Last December, as part of a family vacation, I got to spend a few days in Rome, Italy. Amidst hours of walking around taking in the sights, sounds and slices of pizza, I can vividly remember stepping into a church – The Church of the Gesù. This one was particularly special because it housed, in a silver reliquary part of the right arm of our very own Goencho Saib and also the tomb of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
I had to know more… so I did a bit of reading.
Inigo Onaz Lopez de Loyola as he was called, was born in 1491 to a noble family in northern Spain. He had twelve siblings. The quintessential ambitious young aristocrat – Ignatius was inflamed by the ideals of chivalry, knighthood and vanity. When he was older he joined the Spanish army as a soldier to fight against the French.
During one such battle in Pamplona in 1521, Ignatius was gravely wounded when a cannonball struck his leg. Helplessly he returned to his father’s castle to recuperate.
Concerned about the physical appearance of his leg, he underwent agonizing surgeries with clenched fists (anaesthesia was yet to be discovered!).
As he was convalescing, he asked for popular tales of knighthood and fiction to pass his time. Instead he ended up reading what was available – ‘Life of Christ‘ and a collection of the lives of saints.
Throughout his recovery, he spent long hours daydreaming of how he would serve the king as a fearless knight and how he would win the love of a certain noble lady. At the same time, Ignatius was attracted to what he read, especially the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic and desired to imitate Christ as they did. His mind would flip-flop between these two divergent ideas. God gave Ignatius insight to pay attention to his thinking and understand how worldly thoughts left him sad while heavenly thoughts delighted him. Converted and resolute to offer his life in service to God, he abandoned his military desires and embraced a life of prayer, poverty, and penance. He went on to study Latin and Theology and on completing his masters at the University of Paris, he founded the Society of Jesus or Jesuits with six other fellow students. One of who was St. Francis Xavier!
St. Ignatius eventually gathered his prayers, meditations, reflections and directions into what is known as the Spiritual Exercises. He died on 31st July 1556 at the age of 64 and was canonized in 1622.
The Jesuits are well known in India and around the world for their education and spiritual direction. During my early school days at a Jesuit school in Mumbai, I was introduced to the life of this heroic man of God. Also quite recently I read an Ignatian book on the topic of discernment that was deeply rooted in his Exercises.
I too find myself caught up with thoughts and questions about the future. What should I do? Am I making the right choice? From St. Ignatius I am learning the importance of paying attention to my thoughts and allowing God to guide me. Seeking to do His will rather than mine. Like St. Ignatius, I’ve also begun to do a bit of spiritual reading and web surfing (if that counts!)
As the Psalmist says in Psalm 19:14
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
Let us then, like Saint Ignatius, the patron of soldiers and retreats, take up the challenge to live as Knights (and Dames) in our times, for the greater glory of God. Brave and bold. Led by the Holy Spirit.
“Go forth and set the world on fire!” – St. Ignatius of Loyola.