Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola – A Reflection

St. IgnatiusThe story goes, that when I was born, my father put forward an unusual name for me.  He had been a recent graduate of Boston College, an institution founded by the Society of Jesus; also known as the Jesuits.  He had been impressed by these priests and brothers; so much so, that he wanted to name his first born after their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola!  My mother, being of strong willed Irish-Italian stock, basically said: “No way!”

A compromise was struck, my baptismal name was given as “Francis,”  after St. Francis Xavier, SJ, one of the original members of the Society.  My connection with the Jesuits was renewed, when as part of my Deacon formation, I and my classmates attended annual retreats at Campion Hall in Weston MA.  It is a Jesuit run retreat center, as well as a retirement home for their members.  So I began to learn more about the saint, whose name I almost inherited.

St. Ignatius was born in the Basque country of northern Spain.  He originally was raised to be a soldier of Spain.  At age 30, he was seriously wounded in a battle defending a town against an invading Spanish army. One of his legs was broken by a cannon ball, and he was brought back to the family home.  During his recovery, he read the only books available to him; a life of Jesus Christ, and stories about the saints.  Reflecting on what he read, he had a conversion experience.  He dedicated his life, body and soul to Christ.  The path that he took to reach this point, he would eventually create The Spiritual Exercises.  It is a blueprint, a process to help a spiritual director guide a person into a closer, more intimate relationship with God; developing an attentiveness, an openness, and responsiveness to God.

When he was studying at the University of Paris to become a priest, he was also guiding some of his classmates through the Spiritual Exercises.  Inspired by what they experienced, six of them, along with Ignatius, decided to form a company, a society, dedicated to serving the Church, under the direction of the Pope.  Thus was the Society of Jesus formed.  Since that time, Jesuits have traveled the world; as missionaries, educators, writers, parish priests and spiritual directors.  One of St. Ignatius’ spiritual sons would be elected as head of the Catholic Church, our current Pontiff, Pope Francis.

St. Ignatius, has been recognized as more of  a founder and organizer of a powerful religious community; and not so much as a mystic, except perhaps within the Jesuit communities themselves.  That has been changing, more diocesan priests, religious, and laypersons have taken the Spiritual Exercises, and it has enriched their spiritual lives.

Prayer for Generosity

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.

St. Ignatius of Loyola




Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

my memory, understanding, my entire will,

all that I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Do with it as you will.

Give me only your love and your grace;

That is enough for me.”

(Suscipe, written by St. Ignatius of Loyola)

Today, the CIgnatius of Loyolaatholic Church remembers and celebrates the life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.  He was a Spanish knight from the Basque country.  Wounded in battle, as he recovered in the ancestral castle, he read a book about the life of Jesus Christ.  Reflecting on, meditating on those stories, he had a conversion experience.  Giving up his sword, he became a pilgrim, journeying to the Holy Land.  In the Spanish town of Manresa, he stayed for a period of time, living as a hermit in cave, along a river bank.  It was there that he had a powerful vision; he never described what he experienced.  He later, after mastering Latin, went to the University of Paris to study theology.  Reflecting on his spiritual journey, he wrote the Spiritual Exercises.  He used them to help guide his companions, and others, who were seeking to get closer to God.  He and his companions formed the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits.  This congregation, under the guidance of Ignatius, as Superior General, would go out into world, as preachers, spiritual directors, missionaries, and educators.

I think though that among the great gifts from Ignatius to the Church is his Spiritual Exercises.  Hundreds of individuals have followed the Practices, either in 30 day retreats, or over extended periods of times.  They have been guided into a more intimate relationship with God, and discern what God was calling them to do with their lives.  Thanks to Basque former warrior, a priest, and mystic, a new guide has opened up for those seeking the Lord.