Wednesday, 31 July 2013

ST IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA

“I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.” - Albert Camus
 

July 31 is the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). He was born on this day, in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man Ignatius Loyola was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds as a brave knight. These plans were dashed in 1521, as Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French, when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. As Ignatius experienced his conversion he decided to devote his life to God and His work.
 

Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat, near Barcelona. He remained at nearby Manresa for almost a year, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills, praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a phase of doubt and undertook many harrowing physical and spiritual trials. There was no comfort in anything and he braved the extremes of the weather, fasted, subjected himself to great discomforts and prayed. At length, his peace of mind returned.
 

It was during this year of conversion that Ignatius began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the “Spiritual Exercises” (a set of Christian meditations, prayers and mental exercises, divided into four thematic 'weeks' of variable length, designed to be carried out over a period of 28 to 30 days. They were composed with the intention of helping the retreatant to discern Jesus in his life, leading him or her to a personal commitment to follow him. Though the underlying spiritual outlook is Catholic, the exercises can also be undertaken by non-Catholics).
 

Ignatius had always wanted to visit the Holy Land since his conversion, and finally he achieved his purpose of going there, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. He spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, his orthodoxy was questioned; Ignatius was twice jailed for brief periods.
 

In 1534, at the age of 43, he and six others (one of whom was St. Francis Xavier) vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the Pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general. When companions were sent on various missions by the Pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society.
 

Ignatius was a true mystic. He centred his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” (For the greater glory of God). In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the Pope should send them for the salvation of souls.

Ignatius died in July 1556, was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609, canonised by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, and declared patron of all spiritual retreats by Pope Pius XI in 1922. Ignatius is a foremost patron saint of soldiers, the Society of Jesus, the Basque Country, and the provinces of Gipuzkoa and Biscay. Of the institutions dedicated to Saint Ignatius, one of the most famous is the Basilica of St Ignatius Loyola, built next to the house where he was born in Azpeitia, the Basque Country, Spain. The house itself, now a museum, is incorporated into the basilica complex. His legacy includes many Jesuit schools and educational institutions worldwide. In the United States alone there are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities and more than 50 secondary schools.

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