Saints of the Society of Jesus: Saint Ignatius Loyola

31 July; Founder of the Society of Jesus.

Saint Ignatius was born in the year 1491, in Biscay, in the north of Spain. He was the youngest of thirteen children. His parents being noble, he devoted himself to the career of a soldier. Up to the age of thirty he led a worldly and ambitious life. But having been wounded while gallantly defending the city of Pampeluna, he was obliged to take to the Lives of the Saints in the absence of lighter reading to while away his time. O admirable providence of God! And how often a good book has changed a whole life! But who cares for the Lives of the Saints now? Yet who are worthy of our attention in this world? I answer, the saints alone; for the saints alone were great, good, perfect, admirable, and to be imitated.

The eyes of Ignatius were opened. He saw the truth; he knew what was really noble and really precious. “Oh, how the earth appears to me sordid,” he was wont to exclaim in his old days, “when I look up to heaven!” As soon as he could leave his home, he hung up his sword at the altar of Our Lady at Montserrat. Then he betook himself to a cave near Manresa, where he began to lead a life of great austerity and contemplation. Here it was that this novice in the spiritual life composed the wonderful book of the Spiritual Exercises, a fact which makes it incredible that he should not have received supernatural assistance in its composition. Here, too, he conceived the plan of his religious Order. After a visit to the Holy Land, he set to work to improve his knowledge of Latin by going to school, at the age of thirty-three, with the little children. After meeting with much vexation on account of his preaching and giving the Exercises, he went to Paris to complete his studies. Here he joined to himself as companion, first the Blessed Peter Favre, then Saint Francis Xavier, then James Laynez, the second General of the Society, Alphonsus Salmeron, Simon Rodriguez, and Nicholas Bobadilla – all Spaniards like himself, except Favre, who was from Savoy, and Rodriguez, a Portuguese. These first seven Jesuits bound themselves by vows, on the Feast of the Assumption, 1534, in a little chapel on the hill of Montmartre in Paris. Three others had joined them before the first anniversary of the birth of the Society – Claude Lejay, John Codure, and Paschase Brouet. Favre was the only one as yet ordained priest; it was he who celebrated the Mass. The year 1536 found Ignatius and his companions in Italy. Not being able to leave Venice for the Holy Land, they proceeded to Rome to place themselves at the disposal of the supreme head of the Catholic Church. When Ignatius was approaching the Holy City, Our Lord appeared to him and promised that He would be favorable to him in Rome. On Christmas night in 1538 Saint Ignatius said his first Mass in the church of Saint Mary Major. On the 27th of September, 1540, Pope Paul III, exclaiming, after he had read over the plan of the Institute Ignatius had drawn up, “The finger of God is here,” gave his solemn approval to the Bull erecting the Society of Jesus into a religious Order. Ignatius was unanimously elected General. There remained now to complete his work the great task of writing the Constitution of the Society.

When, this done, the young Ribadeneira, who may be called Saint Ignatius’ spoilt child, ventured to ask the saint why he seemed to be so happy. “Because, Peter,” answered Ignatius, “Our Lord has deigned to appear to me, and to promise that, in answer to my prayers, the Society shall never cease, so long as it exists, to enjoy the precious heritage of His Passion, in the midst of contradictions and persecutions.” The rest of the life of Saint Ignatius is the history of the Society of Jesus, one may say of the Catholic Church. While he was establishing good works at Rome, his sons were combating error and spreading the light of faith all over the world. Saint Ignatius did not live to be a very old man. Some time before his death he resigned his office of General, reserving only to himself the care of the sick. His death itself was rather sudden; he was sixty-five years of age. Though slight in person and low of stature, he was of a naturally vigorous constitution and noble appearance. The nobility of his character is what shines most in all his life, in his works, and in his writings. What shall we think of that man whose every breath seemed to be “For the greater glory of God”?