SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA (1491-1556), priest and founder – Patron saint of soldiers, Jesuits, World Youth Day 2011 and all spiritual exercises
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who is known for founding the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), as well as for creating the “Spiritual Exercises” often used today for retreats and individual discernment.
Ignatius was born into a noble family in 1491 in Guipuzcoa, Spain. He served as a page in the Spanish court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. He then became a soldier in the Spanish army, during which time his leg was badly wounded by a cannonball during the siege of Pampeluna in 1521.
During his recuperation, he read “The Golden Legend,” a collection of stories of the saints, and the “Life of Christ.” He began to read with faint interest, but gradually became so immersed and so moved that he spent entire days reading and rereading these books. The experience led him to undergo a profound conversion of the heart, and, from that moment forward, he dedicated himself to the Catholic faith.
After making a general confession in a monastery in Montserrat, Ignatius proceeded to spend almost a year in solitude. He wrote his famous “Spiritual Exercises” and then made a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land, where he worked to convert Muslims.
Ignatius returned to complete his studies in Spain and then France, where he received his theology degree. His meditations, prayers, visions and insights led to forming the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus on August 15, 1534, which received papal approval in 1540 by Pope Paul III.
Ignatius was ordained a priest in Rome, and it is from Rome where he governed the new Society as its first Superior General. The objectives for the members of the Society of Jesus were to be, first and foremost, the sanctification of their own souls by a union of both one’s active and contemplative life; and, secondly, instructing youth in piety and learning, acting as confessors for people with troubled consciences, undertaking missions abroad, and, in general, spreading the faith. Also, all members should wear the clothing of the secular clergy rather than a specific habit of a Religious Order.
In addition, before anyone could be admitted to the Order, he must make a general Confession, spend a month going through the Spiritual Exercises, then serve a novitiate of two years, after which he could then take the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. By these vows, he consecrated himself irrevocably to God, but the Superior General of the Order still had the power to dismiss him, if the General deemed it necessary. Dismissal, if it came, would then free the novice from all obligations to the Society.
The higher rank of Jesuits, called the “professed” after more years of study, would take the same vows again, but this time publicly and with no reservations; and the vows would be forever binding on both sides.
Towards the end of his life, Father Ignatius became so worn and feeble that he had to be assisted by three fellow priests. He died, after a brief illness, on July 31, 1556, and was canonized a saint on March 12, 1622, by Pope Gregory XV.
On April 22, 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI presided over a Eucharistic concelebration for the Society of Jesus. He addressed the fathers and brothers of the Society present at the Vatican Basilica, calling to mind the dedication and fidelity of their founder, and stated that “Saint Ignatius of Loyola was, first and foremost, a man of God who, in his life, put God, his greatest glory and his greatest service, first.”
We commemorate this feastday of Saint Ignatius of Loyola on July 31.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, ewtn.com/library and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Ignatius of Loyola)
“Father, You gave Saint Ignatius of Loyola to Your Church to bring greater glory to Your Name. May we follow his example on Earth and share the crown of eternal life in Heaven.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”