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Saint Ignatius Loyola - Jesuit Saint

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The plan, then, is that we will reflect on some of the outstanding saints of the Society of Jesus, see some of their spirituality and see what we can learn from both their sanctity and their zeal for souls. The logical one to begin with is St. Ignatius.

We might begin by noting that Ignatius was not his baptismal name. Ignatius was originally Inigo, I-n-i-g-o. He changed his name to Ignatius in honor of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Remember, the famous bishop and martyr who wrote seven famous letters on his way to Rome where he was martyred in the year 107? And the two reasons why Inigo changed his name to Ignatius were that Ignatius of Antioch had such a love of martyrdom and he was so devoted to the Holy See.

The best assignable date for the birth of St. Ignatius is 1491. He was born in the Castle of Loyola and that's why Ignatius Loyola refers to both his now-assumed name and his family ancestry. He died at Rome in 1556. Perhaps ironically, he died so suddenly he did not receive the last Sacraments which means you can become a saint even though you happen to die without the last Sacraments. He was canonized in 1622 and 300 years later was declared, by Pope Pius XI, the heavenly Patron of all retreats and spiritual exercises. The document of Pius XI, Menti Nostrae, declaring Ignatius Patron of retreats and exercises is, I think, well worth reading because it neatly capsulizes the spirituality of St. Ignatius. He, along with so many other saints, is good publicity for a large family: there were eleven children; only three daughters and eight sons, and he was the youngest of the eleven.

In the deepest sense of the word, Ignatius was a convert. He lived a life that was very worldly. We have official records of at least one illegitimate child. In other words, he was another Augustine a century later. He was a soldier by profession and, as later on he would at such length explain to his followers, God will do the most unexpected and unpleasant things in order to bring a soul to Himself. In Ignatius' case, he was fighting a war against the French. During a battle at Pamplona he was badly wounded; one of his legs was quite shattered. Incidentally the Spaniards, once Ignatius was wounded, fled. (He was their leader) Then months of convalescence; his convalescence converted him. You might say the Society of Jesus was born on a sick bed. He was a great reader of the romances of those days. Now that, by the way, is really something because he was wounded on May 2Oth (everybody remembers the date) 1521. Print was discovered in the late fifteenth century and yet, already, by 1521 there were, of all things, all kinds of novels in print. There is no doubt that the manner of his conversion, not just the fact but the manner, decided the nature of the order that he would found and the kind of spirituality that he would teach.

He wanted novels but they just didn't have them; it was a poorly stocked library. All they had was a "Life of Christ," and a book on the lives of the saints. Which is good to know, however, 1521--that was already also in print. The "Life of Christ" changed Ignatius' life and for the rest of his days his spirituality is, in the deepest sense, christocentric. Unlike so many other great spiritual masters, for Ignatius the spiritual life is identified with a Person. He was no theologian; his vocabulary was very limited; his figures of speech were sometimes infantile, but he fell in love with Christ and that made Ignatius and Ignatian spirituality.

But the real turning point in his life as to just what he should do with his gradually-being-converted life…there is a book of the lives of the saints what Ignatius learned from the lives of the saints is that one after another: Benedict, Dominic, Francis – lived very good lives and he decided that he'd like to become like them. It was during this period, while he was still bedridden, that our Lady appeared to him. There are thirty recorded Marian apparitions and revelations in the life of Ignatius, so much so that at one point before he actually founded the Society of Jesus, he had thought of calling it, The Society of Mary. But he had no doubt that our Lady was the one who directed him to found the Society of Jesus. After our Lady's first appearance to Ignatius he got surprisingly healed, which confirmed him in his mission. He always carried a limp to the day of his death, but he made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Monserrat, where he made his peace with God. Some distance away from Monserrat, in order to pull himself away from all worldly things to go into meditation, silence, he went to a cave called Manresa and, ever since for the last four hundred years, many retreat houses conducted by the Society of Jesus are called "Manresa." It was while at Manresa, between 1522 and 1523, that Ignatius first of all practiced extraordinary austerities to expiate his sins. He did much meditation, but he also wrote what have since become the Spiritual Exercises. In other words, during his give or take one year in Manresa, when he fasted, scourged himself and practiced such austerities that he was crippled for life, he managed to write the book of the Spiritual Exercises. With some revisions, it has become the standard for giving retreats over the centuries. An average of over a million people in over 400 years, every year, make a closed spiritual retreat following the directives of St. Ignatius.

