Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Founder of the Society of Jesus
Saint Ignatius was born at Loyola in Spain, in the year 1491. He served his king as a courtier and a soldier until his thirtieth year. At that time a cannon ball broke the right leg of the young officer, who in a few days had reached the brink of death and received the Last Sacraments. It was the eve of the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul; he fell asleep afterwards and believed he saw Saint Peter in a dream, restoring him to health by touching his wound. When he woke, his high fever was gone and he was out of danger, although lame. To pass the time of his convalescence after three operations, he asked for books; the Life of Christ and lives of the Saints were brought to him. He read them distractedly at first, then with profound emotion. He underwent a violent combat, but finally grace won out.
He began to treat his body with the utmost rigor and rose every night to weep over his sins. One night, he consecrated himself to the Saviour through the intercession of Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners, swearing inviolable fidelity to the Son and His Mother. Not long afterwards, to fortify him in his good resolutions, Mary appeared to him surrounded by light, holding in Her arms the Child Jesus. His heart purified by this vision, Ignatius made a general confession and a pilgrimage to Montserrat, to venerate a miraculous image of the Mother of God and implore Her protection, then bought a rude long habit for the pilgrimage he was planning to make to Jerusalem. He set out on foot, wearing only one sandal for his lame leg.
He spent some time at Manreza caring for the sick and undertaking a life of austerity equaled only by the most celebrated anchorites. Living by alms, fasting on bread and water, wearing a hair shirt, he remained kneeling every day for six or seven hours in prayer. The devil made vain efforts to discourage him. He fell ill, however, and was carried to the hospital from the cavern where he was staying. It was only out of obedience to his director at Montserrat that he ceased his extreme penance, and found again, through his obedience, the peace of soul he had lost. At Manreza he composed his famous Spiritual Exercises for retreatants, which ever since have brought to grace and fervor great numbers of souls.
After a journey to Rome and other points of pilgrimage in Italy, he embarked for the Holy Land. He wished to remain there to work for the conversion of souls, but was commanded by the enlightened Provincial of the Franciscans, under obedience, to return to Europe. He was then thirty-three years old.
Ignatius had already won certain Spanish compatriots to join him in the service of God; it was for them that he had composed the Exercises. With them he undertook studies for several years, and at the end of that time had four companions. He taught catechism while at Alcala, and virtually reformed the entire youth of that city.
In 1528, when he was already 37 years old, he went to Paris to study in the greatest poverty, eating his meals at a hospital with the poor. He was persecuted when he converted a number of young persons. It was in Paris, with six young companions, that at Montmartre the Society of Jesus was founded. They made a vow to go to Jerusalem in absolute poverty, or if this proved impossible, which it did, to go to Rome to the Vicar of Christ, and place themselves at his disposition for the service of the Church and the salvation of souls. Our Lord promised Saint Ignatius that the precious heritage of His Passion would never be lacking to his Society. By this term, heritage, the Saviour referred to the contradictions and persecutions the just must always face. Founded to combat error, the Company of Jesus has always had to bear the fury of those who favor it.
When Saint Ignatius was cast into prison at Salamanca on suspicion of heresy, he said to a friend who expressed his sympathy, It is a sign that you have little love of Christ in your heart, or you would not deem it so hard a fate to be in chains for His sake. All Salamanca does not contain as many fetters, manacles, and chains as I would gladly wear for love of Jesus Christ. Saint Ignatius went to receive his crown on July 31, 1556.
Reflection: Ask Saint Ignatius to obtain for you the grace to desire ardently the greater glory of God, even though it may cost you much suffering and humiliation.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 9; Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).