Today the Episcopal Church remembers Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. Ignatius was born in 1491, 1 of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man Ignatius was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds.
In 1521, Ignatius was seriously wounded in a battle with the French when a cannonball shattered his leg. His leg was not the only thing that had been shattered. His image of himself as a handsome, dashing courtier - everything that he had ever lived for - was shattered, too.
While recuperating, Ignatius experienced a conversion. He read about the lives of Jesus and the saints. Ignatius had his heart turned toward God.
As soon as Ignatius had healed enough to walk, he began a journey to Jerusalem so that he could “kiss the earth where our Lord had walked.” He traveled through the town of Montserrat, Spain where he gave away his fine clothes to a poor man. Then, in an all-night vigil before at the Benedictine abbey, Ignatius hung up his sword and dagger. His old life was over and his new life had begun.
On his return, Ignatius 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 6 others 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 bishop of Rome. 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, 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 centered 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.
His most famous work is the Spiritual Exercises, a manual of Christian prayer and meditation, where he directs the reader to begin with an event in the life of Christ, and to imagine the scene in detail, to replay the episode in his mind like a movie script, and to try to feel as if he had himself witnessed the event, and then to use this experience as a motive for love, gratitude, and dedication to the service of God. It has been much used by Christians of all varieties--John Wesley was enthusiastic about it.
Let us pray: O God, by whose grace your servant Ignatius, enkindled with the fire of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550