Who is St. Ignatius?
St. Ignatius was born to noble parents October, 1491, in Azpetia, Spain. He spent his boyhood until age 15 splitting time between living in his ancestral castle with his family while also staying with a neighboring farm couple who took care of him after his mother died. Baptized Inigo in the parish church of San Sebastian, Ignatius was the youngest of 13 children, all boys. Ignatius was a favorite among his older siblings who loved to encourage the energetic little boy in his many escapades and afternoons spent roaming the hills of home. Later as an adult Ignatius became known for his active imagination, no doubt nourished by the hours he spent by the fireside with his family telling stories and recounting adventures.
It was during this idyllic childhood that the future saint began his relationship with the Mother of Jesus. Oftentimes Ignatius attended daily Mass with his neighbors at a hermitage nearby where inside was a Romanesque image of Our Lady of Olatz with the child Jesus perched on her lap. The beautiful serene figure imparted peace, moving the young lad into a deeper relationship with Mary as evidenced by his devotion to the Blessed Mother as he matured.
When Ignatius became a teenager, he was sent to be trained for court life with King Ferdinand and Isabella. It was there that the innocence of the young country boy began to dissipate as Ignatius began to experience the “high life” of loose morals and sordid living. His desire for worldliness increased as he sought more and more the praise and glory given to the daring and the dashing, and especially the recklessness of soldiers of that time.
In 1521 when a large French army besieged Pamplona, Ignatius pushed to the front where he subsequently was hit by a cannonball which shattered his leg. Recuperating back home at his family’s castle, he asked for books of chivalry and romance. Instead he was given the Life of Christ and a book on the lives of the Saints. Definitely not his first choice of reading materials!
During his long months of recouperation while bedridden, he spent many hours reading, and then began meditating coupled with allowing his imagination to reign. Soon he began writing down his thoughts which slowly had begun to turn from chivalry and vainglory to Christ and His Mother. He began using red ink for the world of Christ and blue for those of Mary.
Days turned into months, and soon Ignatius realized that his daydreams of worldly exploits delighted him at first but left him wistful and sad later. But when he was thinking about saints and holy practices he experienced a satisfaction and joy he could not explain. This “knowing” became the seed that would one day bloom into the Spiritual Exercises.
Through his prayer and readings, Ignatius discerned to make a complete break with his former lifestyle and to imitate the Saints with all his might. First, he would begin his new way of living by making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat and offer her his life. However, on the journey, he stopped at Arantzazu, today a Franciscan sanctuary located in the rugged hill country in Northern Spain located about 25 miles south of Loyola. The statue of Mary in the sanctuary was named after Arantzazu which means, “you, in thorns?” because the statue was found in the middle of a pasture on a thorn tree.
Ignatius spent a night in vigil before the statue, offering Mary his chastity. Whatever else happened to Ignatius that night is anybody’s guess, but changes in his personality and demeanor were evident when the Saint departed the church. Was it here that God revealed to Ignatius that His presence could be found in all things, including a thorn bush in a remote pasture in the middle of rural Spain?
On to Montserrat where Ignatius spent more time in prayer and vigil, this time giving over his entire self to God through Mary. Visiting and praying with the Our Lady of Montserrat, Ignatius prepared for and made His general confession which lasted three days. It was after his all-night vigil that Ignatius then lay down his sword and exchanged his fine clothing with a pilgrim’s tunic. He was now under Mary’s protective mantle and would begin to serve his Eternal King.
After leaving Montserrat, Ignatius stopped in Manresa for a few days. A few days turned into 11 months, mostly spent living in solitude in a cave, speaking very little, and listening to the Lord. Today his time in Manresa is referred to as his enlightenment at the River Cardoner where his cave was located. It was here that Ignatius experienced alternating periods of consolation and desolation, now familiar terms popularized in Ignatian spirituality. He was curious about his visions of serpents and wondered about their origin and where they led. Specifically, it was during his cave experience when Ignatius began penning what would later become the Spiritual Exercises.
After Manresa, Ignatius traveled to Jerusalem and then returned to Barcelona where he went back to school to learn Latin, logic and physics. After more learning and more education, at age 37 he traveled to Paris to begin his studies in arts under Master Juan Pena. It was here that he became good friends with two of his roommates, Pierre Favre (Peter Faber) and Francis Xavier. More travel, more learning, more friendships developed.
In 1546, Ignatius spent the entire year studying theology, and helping others through Spiritual Conversations and in giving the Spiritual Exercises. Later, Ignatius and friends traveled to Rome to offer their services to the Pope. Ultimately, his time in Rome produced many ministries and opportunities for personal projects to help the poor, both spiritually and physically. However the summit of his efforts came together in the founding of the Society of Jesus.
Along with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Ignatius’s initial efforts at shepherding a small band of friends became today what is known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order. Currently, more than 16,000 Jesuits are spread throughout the world. In 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, a Jesuit, became Pope Francis.