Good morning everyone,
Today, the Church celebrates the liturgical Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The most accurate records state that he was born on or about 23 October 1491in the municipality of Azpeitia at the castle of Loyola in today's Gipuzkoa, Basque Country in Spain. He was baptized Íñigo, after Saint Enecus (Innicus) (Basque: Eneko; Spanish: Íñigo) Abbot of Oña, a Basque medieval, affectionate name meaning My little one
. It is not clear when he began using the Latin name Ignatius
instead of his baptismal name Íñigo
As a young man Íñigo had a great love for military exercises as well as a tremendous desire for fame. He framed his life around the stories of El Cid, the knights of Camelot, and the Song of Roland. He joined the army at seventeen, and according to one biographer, he strutted about with his cape slinging open to reveal his tight-fitting hose and boots; a sword and dagger at his waist.
In 1509, at the age of 18, Íñigo took up arms for Antonio Manrique de Lara, Duke of Nájera. His diplomacy and leadership qualities earned him the title servant of the court
, which made him very useful to the Duke. Under the Duke's leadership, Íñigo participated in many battles without injury, but at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521 he was gravely injured when a French-Navarrese expedition force stormed the fortress of Pamplona on May 20, 1521. A cannonball hit him in the legs, wounding his right leg and fracturing the left in multiple places. Íñigo was returned to his father's castle in Loyola, where he underwent several surgical operations to repair his legs, having the bones set and then rebroken. In the end these operations left one leg shorter than the other.
While recovering from surgery, Íñigo underwent a spiritual conversion which led to his experiencing a call to religious life. Hospitals in those days were run by religious orders, and the reading material available to bedridden patient tended to be selected from scripture or devotional literature. This is how Íñigo came to read a series of religious texts on the life of Jesus and on the lives of the saints.
The religious work which most particularly struck him was the De Vita Christi
of Ludolph of Saxony. This book would influence his whole life, inspiring him to devote himself to God and follow the example of Francis of Assisi and other great monks. It also inspired his method of meditation, since Ludolph proposes that the reader place himself mentally at the scene of the Gospel story, visualizing the crib at the Nativity, etc. This type of meditation, known as Simple Contemplation, was the basis for the method that St. Ignatius would promote in his Spiritual Exercises.
After he had recovered sufficiently to walk again, Íñigo resolved to begin a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to kiss the earth where our Lord had walked
, and to do stricter penances. He thought that his plan was confirmed by a vision of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus he experienced one night, which resulted in much consolation to him. In March 1522, he visited the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. There, he carefully examined his past sins, confessed, gave his fine clothes to the poor he met, wore a garment of sack-cloth
, then hung his sword and dagger at the Virgin's altar during an overnight vigil at the shrine.
From Montserrat he walked on to the nearby town of Manresa (Catalonia), where he lived for about a year, begging for his keep, and then eventually doing chores at a local hospital in exchange for food and lodging. For several months he spent much of his time praying in a cave nearby where he practiced rigorous asceticism, praying for seven hours a day, and formulating the fundamentals of his Spiritual Exercises.
In 1539, with Saint Peter Faber and Saint Francis Xavier, Ignatius formed the Society of Jesus, which was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III. Ignatius was chosen as the first Superior General of the order and invested with the title of Father General by the Jesuits.
Ignatius sent his companions as missionaries around Europe to create schools, colleges, and seminaries. Juan de Vega, the ambassador of Charles V at Rome, met Ignatius there. Esteeming Ignatius and the Jesuits, when Vega was appointed Viceroy of Sicily, he brought Jesuits with him. A Jesuit college was opened at Messina, which proved a success, and its rules and methods were afterwards copied in other colleges.
In 1548 Ignatius was briefly brought before the Roman Inquisition for examination of his book of Spiritual Exercises. But he was released and the book was finally given papal permission to be printed. It was published in a format such that the exercises were designed to be carried out over a period of 28–30 days.
Ignatius died in Rome on 31 July 1556, as a result of the Roman Fever, a severe case of malaria that recurred in Rome, Italy, at different points in history. An autopsy revealed that he also had several kidney and bladder stones, a probable cause of the abdominal pains he suffered from later in life. At this time he was placed in a wooden shrine, his body was then covered with his priestly garments. On 1 August the shrine was then buried in the small Maria della Strada Church. In 1568 that church was pulled down and replaced with the Church of the Gesù. Saint Ignatius was put into a new coffin and reinterred in the new church.
Ignatius was beatified by Pope Paul V on 27 July 1609, and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on 12 March 1622. May this holy man who is well known in the Church for the art of discernment help us to listen closely for the guidance that the Lord offers to us, and to have the courage to act according to His will.
Have a great day.