Shortly after his conversion and then stay in Manresa when he wrote the Spiritual Exercises, he decided that he wanted to convert the Infidels, as he called them, in the Holy Land. So he went to Palestine trying to find out what is God's will and he figured there were hundreds of thousands of Moors – "God wants me to convert the Muslims." Well it seems he was so zealous in his efforts to convert the Moors, who were in no mood to be converted, that he was advised by the Franciscans who were in charge of the Holy Land, to go back to Europe as fast as he could otherwise he might have to be taken back as a corpse because he was so eager to convert the Muslims; and the Franciscans told him, "that's not the way you convert the Muslims." So, that having fallen through, he decided the Lord probably wants him to get an education, so in 1524 (that would mean at the age of 33, he began to learn how to write; he began to study the rudiments of grammar; sat among the children in grammar school. But by that time he was quite convinced that what God wanted of him was to train himself so that he, in turn, could train others in the Militia of Christ. All together from 1524 at the age of 33, until 1540, which is 16 years later, he was in training, in studies trying to find followers, one after another, some followed, some didn't follow him. At any rate, by 1540 the group of men that he organized to surround him had their constitutions approved by the Holy Father and Ignatius always wanted to make sure he would leave no stone unturned; it was during the Council of Trent so what he got was not just the Pope, but the General Council of the Church to approve the constitutions. Now they were unusual constitutions. For one thing it was a religious order, which more than once the Church declared, "no more religious orders, we've got enough of them." We've got the Dominicans, we've got the Franciscans, we've got the Benedictines, we don't need any more orders. Ignatius managed, mainly through many Masses and prayers – his most powerful weapon was to have Masses said – when the Pope was unfriendly and was not approving what Ignatius wanted the Pope to approve, he wouldn't complain, he wouldn't argue, he would order Masses. When the number of priests in the Order was very small, he would have something like 2,000 Masses ordered. They were saying Masses for years. And, to this day, in the Constitutions of Ignatius, he declares the single most powerful means the Society of Jesus has for the conversion of souls and bringing them to God, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Fifteen-forty then, the Society of Jesus was fully approved by the Holy See and the Council of Trent. Ignatius lived another 16 years before he died.

Ignatian Spirituality

Now some features of St. Ignatius' spirituality. I have ten features and I'm told this conference is part of a holy hour which started at 7 and is to finish at 8. What are the features of St. Ignatius' spirituality?

I. The first feature: is that the Person of Christ, the human being, the Son of Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, because He is God Himself in human form, that Man's virtues are God's attributes. In other words, not introduced because it had been known before, but he placed an emphasis on Christ (and here's the language) as the Exemplary Cause of our sanctification that no one before or since has ever so emphasized. Everything that Jesus did, from His crying as a Babe in the cradle to His getting tired and falling asleep, to His agony in the Garden, all of that is a pattern for us to imitate. Among the three titles that Christ gave Himself: "I am the Way the Truth and the Life," Ignatius concentrated on Christ the Way, the Model, the Pattern, the Example, the One Whom, if we follow we will become like Him and that means we will become holy. First feature of Ignatius' spirituality.

II. Second Feature: Ignatius was a contemporary of all the major Protestant rebels: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer, all of them. And he saw that at rock bottom Protestantism was a rebellion against the Papacy. And as a consequence, the second notable feature of his spirituality is his own personal, great personal devotion to the person of the Holy Father and his teaching and preaching and insisting that you are only as good a Christian – and you dare not call yourself a catholic, unless you are loyal (that means obedient) to the Vicar of Christ. That's why when he came to establish the Society of Jesus and distinguished between two classes of priests in the order, those who are solemnly professed who, then, take three solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; and the so-called spiritual coadjutors who are priests but do not take solemn vows. He required of those who take solemn vows were the minority in the order, to take a special vow of obedience to the Vicar of Christ. As one who unworthily has been allowed to pronounce my solemn vows, all I know is that my special vow of obedience I never dreamt, in 1953 when I took my final vows including the vow of obedience to the Pope, how much that vow would cost me.

III. Third feature: Ignatius, again, lived during a period when, perhaps surprisingly to some people, these same reformers who rejected the papacy denied human liberty. Did you know that? At the heart of the reformation, as it came to be euphemistically called, is the denial that man has a real human freedom with which he can either choose to serve or choose to reject God. Well then, who is saved? "Who?" the reformers will say, "That's easy. Those are saved whom God predestines. They get the grace; they cannot help being good. Sadly, you must add, and the evil of those who will be lost cannot help being bad." But no freedom. The cardinal heresy of the Western world is the denial of human freedom. Ignatius then, you would expect to stress man's free will. Of course we need divine help. We need divine light and strength, who doubts it? But we must want to cooperate and we are not coerced to do so. In Ignatius' vocabulary a saint is a person who wants to be a saint. It is both that simple and that awful. Hell is very real and it is no injustice, though it's a great mystery. Why not? Because God gave us a free will to either serve Him or reject Him. And if we want to, as every page of the Exercises brings out, we can be either just sufficiently cooperative with God's grace to keep out of hell – a big risk needless to say; you're taking a chance. Or you can give and give and give more and more. That's why there could be only one motto for St. Ignatius which he bequeathed to his sons: "for the greater glory of God." That comparative degree is at the heart of Ignatius' spirit. Not just for the glory of God or the great glory of God, but the greater. "My friend," he would tell us, "exert yourself; push a little harder; do more."

"More than what?"
"More than you're doing."
"But I'm doing all that I can."
"Try harder!"

That's Ignatius. Because we have that all but almighty power called freedom. It is the power that can say "no" to the Almighty, or can say a weak, whimpering "yes" or can shout from the mountain tops, "YES." There is a quality of leadership in Ignatius which he wished to pass on to those who were to take up his spirit.

IV. Fourth feature: The Latin expression is tantum quantum because it's in the Latin that Ignatius finally learned. It's in the Spiritual Exercises and the phrase occurs in this context: Ignatius is talking about the creatures that God put into the world. They are all intended to help us reach our destiny but, needless to say, not all creatures are equally good or serviceable. Some are better; some are not so good. In fact, though in themselves some are good, they may be bad for me.

I'm a married man. She is somebody else's wife. No matter how attractive that creature may be, she is not for me. So Ignatius in that context – and this is the opening of the Spiritual Exercises – he tells the followers of Christ to study, scrutinize, screen the creatures in their lives down to the last thought on my mind or impulse in my will and to use creatures only tantum quantum, which means "in so far as."

In so far as what?

In so far as they help me reach my destiny. There is a military logic about Ignatius' thinking. Creatures are put into our lives but before we start swimming in them ask yourself, "which of these is better than others?" Which, in fact, should be skipped entirely. Which perhaps I may have become encumbered with and he uses the verb, "I must rid myself of," note tantum quantum. He used creatures "in so far as" they help you reach the destiny for which God made you and, logically, avoid them, get rid of them, sacrifice them, escape them in so far as they hinder you in your pursuit of your heavenly goal.

V. Fifth feature: the two standards. Ignatius saw life as a warfare and, of course, he had good scriptural warrant for that. It was Job, quite some centuries before Ignatius, who gave that famous phrase that I like the Latin for: Militia est vita homines in terra: Man's life on earth is a warfare. Thanks Job, you are so right! For Ignatius, there were two leaders, Christ and Antichrist. Each sends out His(his) vocation; each has His(his) followers. And the followers of both satan and Christ cohabit in this world of ours, maybe members of the same family; citizens of the same city and, sadly, members of the same church. Ignatius understood the following of Christ to be not just a quiet, calm, peacefully serene, roses and wild honey – some of that too, but it was a struggle and the conflict, as Paul tells us, is not just with flesh and blood. Oh, the immediate object of the conflict may be a human being but, for Ignatius, human beings are used by the devil.

VI. Sixth feature: The three classes of human beings. The human race, he would say, is divided into three classes of persons: Those who have simply rejected God. God knows their number, but if Christ is to be taken literally, their number must be large because Christ said, "The way to heaven is narrow," and (He used the words,) "and few there are that walk that way." So that's the one class. The second-class are the on-again, off-again people. All they want to follow...(transmission fades away) They are not totally given to following the Master. You might say they are people who are living in venial sin. And the third class, those who want to go the whole way.

VII. The seventh feature seems almost to be the same as the three classes, it's called "The three degrees," but it's not the same. There are three degrees of persons who want to follow Christ, but who have obstacles standing in the way: rather unruly passions or where they are living, the environment in which they are; among others and giving a bad example or they are wealthy people who are enjoying their prosperity, whatever. Note, these are good people, but they have some hindrance, obstacle which need not be – it is just a barrier that keeps an individual from that whole-hearted and total surrender of self to Christ. In the three degrees of humility, as Ignatius calls it, on the first level or the first degree are those people who realize "Yes, I have this obstacle. I know I could be more generous." What do they do about removing the obstacle? Nothing! They live with the obstacle and never rise above mediocrity, because maybe they'd have to get rid of the money or whatever creature stands in the way of their whole-hearted service of Jesus. Second degree: They are the persons who recognize they've got an obstacle and do something but, unfortunately, they don't take the bull by the horns and do exactly what they're supposed to do. They are the compromisers. If the first degree are the do-nothings and the second degree are the compromisers. You've heard about Father Daniel Lord, remember? A great Jesuit in his day. He gave us a retreat; I was a scholastic then. In commenting on these three degrees, to exemplify the second, he told us the story of a priest one winter night, coming back from a sick call after midnight; took a short cut through one of the many Chicago alleys and was suddenly held up by a gunman. He told the priest to put up his hands and cleaned the priest of all valuables, watch, money, whatever he had. As he was relieving the priest of his possessions, the overcoat collar slipped down, he noticed this was a priest he was robbing. Have I ever told you this story? Well, it's worth it. It illustrates the principle. You see, I am talking to long friends. "Father I am sorry, I never rob a priest." He proceeded to give everything back to the priest and, in a gesture of kindness, to show that he didn't really hold anything against him after giving him a homily on honesty, gave him a cigar. The thief sniffed the cigar and was ready to pocket it, "Father I've given up smoking for lent." I think that's a good story even after ten tellings, and it's supposed to be true. In any case, people will make novenas, give money to the poor, do all kinds of exotic things – make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and will not do the one thing necessary which is the real hindrance in their spiritual life by keeping their mouth shut and not failing against charity. The third degree are, of course, those who recognize they've got obstacles. Who doesn't? But then tackle what they need to overcome at its root. They are the ones who have sanctity in their blood and will become – they may be struggling to their dying day. So what! Good for our humility, but they'll become holy.

VIII. Eighth feature: Contemplation in action. St. Ignatius loved to pray. During his long years of study which he began, as we've said, at the age of 33. He, by that time, was gifted with mystical prayer and he later on recalled some of his worst seizures of mysticism came in the middle of class, which he put down as a diabolical temptation. Isn't that good to hear? There's work to be done. The ecstasy can wait. That's Ignatius. And his model there was the Mother of God, the greatest of all mystics, one who was constantly in the presence of God and for nine months carried Him in her womb. At the moment she was told by the angel she was to be the mother of Christ, what did she do? Go into a cell for nine months? She got up and went quite a distance, in haste Luke says, to help her cousin Elizabeth. In other words, for Ignatius mysticism rolls up its sleeves and gets busy.

IX. Ninth feature: With his eminently practical nature, always asking, "How does this serve the purpose for which I have been created?" He asked himself a very simple question, "What's the purpose of sanctity?" We might say to become holy. Of course, of course. To please God. Sure. To become more like God. Of course. But, for Ignatius, we are to become holy in order to sanctify others. There is a built-in pragmatism in Ignatian spirituality which is very healthy and which, I dare say, we can all afford to re-examine. As he said more than once, we cannot give others what we don't have ourselves. He speaks of a genealogy of holiness. Just as in the natural order like reproduces like, so in the supernatural order like reproduces like. It takes saints to reproduce other saints.

X. And, finally, discernment. Ignatius, being so conscious of the conflict between good and evil in the world, set down some very precise rules which, I trust before we finish with this series (this is just the first conference) we'll see more about how to distinguish between a temptation of the devil and an inspiration of God. And we'd better distinguish, otherwise a person can be bursting with generosity in pursuing a mirage or running headlong to the edge of a cliff.

I'd like to close with the prayer that synthesizes the spirit of St. Ignatius, the famous Sucipe: Take, Oh Lord, and receive. It occurs in the contemplation to obtain divine love and is the peak of the spiritual exercises.


Take Lord and receive all my liberty, (Notice the first thing he says? Take all my liberty) my memory, my understanding and my entire will; all that I have and possess. Thou has given all to me. To Thee, Oh Lord, I return it. All is Thine. Dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy Love and Thy Grace for this is sufficient for me.

With apologies for speaking for 50 minutes about my father in God.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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