Wednesday, July 31, 2013

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1566)
Today, the Church commemorates St. Ignatius of Loyola - a man who can remind all of us that, despite our past, we can eventually live in the image of Christ and be a saint.

Yes indeed. Ignatius was the baby of his family - the youngest of thirteen (count 'em: THIRTEEN) children - so you know he was a bit of a brat as a kid. He was born in Spain and as a young man, he was obsessed with fighting, gambling and becoming rich and famous. Perhaps a little on the narcissistic side, he thought of himself as quite the ladies man, strutting around town in a cape thrown back in just such a way to show his sword and dagger. Ignatius wanted to live a life of danger and adventure in the manner of folkloric knights such as El Cid and the knights of Camelot. He was known to have a habit of dueling and he even earned himself a police record when he was arrested for nighttime brawling after he and some of his relatives ambushed a group of clerics from a rival family in town.

But these facts don't define the Ignatius that we remember today. These were the actions of the "old" man that was cast off when Ignatius finally began to take seriously his Christian faith. Ignatius' conversion began when he was wounded by a cannonball during a battle in 1521, when Ignatius was 29 years old. During his recuperation in a local castle, Ignatius asked to be brought novels about knighthood and chivalry to pass the time. There were no such books in the castle - only books about the life of Christ and the saints. Grudgingly, he read those instead.

Ignatius discovered that the more he read and learned about Christ and the lives of the saints, the more he found peace. He went back and forth in his mind over the next few months; vacillating between thoughts of earthly fame and glory and thoughts of radically following Christ in a new and bold way - allowing Christ to truly change his life. Again and again, every time that he allowed himself to dwell on earthly pleasures and pursuits, he would be left feeling restless and unsatisfied. But when he read and thought more about serving Christ, he felt a sense of fulfillment and peace.

Pope Francis - the first
Jesuit pope in history.
And pretty fly to boot.
The rest, as they say, is history. Ignatius went on to write The Spiritual Exercises, one of the most important works of Catholic spirituality ever written.  He also wrote brilliant defenses of the Catholic faith against the Protestant Reformers, who had just begun breaking away from the Church during Ignatius' lifetime. And he, along with six companions, founded the Society of Jesus, which is now one of the largest and most well-known missionary orders in the Catholic Church. If you don't recognize the name "Society of Jesus," I'll give you a hint: their members are called "Jesuits," and our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, is arguably their most famous member.

Take inspiration today from the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Remember that none of us is ever "too far gone" to be outside of the magnetic pull of God's abundant grace and mercy. None of us, either, is immune from Christ's constant call to follow him. But we must act, for, in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola: "Love is shown more in deeds than in words."

"Go forth," pleads the saint, "and set the world on fire!"