The Year of St. Ignatius of Loyola
The year 2021 is the Jesuits’ annus mirabilis.
Rev. Arturo Sosa, the current Superior General of the Jesuits, has proclaimed 2021 an “Ignatian Year.” It begins on May 20, 2021 – the 500-year anniversary of St. Ignatius’ injury on the battlefield in Pamplona that eventually changed the course of his life – and ends on July 31, 2022, the feast of St. Ignatius.
The launch of the Ignatian year, according to the Vatican, “offers a time to be renewed, become pilgrims with Ignatius, and see all things new in Christ.”
But who is this man known worldwide as Inigo, Ignacio, and Ignatius?
When I was in high school at the Ateneo de Naga, I really did not care who Ignatius was. I knew he was a saint and the founder of the Society of Jesus. But that was the extent of my knowledge – and interest – about the man.
What mattered to me most every July 31, his feast day, were the various activities planned by the school to celebrate the day meaningfully.
During my entire four years as a high school student, I do not remember celebrating the Ignatian spirituality during the entire month of July the way it is now in Ateneo de Naga.
I sometimes wonder how many former and current Ateneo students know that Ignatius lived a colorful, worldly life.
Colorful? Worldly? Yes, and probably more colorful and worldly than the way many of my high school classmates lived their lives after graduation.
Born in 1491 in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa in Northern Spain, Ignatius was driven by a desire for fame. As a 16-year old page in the service of Juan Velasquez of the Kingdome of Castile, he led a pretty mundane existence, developing a taste for worldly stuff.
According to one source, “he was a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult and a rough punkish swordsman who used his privilege status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed with his priest brother at carnival time.”
As a military officer, he was adventurous. He was full of life. He loved the status and power of a prince or a king.
And, like an ordinary mortal, he was not perfect. As a young man, he engaged in swordplay. In a dispute between the Loyola family and another family, Ignatius and his brother plus some relatives ambushed at night some clerics who were members of the other family. