Ignatius Loyola

Ignatius was born in his parents' castle in Loyola in Northern Spain in 1491. In his youth, he loved reading stories about bold warriors winning the hearts of beautiful girls through their brave deeds. When he was old enough he became a page in the court of the chief accountant of Ferdinand, King of Aragon and Castille in Spain. All was well until one day in 1521, in a battle, his leg was shattered by a cannon ball.

A surgeon hastily set his leg, but it was not well done. As a result he had to spend several months in convalescence waiting for his wounds to heal. To avoid getting bored he asked for romantic stories to read, but the only reading material available was a copy of the 'Life of Christ', and a 'Lives of the Saints'. It was while he was reading the life of Jesus and the lives of saints that a great change or conversion took place within him. He felt 'his eyes were opened'. He experienced at the core of his being an enormous desire to follow Jesus.

He decided to give up his dream of fame as a soldier, reform his conduct and become a great follower of Jesus. He wanted to imitate the example of the saints in dedication to God's service.

When he was at last well enough to walk, he set off on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Monserrat. After an all-night vigil at the shrine, he exchanged his rich clothes with a beggar and laid his sword and dagger on the altar of Our Lady. He was not sure what he was going to do next, but he felt the need for solitude and time for prayer. He made his way to the little town of Manresa where he intended to spend a few days nursing the sick in the hospital of St. Lucy and writing down some of his experiences.

Actually he spent eleven months in Manresa where he devoted all his time to prayer, fasting and writing down his reflections. These reflections were later published as The Spiritual Exercises. These 'Exercises' set out a way of praying and living that help people to discover God's personal plan for them. Today, thousands of people all over the world use these exercises, some just to draw close to Jesus and others to discover what God's will is for them.

Several months later he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During this time, he felt God was calling him to become a priest. This meant that he had to settle down to serious study. He began his studies in Barcelona and then went to Alcala. From there he went to Salamanca and finally completed his studies at the University of Paris.

While Ignatius was in Paris, he gathered around him a group of friends. In their conversations, he shared with them how he made space in his heart for God. He told them what his life used to be like and how it had now changed. Each one of the friends wanted to find out what God might want of them. They understood that, in order to discover this, they would need to find some quiet time and allow God to influence their thoughts and actions. Ignatius used to explain to them that God is always coming to us, it is we who are not ready to receive him. When we are totally caught us with our own interests there is no room for God, so we must try each day to make some time to be alone with Him. If we trust and firmly believe in God, he will guide our thoughts and actions and will come into our life and transform it.

Ignatius firmly believed that it was not he who gave himself to God, but rather, God took the initiative and gave himself to Ignatius. All he had done was to open his heart to God in prayer. He had such a close relationship with God that he was able to guide others who were searching for a meaning and purpose in life.

In 1537, Ignatius was ordained a priest. Shortly after this, he decided to go to Rome and offer his services to Pope Paul III. On the way, about fifteen kilometres from Rome, he stopped at a little wayside chapel of La Storta. Here, he obtained a mystical grace: he saw the heavenly Father and Jesus carrying his cross; he heard the Father say to Jesus, "I want you to take this man for your servant". Jesus turned to Ignatius and said, "I want you to serve us". From this time onwards, Ignatius had great devotion to the holy name of Jesus.

When he arrived in Rome and met the Holy Father, to his great joy he discovered that this Pope was looking for dedicated people to help him in his task of reforming the Catholic Church. Ignatius told him about his friends who also wanted to devote their lives to God in a special way. So, in 1540, Ignatius was allowed to form an Order called the Society of Jesus. They soon became known at the 'Jesuits' and took a special vow of obedience to the Pope. Their numbers grew rapidly and, before Ignatius died in 1556, they had grown from the original group of ten friends to over a thousand. They soon set up schools and universities and worked as missionaries in Europe, Asia and North and South America.

Ignatius of Loyola was canonised by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. The Church celebrates his Feast Day each year on 31 July.

written by Sr. Marcellina CP