St. Ignatius of Loyola

I describe myself as having an Ignatian spirituality (combined with a deep commitment to the Vincentian charism) and so today is a special one for me – the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

Ignatius was a gambler, a ladies man, a soldier. He found God in an interesting way. Ignatius was injured in battle, struck by a cannon ball that wounded one leg and broke the other. When the injury healed, one of his legs was shorter than the other, with a visible lump where a bone protruded. This was completely unacceptable to the ladies’ man: Ignatius “considered it a fate worse than death not to be able to wear the long-tight-fitting boots and hose of the courtier.” So he told doctors to saw off the knob of bone and lengthen the leg.

During his long recuperation, when he asked for something to read (hoping for some romance novels), he was told that all that was available were two books, one on the life of Christ and one on the lives of the saints. Probably on little more than the idea that anything was better than nothing, he started to read. The more he read, the more he came to see that the lives of the saints were worthy of imitating. But at the same time, he continued to daydream of fame and glory, fantasizing about winning the love of beautiful women.

Then Ignatius started to notice something. Reading and thinking about the lives of the saints and daydreaming about his expoits in war and love both brought him enjoyment while he was engaged in the activity. But he noticed that after reading and thinking of saints and Christ, he experienced feelings of peace and satisfaction. After his daydreams, he felt restless and unsatisfied. This was the beginning of Ignatius’ conversion and the beginning of his spiritual discernment or discernment of spirits, which is so central to Ignatian spirituality.

Ultimately, Ignatius came to understand how God is involved with the world he created and with each one of us. His vision of God working with creation and inviting each of us to labor with Jesus changed his life. Central to that was a spirituality based on deepening a personal relationship with God and coming to see ever more deeply how God loves and works in our lives. What Ignatius realized was that not only the intellect, but also the emotions and feelings help us to come to a knowledge of the action of God in our lives.

Here is the prayer Ignatius wrote that I pray every morning:

Take Lord, and receive
all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, and my entire will —
all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours;
do with it what you will.
Give me only your love
and your grace.
That is enough for me.