SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
by Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio, S.J.
Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, 2009
Divine Mercy Church, Sikatuna, Quezon City
Íñigo López de Loyola was born in the municipality of Azpeitia at the castle of Loyola in today’s Basque Country of Gipuzcoa, Spain. He was named after St. Enecus (Innicus), Abbot of Oña. The youngest of 13 children, Íñigo was only seven years old when his mother died. In 1506, he adopted the last name “de Loyola” in reference to the city where he was born. He later became a page in the service of a relative, Don Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, treasurer (contador mayor) of the kingdom of Castile.
In 1509, Íñigo took up arms for Don Antonio Manrique de Lara, Duke of Nájera and Viceroy of Navarre. His diplomacy and leadership qualities made him a gentilhombre very useful to the Duke. Under the Duke’s leadership, he participated in many battles without injury to himself. But when the French army, supporting the Navarrese monarchy expelled in 1512, stormed Pamplona’s fortress on May 20, 1521, a cannonball wounded one of his legs and broke the other. Heavily injured, Íñigo was returned to the castle. He was very concerned about the injuries on his leg and had several surgical operations, which were very painful in the days before anaesthetics. Being a man of the royal court, he was also a man of the world, quite vain about his looks and was driven by ambition.
During his period of recovery, he would have preferred to read books on chivalry and romantic exploits common in his time, but there were no such reading materials in the Loyola castle. Instead, he had to content himself with the available literature, namely, De Vita Christi, by Ludolph of Saxony, which eventually influenced his whole life, and the lives of saints. Reading these books, he became fired with an ambition to lead a life of self-denying labor and emulate the heroic deeds of Francis of Assisi and other great monastic leaders. He spent many days reflecting on the questions: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ? The conversion of a vain and worldly man had begun; Iñigo, the courtly gentilhombre was slowly turning into Ignacio, the hermit and pilgrim seeking to know in what manner he could serve the Most High. Upon recovery, as part of his quest, he visited the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat on March 25, 1522. He made an all-night vigil before the image of the famous “Morenita,” the Black Madonna of Montserrat, before whom he divested himself of his military sword, and gave up his rich vestments in exchange for a lowly pilgrim’s garb and staff. He then went and spent several months in prayer in a cave near the town of Manresa in Catalonia where he practiced the most rigorous asceticism. The result of this profound spiritual experience was the Spiritual Exercises, the most obvious fruits of which were his methods for the discernment of spirits, and contemplation.
As part of his quest, and seeking to be completely familiar with Our Lord, Ignatius embarked on a pilgrimage from Barcelona to Rome, enroute to the Holy Land. He would have wanted to remain there, but he understood that the will of God for him was not to remain in Jerusalem. However, his thought kept recurring to the question of what he ought to do. Finally, he decided that in order to help others spiritually, he had to undergo formal studies. And so, at age 33, he started to study Latin in Barcelona with students much younger than he was, and later moved on to philosophy and the humanities. He continued his studies in Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca , and eventually, higher studies in Paris at the Collège de Montaigu of the University of Paris. There he remained over seven years. In later life, he was often called “Master Ignatius”. This title was due to his taking a master’s degree from the university at the age of 43.
By 1534 he had six key companions, all of whom he met as students at the University— Francisco Xavier, Alfonso Salmerón, Diego Laínez, and Nicolás Bobadilla, all Spanish; Pierre Favre, a Frenchman; and Simão Rodrigues, a Portuguese. “On the morning of the 15th of August, 1534, in the crypt of the Church of Our Lady of the Martyrs, at Montmartre, Ignatius of Loyola and his six companions, of whom only one was a priest, met and took upon themselves the solemn vows of their lifelong work.”
The group of Ignatius eventually became the Company of Jesus, known today as Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, whose members vow special obedience to the Pope as missionaries. Ignatius of Loyola is known as a talented spiritual director. He was very vigorous in opposing the Protestant Reformation and promoting the following Counter-Reformation. He died in Rome as first Superior-General of the Compañia de Jesús on July 31, 1556. He was beatified by Pope Paul V on July 27, 1609, canonized by Pope Gregory XV together with his friend and close companion, St. Francis Xavier on March 12, 1622.
Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, adopted in 1540, which created a monarchical organization and stressed absolute self-abnegation and obedience to Pope and superiors (perinde ac cadaver, “well-disciplined like a corpse” as Ignatius put it). His main principle became the Jesuit motto: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (“for the greater glory of God”). The Jesuits were a major factor in the Counter-Reformation.
Today Jesuits are known all over the world for their schools, but we need to understand that the sons of Ignatius also pioneered daring missionary work in the New World and in the Asian and African continents, producing quite a number of martyrs for the faith. Even now, there are Jesuits who quietly labor in dangerous mission territories far away from the glare of publicity.
What, to me, is the challenge for Jesuits today—and which we can share with the faithful we serve— is to live and teach fidelity to the Church. In his rules for thinking with the Church, which is expressed in and by the Jesuit vow of obedience, Ignatius exhorts us, above all, to “ever be ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.” Fidelity and obedience to the Church, in the person of the Pope and the local bishop, is the mark of a true Roman Catholic Christian, even when sometimes—or many times–we do not understand certain decisions or actions that cause us much hurt and confusion. We may question certainly; we may represent; we may disagree, even dissent probably—but in the end, when we have exhausted all means to make our voices heard, we humbly bow and accept the inevitable because as Ignatius teaches us, God’s will is manifested in our all-too-human superiors and Church leaders. This is a hard saying for many, I know, and maybe even my fellow Jesuits will dispute this, but there is no other way we can preserve the unity of the Church which we all love, if we do not live and practice obedience to her. Unfortunately, this Mother Church is not a democracy, and this is probably one of the reasons why “the gates of hell has not prevailed against it” for 2000-plus years. Only time will tell if our voices were disinterested and prophetic, or were they voices of vested interests under the guise of “for the common good.”
In today’s postmodern and globalized world, so radically different from Ignatius’ time, we are bombarded from all sides with various so-called “creeds” that all have the glorification of man as their agenda. St. Ignatius teaches us in the Spiritual Exercises that “man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul,” and that “the other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.” Let us therefore ask this great saint, to help us discern the good spirit that leads us to think, say, and do everything for the greater glory of God.
NOTE: Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio, S.J. is willing to celebrate a regular Traditional Latin Mass in public at the Ateneo de Manila University if we can form a stable group.
So if you are a student, teacher, alumni, professional, or staff at Ateneo de Manila University who wishes to be part of this stable group, please email Dr. Quirino M. Sugon Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also use the comment form below.