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St. Ignatius: Finding God in All Things


Who is this saint whose experience of Jesus Christ led to the founding in 1540 of a religious community, the Society of Jesus, dedicated to announcing the Good News through a multiplicity of ministries? In the United States alone, there are 28 Jesuit four-year colleges and universities. Among the members of the Jesuit community there have been canonized saints, some of them martyrs, renowned theologians, scientists, and a decorated U.S. military veteran known to have made major contributions to church and society. All have drawn their inspiration and been guided by the charism (unique gift for service in the Church) and spirituality of the Basque from Azpeitia in the province of Guipuzcoa in northern Spain, Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola.
 
Ignatius’ journey, like those of many saints, took several twists and turns before he discovered God’s will in his life. His earliest experiences contributed to the development of his personality, his vision, and his response to Christ’s call for his lifetime. As a young teen, Ignatius served as a page in the household of a noble in the kingdom of Castilla. He later embraced the life of a soldier. He was 30 years old when his leg was severely wounded in the battle to defend Pamplona from the French. After a long and difficult recovery, his leg healed, but he would always walk with a limp.
 
During his long recuperation, Ignatius longed to read novels, but when none were available, he began reading a book about saints and the life of Christ. He was impressed by the courage and zeal of the saints, while at the same time he daydreamed about winning the heart of his ladylove. Ignatius began to notice that his feelings were very different after his daydreams than after considering the saints. After his daydreams, he felt restless; after reading about the saints, he was at peace. It was the beginning of his own discernment of God’s call, for he realized that not only our intellect but also our emotions help us discover the movement of the Spirit. This experience served as the beginning of his work known as the Spiritual Exercises.
 
After Ignatius recovered, his plan was to go to Jerusalem. He was prevented from doing so because of the Turkish occupation of the Holy Land. Instead, he traveled to Barcelona. He stopped at the shrine of Our Lady of Monserrat where he made an all night vigil, left his weapons at Our Lady’s altar, and set off dressed in poor clothing with only a staff. Continuing on his way, he stopped at the town of Manresa where he remained for ten months. Ignatius spent hours in prayer in a cave outside the city and experienced a significant spiritual enlightenment he later described as understanding that one must “find God in all things.”
 
After a couple of false starts at studying for the priesthood in Spain, Ignatius set off for Paris where he strongly influenced Francis Xavier, Peter Fabre, and others whom he directed in the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius engaged in his great love of caring for the sick in hospitals, teaching children about God, and directing adults in the Exercises during these years. After ordination, Ignatius and two of his companions set off for Rome. Prevented from traveling to Jerusalem, Ignatius asked all his companions to join him in Rome, where they decided to form a religious community. With the approval of Pope Paul III, they pronounced their vows, forming the Society of Jesus. Ignatius, despite his reluctance, was elected their superior.

 
From the original group of eight, Ignatius lived to see the company grow to over 1,000 members and establish colleges and houses throughout Europe, and as far as South America and Japan. Over the more than five centuries since Ignatius founded the order, his vision has been carried out by thousands of members of the Society of Jesus. The gift bestowed on the former soldier and courtier has touched and continues to touch countless people. The greatness of this saint was perhaps best summed up by Luis Goncalves de Camara, one of his closest associates, when he wrote, “He (Ignatius) was always rather inclined toward love; moreover, he seemed all love, and because of that he was universally loved by all. There was no one in the Society who did not have great love for him and did not consider himself much loved by him.”
 
An example of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises can be found in our Podcast on the Daily Examen. Pray with Sister Veronica as she leads you in this exercise.

 

Sister Marie is a member of the RENEW staff, a Sister of St. Joseph of Cluny, and the Project Leader for RENEW Africa.

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