ST. IGNATIUS of LOYOLA:
Founder of the Society of Jesus
First Period – 1491-1521 A Knight and Soldier
Christened Iñigo Lopez de Loyola he was born in the ancestral castle of Loyola at Azpeitia in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa, Spain in 1491 the youngest of 13 (some say11) children of an ancient noble and wealthy family. His father Don Beltran was lord of Oñaz and Loyola.
As a youth he first served as a page in several courts where he was trained in the code of honor and chivalry. Taking his profession as a soldier very seriously at the age of 25 he entered the military service and determined to be an outstanding soldier of the Duke of Nagara. In the unsuccessful defense of Pamplona against the French he suffered a grievous injury when he was struck in the leg by a cannonball that broke his right shin and tore open his left calf. This marked the turning point in his life. At the young age of 30 his ambition of pursuing a military career and his dreams of glory came to an abrupt and crashing end.
This ends the first period of his life when he describes himself in his Autobiography as “a man given to the vanities of the world whose chief delight consisted in martial exercises with a great and vain desire to win renown” in spite of his short stature (under five feet two inches in height).
Second Period – 1521-1524 – A Soldier of Christ
This second period could well be called the most decisive and critical stage of his life. Back home in the family castle his condition became so serious that he was given the last sacraments after he had undergone several excruciating painful operations on his leg that was badly set. Fortunately he recovered but it left him with a permanent limp followed by a prolonged and painful convalescence.
To combat sheer boredom he requested for something to read like the books of chivalrous romances he was fond of. Unfortunately he had to settle on the only two books available – a Carthusian Life of Christ and the other The Golden Legend, a collection of the biographies of saints.
He became so fascinated and impressed by the life of Christ that he decided to devote himself to Him thereby becoming a knight and soldier of the Cross instead of the Crown. Since the book of saints by an anonymous writer contained prologues to the biographies that conceived the Service of God as holy chivalry – this view of life profoundly moved and attracted him that he vowed to imitate their lives imagining what a great honor it must be to serve to the greater glory of God. (this became his motto later in life.) He asked himself: “These men were of the same frame as I why then should I not do what they have done?”
Spurred on by a vision he had of the Mother of God surrounded with light holding baby Jesus in her arms and full of zeal to start his holy life he decided that as soon as possible he would do penance for his sins by imitating the holy austerities practiced by the saints.
As soon as he sufficiently recovered he mounted a mule, and went to Our Lady of Montserrat, a Catalonian shrine of pilgrimage in the mountains above Barcelona in northeastern Spain. It was on the way here that he traded his rich robes for a beggar’s sack cloth, and then made an all-night vigil pledging himself as a knight in God’s service before the famous statue of the Virgin Mary.
After 3 days confessing his sins in the Benedictine abbey of Monserrat he hung near the statue his sword and dagger as symbols of his abandoned military ambitions. Thus did he instead become a soldier of Christ.
The following day he went to the nearby small town of Manresa where he lived ten months in a cave on the banks of the river in solitary reflection living as a hermit-beggar, scourging himself of sinful attachments, fasting and praying.
While on the banks of the Cardoner river while searching for God’s will God gave him knowledge of himself aided by several mystical visions such as the sight of a blinding light emanating from the Eucharist. He came to understand and know many spiritual things as things of the faith.
But after enjoying much peace of mind and heavenly consolation he was soon affected by the most terrible trial of fears and scruples. He found no comfort in prayer, fasting, nor even from the sacraments. Overwhelmed with sadness he felt himself on the brink of despair.
It was at this time that he began to jot down notes of what was happening to him and what he was doing to cure his scrupulous conscience. As he wrote his notes for what was to become his famous book of Spiritual Exercises his soul once more began to overflow with spiritual joy and his tranquility of mind was eventually restored.
The Spiritual Exercise
He trained his mind to get mentally fit by praying seven hours a day. He kept notes of what he was doing describing it as his spiritual exercises. He later wrote down his religious experiences of his own conversion and this became the fundamentals of his famous manual The Spiritual Exercises. This how-to book which was not published until 1548 is still used for spiritual retreats and for spiritual formation of his followers and has had a profound effect on the lives of Christians. In fact one author described it as “the book that shook the Catholic world.”
It remained one of the most famous and fruitful work of Ignatius.
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In February 1523 Ignatius started on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land by begging and walking all the way in spite of a permanent limp caused by his war injury. However his plans to stay in Jerusalem was foiled when the Franciscan guardian of the Holy Places commanded him to leave Palestine for his own safety. This was because his reckless attempts to convert the Muslims there could cause him to be kidnapped and held to ransom.
He thus returned to Barcelona, Spain in 1524 determined to become a priest in order to help souls. So he forced himself to enter school and study when what he really wanted to do was to go out in the streets preaching about God and teaching catechism.
Third Period – 1524-38 – Years of Belated Studies
Because he was convinced that a well-trained man would accomplish more in God’s service, Ignatius spent the next 11 years diligently applying himself to his studies in Barcelona, Alcala, Salamanca and Paris. In Barcelona at the age of 33 years he sat in a class of eleven-year olds to learn Latin stoically bearing the jeers and taunts of the little boys. Financially he was assisted by the charities of a pious lady of that city called Isabel Roser.
But because he exhorted his fellow students to live a life of heroic piety he gathered around him a band of followers who even wore a distinctive coarse grey garb. He was imprisoned and tried on suspicion of heresy. Found innocent he was forbidden to teach until he had finished his studies.
(To be continued . . .)
SOURCES of REFERENCE
ST. IGNATIUS of LOYOLA
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. 3 – pp 221-227
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints – pp 176 – 177
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – pp 251 – 252
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – pp 118 – 119
A Calendar of Saints – p 144
All Saints – pp 327 – 328
A Year With the Saints – July 31
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp 355 – 357
Illustrated Lives of the Saints Vol. 1 – pp 337 – 339
My First Book of Saints – p. 165
Saint Companions – pp 277-279
Saints for Our Time – pp 159 – 160
Saint of the Day – pp 183 – 184
Children’s Book of Saints – pp. 211 – 214
Saints – A Visual Guide – pp. 250 – 251
Saints and Heroes Speak – Volume 3 – pp 100 – 114