At the old Castle of Loyola, a little child was born in the year 1491, who received in baptism the name of Inigo which he afterwards changed for that of Ignatius. Ours is not a history of a saintly childhood and the wondrous holiness of very early years, for this boy was gay and brilliant amongst the young pages of the court of Ferdinand; and though we hear that he never gave himself to gambling and other such amusements, it seems as if his highest ambition was fixed on deeds of courage, whilst his favourite occupation was the reading of tales of romance and chivalry.
At about the age of twenty-six years, he began to carry arms, and was brave in the defence of his country and his king; but in one contest when Ignatius was fighting courageously, wishing to die rather than retreat, a cannon-ball broke the bone of his right leg, and he fell to the ground, and the French became masters of the citadel, making him their prisoner. But his bravery had so won their admiration that they treated him with great courtesy, and, as his wound needed much care, he received permission to go to his own country, where he was conveyed on a litter. The surgeons declared that a terrible operation must take place, to which Ignatius consented willingly, and bore it without allowing any signs of pain to escape him, but his health grew worse afterwards, and he became very ill from fever. The night before the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the doctors considered his life in great danger; he had received the last Sacraments in preparation for death, and few had any hope of his recovery, but, at midnight, Ignatius had a vision of Saint Peter, to whom he had always a particular devotion, promising him that he should recover his health. From that moment a change begun, the fever subsided, and his wound slowly healed, but it was found that through the unskilful operation he had borne, one leg was shorter than the other, and he would never be able to walk without showing this disfigurement. Ignatius inquired if there was no remedy possible, and, when he was told that the only thing would be for the bone to be cut away with a saw, he allowed it to be done, never even shrinking during the pain; but all was in vain, there was no cure for the lameness, and the brave young soldier knew that his dreams of victory and honour were over.
As he lay on his sick-bed, Ignatius called for books to pass away the weary hours; he had always loved to read of the gallant deeds of high-born knights and cavaliers, and his thoughts returned to them now in his weakness, but they had not the tales he loved in the old Castle of Loyola, and as none were to be found, they carried him the Lives of the Saints. It was indeed a happy thing for him – it was God’s time for speaking to his heart, calling him to rise from his dreams of enterprise and romance and turn his energy and zeal against the enemies of his soul so that he might fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil, as a good, true soldier of Jesus Christ.
On that bed of weakness, during the silent nights and weary days of pain, Ignatius thought over his life – those worldly hopes and longings which had been like a cloud between him and his God, and he made his choice of a different future. Yes, it should be all changed now, he would take up the battle against sin„ he would fight for the kingdom of God, and live to be what his Lord would have him.
One night when he was praying before an image of the Blessed Virgin – offering himself through her to God – a sudden shock like an earthquake seemed to shake the house and the room he was in, so that the frames of the windows were broken. Another time, Mary herself appeared to him with the Divine Child in her arms and remained speaking with him until his heart was full of peace and sweetness. This made Ignatius more anxious to obey the call of God and begin a different life, and, as soon as he was able to take the journey, he told his brother of his purpose of leaving Loyola.
After bidding farewell to his family and starting towards Mont Serrat, he obtained a pilgrim’s dress with a cord for a girdle and hempen shoes, together with a staff and shell, and strapping them upon his mule, he rode slowly along tlie rocky path to a church and place of pilgrimage, where he made a general confession of his whole life, and sought advice as to his future.
Three days Ignatius remained at Mont Serrat, and then, leaving his mule for the use of the monastery, and suspending his sword and dagger by the altar of the Blessed Virgin, he went slowly and painfully along his way to Manresa, where he desired to live unknown and uncared for, doing penance for the sins and follies of the past. He set apart seven houra every day for prayer, he allowed scarce any time for sleep, lying on the ground with a stone or piece of wood for his pillow. Three times a day he scourged himself severely, and took for his food hard and blackened crusts, or vegetables sprinkled with ashes. Once Ignatius had loved and sought for admiration and esteem, now he put it far from him, and when the children mocked him and shouted, “Here comes the man in sackcloth,” he bore it not only patiently but with joy.
For some months, he attended upon the sick at the hospital at Manresa, conquering all the natural dislike he had for the terrible complaints and vulgar habits of the people he found there; but afterwards he sought a more solitary life, and made his abode in a cavern not far off, where he increased his prayers and penances. Terrible temptations from the devil beset him there, in which he called upon God to deliver him; but other visions came of heavenly sweetness for his relief, and thus ten months passed by. Then God pointed out to him a work to do among men. He called upon him to leave his retirement by putting upon his heart that burning love for souls which gave him the spirit of an Apostle. From that moment one thought was in the mind of Ignatius – he must go forth into the world to make known the love of God to men; so he left his cavern home, and .changing his hermit dress for a shorter garment of coarse gray cloth, journeyed to Barcelona, where he remained some twenty days, begging his daily bread, and visiting the hospitals and prisons. His desire was to sail for Italy, and, having obtained a free passage, he went on board the vessel, first laying on a stone five or six pieces of money which had been given him, so that he might faithfully keep his resolution of perfect poverty. Landed at the port of Gaieta, he travelled on foot to Rome, where he obtained the blessing of the Pope, but only remained a few days, as his aim was to reach Jerusalem and visit the spots made sacred by the human life of Christ.
It was not only a pilgrimage he was making; Ignatius wished also to bring together a company of men to teach the truths of the Catholic Church, but the Franciscan Fathers already there thought it would not be wise to remain, and, submitting to their opinion, he arranged to leave Jerusalem, and, after many difficulties, sailed for Italy, passing on to Spain.
Once more at Barcelona, Ignatius returned to a life of great penance and prayer, and God gave him many graces and signs of His love. During his stay in that city, three young men •came to Ignatius, wishing to follow him, and belong to the Order he intended to found, and thus began the Society of Jesus, which is now known in every part of the Christian world. Their special work has always been to do good to souls, and from the first, Saint Ignatius was very successful in winning people to love and serve God. From place to place he travelled preaching the crucified Saviour, adding to his Society, teaching the Christian doctrine – like Jesus, his master, he was misjudged, wrongfully accused, and even imprisoned, but God’s blessing was with him, and every difficulty only brought more success.
Thus Ignatius lived until the year 1554, when his health began to be very weak, so that he was obliged to have help in the great work of governing his society; but early in the summer of 1556 his illness grew so much worse, that he himself felt very sure he should not live long. On the 31st of July he died almost suddenly, for although he was very feeble, no one expected that he would be gone so soon, and his soul passed to God with the greatest peace and calmness, nothing unusual happening at that time. It is thought that, in his deep Humility, he may have sought this as a favour from God, for he had always tried to conceal the special gifts he received, but we know he did pray that the Society of Jesus might be especially hated by the world, as their Master was, and this prayer has been granted.
Those who hate the true faith, hate above all the Jesuits, and their name alone is used as a reproach; in almost every land they have been allowed to shed* their blood as martyrs for the truth, and from many countries they have been turned away, for teaching men to know God, and repent of their sins against Him; but through all they have pursued their way, doing their works of mercy without seeking any reward on earth, taking as their standard the Cross of Jesus, and for their motto “To the greater glory of God.” This, then, has been the work of the once brave young Spanish soldier, who became a far braver and nobler soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ; this was the fulfilment of the purposes he formed upon his sick-bed, when he promised his life, and strength, and all that he had to be given to the love and service of God.
– from , by Mary F Seymour