program of daily prayer and meetings with a spiritual director. The Exercises have also been adapted in many other ways to meet the needs of modern people. (source)
From those who have done so, I hear the 30-day Ignatian retreat is a very powerful and life changing event. Even a weekend Ignatian silent retreat bears fruit. Like many of you, I hope to one day follow in their footsteps.
Saint Ignatius’ life speaks to the influence one person can have when faithfully following God’s call. I leave you with an Ignatian quote that, in my opinion, summarizes the secret to his success, “Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.”
St. Ignatius, pray for us! Anne
For more info on Ignatian Spirituality click here.
If you want to see a pretty good movie about the work of the Jesuits in South America in the eighteenth century, watch The Mission.