Just a few days from now—on July 31the universal
Church and the worldwide Jesuit community will celebrate the 450th anniversary
of the death of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, popularly
known as the Jesuits. Im happy to add my Franciscan voice to the praises being sung
this year in honor of one of the great saints of Church history.
Earlier this year (May 19-22, 2006), 40 pilgrims and I traveled through
Spain. During those four days, we visited the shrines of four great Spanish saints in this
order: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis
Xavier. We at St. Anthony Messenger are planning to run a story on this pilgrimage
for our December 2006 issue. Its working title is Four Great Spanish Saints. In
the next few months, I also plan to use these columns to reflect, one by one, on each of
these saints and on what we might learn from their places of birth, shrines and legacies.
Because the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius is almost upon us,
we will start with him.
Born of noble parents in 1491 at the family Castle of Loyola in the Basque
region of northern Spain, Ignatius was the youngest of 13 children. The young Ignatius
had dreams of being a valiant soldier in the service of the Duke of Nagara. During the
battle of Pamplona in 1521, however, his leg was shattered by a cannonball.
|This stained glass on display in the Loyola Castle depicts Ignatius
after being struck by a cannonball. (Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.)
After the battle, he was brought back to the ancestral castle for what
would be a long recovery. Confined to his sickbed, he asked for books to read. All they
could offer him were religious works instead of tales of romance. Disappointed at first,
he soon found himself becoming profoundly inspired by a life of Christ, as well as by the
lives of the saints. He found the biographies of saints like Francis of Assisi and Dominic,
for example, very compelling. Their inspiring lives moved Ignatius so deeply that he decided
that he, too, wanted to do great things for God.
In touring the Castle of Loyola on May 21, our pilgrimage group saw the
room where Ignatius was born and the chamber where he recovered from his injuries as well
as many other parts of his spacious home. The entire castle today is enclosed in an immense
building that includes the 17th century Basilica of St. Ignatius which draws thousand of
visitors each month. The whole structure is referred to as the Sanctuary of Loyola.
|Visitors to the Loyola Castle in Spain can view this painting of the
castle hanging on one of its walls. (Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.)
After recovering sufficiently from his injuries, Ignatius set his heart
on making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But he decided to make some shorter spiritual
journeys first. One was to the famous Shrine of Our Lady at Montserrat, near Barcelona.
He then spent several months in personal prayer (1522-23), living the life of a poor pilgrim
at a small nearby town called Manresa. He experienced the deepening of his spiritual life
and began writing what was the basis of his famous Spiritual Exercises, which would
eventually be published in 1548. The Exercises were written as practical guides
(tools for spiritual discernment) to help both himself and, in time, other spiritual seekers
discern how the Holy Spirit was leading them to fuller life in God.
He visited Rome in 1523 and received the popes permission to make
a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. September 4-23 of 1523, he was deeply moved in visiting the
many places made holy by Jesus' living presence. Yet because of dangers from the Turks,
he had to cut his stay short, which disappointed him deeply. He also came to realize on
his return to Italy that, if he wanted to make his own special contribution to the Church
of his day, he would need to work on his own formal education. This would be especially
true if he were ever to consider becoming a priest.
With determination, and indeed a bit of humility, Ignatius, who was now
over 30 years of age, found himself sitting in Latin class beside small boys learning their
lessons. His academic journey would soon take him to the university towns of Alcala and
Salamanca in Spain and ultimately to Paris. In Paris he would continue working on his Spiritual
Exercises. This not only helped him discern Gods ongoing plans for himself, but
also served as a good tool to lead a new roommate, Francisco Javier—and ultimately
many others—to a greater spiritual understanding of their own Christian calls. The
world would later come to know his roommate as St. Francis Xavier, a great Jesuit saint
and missionary to the Far East.
In time, Ignatius gathered Francis and five other fellow students around
him at Paris, and they decided to form the Company of Jesus. They made their vows on August
15, 1534, on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady in Paris in the crypt of the Chapel
of St. Denis. The formal title, Society of Jesus, was not adopted till 1537, when Ignatius
and seven of this band were ordained to the priesthood in Venice. The group had originally
vowed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to work for the conversion of the Muslims but,
again, because of the threat of war from the Turks, they ended up going instead to Rome
and offering their services to the Holy Father.
Pope Paul III approved the Society in 1540, and the group professed their
final vows in 1541. Ignatius was elected superior general. He began the difficult task
of writing the constitutions for his order and of deciding what work should be assigned
to the growing number of men desiring to enter the Society of Jesus. Jesuits would soon
be sent out to missionary locations and to serve in Jesuit schools. Soon Jesuit Colleges
and seminaries were being established all over Europe.
Ignatius was to spend the rest of his remaining years in Rome performing
the administrative tasks of the first superior of the Jesuits. By the time he died in Rome
on July 31, 1556, the Jesuits had come a long way in fulfilling goals Ignatius had set
for his order, namely, the reform of the Church, good Christian education and widespread
missionary activity. Ignatius had indeed accomplished great things ad majorem Dei gloriam,
that is, for the greater glory of God.
Ignatius was canonized in 1622 and was proclaimed patron of retreats
and spiritual exercises by Pope Pius XI. Visitors from around the world continue to venerate
his remains enshrined in the popular Jesuit church in Rome known as the Gesu.
As we have seen, Ignatius was a warrior who was wounded in battle and
went on to become a saint. In what ways has this saint left his mark on the world? Certainly
we can refer to many great institutions of learning established by the Jesuit Order. We
can also point to his Spiritual Exercises or 30-day retreats. These
four-week programs are still a popular and highly valued method of spiritual discernment
in many retreat centers around the world.
Finally, I can say that my own life has been influenced by the familiar
motto of St. Ignatius and that of the Jesuits: for the greater glory of God. In
the 1940s, I was taught in a Catholic grade school in the little town of Batesville,
Indiana. The sisters who taught at the school, who happened to be Franciscans, had their
students recite at frequent intervals throughout the day: All for the honor and glory
of God. Those words are still imprinted on my memorya legacy, no doubt, of
Ignatius of Loyola!
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