St. Ignatius of Loyola: Valiant Soldier for Christ
July 31 is the memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, priest, and founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).
St. Ignatius of Loyola (Iñigo) was born in 1491 in the Basque Country of northern Spain to parents of distinguished families in that area. He was the youngest of 13 children and was called was called Iñigo. At the age of 15, he served as a page in the court of a local nobleman and received a courtly education, learned to read books of chivalry and romance, gambled recklessly, became involved with women, quarreled and dueled. He later embraced a military career and became a valiant soldier.
Wounded in battle by a cannonball, which broke one leg and injured the other, he was taken prisoner by the French, who set his leg and eventually allowed him to go home to Loyola. He spent his time recuperating at his family home. Confined to his sick bed, he asked for novels of chivaly to read, but was given pious books instead, which he grudgingly accepted. To his surprise, he enjoyed them and began to dream of becoming a “knight for Christ”, pursuing the ideals of St. Francis and St. Dominic. He eventually promised to devote his life to being a knight for St. Peter if he recovered, which he did after nine months of convalescence.
As soon as Iñigo had healed enough to walk, he began a journey to Jerusalem so that he could “kiss the earth where our Lord had walked.” He traveled through the town of Montserrat, Spain where he gave away his fine clothes to a poor man. At the Monastery of Montserrat, he made a general confession. Then, in an all-night vigil before the Black Madonna in the church of the Benedictine abbey there, he hung up his sword and dagger. Effectively, his old life was over and his new life had begun.
He became a hermit at nearby Manresa, praying, studying the spiritual life, meditating on the Trinity, fasting, and doing penance. Ten months later, he emerged at peace with himself.
Ignatius noticed that after doing good deeds for the Lord, he felt peaceful — which he termed as a “consolation,” but when he thought of being a successful soldier or of impressing a beautiful woman where he had initially felt enthused, he later felt dry. He called this a “desolation.” Through this process of discernment, Ignatius was able to recognize that God was leading him to follow a path of service. Out of this experience he wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises.
After traveling and studying in different schools, he finished in Paris, where he received his degree at the age of 43. Many initially hated St. Ignatius because of his humble and austere lifestyle. Despite this, he attracted many followers at the university, including St. Francis Xavier, and soon started his order, The Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. He traveled to Europe and the Holy Land, then settled in Rome to direct the Jesuits. His health suffered in later years, and he was nearly blind at death. He died of liver cancer at the age of 65. He was canonized in 1622 and his remains are enshrined in what is now the church of the Gesu in Rome.
St. Ignatius of Loyola Quotes
“If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.”
“Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”
“May it please him through his infinite and supreme goodness to deign to give us his abundant grace, so that we may know his most holy will and perfectly fulfill it.”
Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;
to give, and not to count the cost,
to fight, and not to heed the wounds,
to toil, and not to seek for rest,
to labor, and not to ask for reward,
except that of knowing that we are doing your will.