Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31 • Saint Ignatius Loyola

One of the greatest figures of the sixteenth century, St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was born in Spain and served as a soldier as a young man. During a long recovery from a wound suffered in battle, he began reading the Lives of the Saints as a way of combating boredom. Deeply moved by what he read, he underwent a profound spiritual conversion, and decided to devote his life to the service of God. After a year of seclusion, Ignatius went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; he then spent ten years studying, beginning with Latin grammar among the schoolboys of Barcelona (a humbling experience) and concluding with a Master of Arts degree from the University of Paris.

While in Paris, he became the leader of a group of seven students (one of whom became known as St. Francis Xavier); this group eventually journeyed to Rome and offered its services to the pope. Ignatius (at the age of forty-seven) and some of the others were ordained priests, and spent their time on various assignments from the Holy Father. In 1540 Ignatius’ group was officially established as the Society of Jesus. In addition to the regular vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Jesuits (as they were commonly known) made a special vow of obedience to the pope.

Ignatius spent the remaining sixteen years of his life in Rome, where he established a constitution for his Order and directed its activities and growth throughout Europe. Beginning under his leadership, the Society of Jesus became one of the leading forces of Church renewal and resurgence during the Catholic Reformation. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises (a guide for retreat masters and retreatants) are still in use today, and he can rightly be considered one of the greatest spiritual geniuses in the Church’s history.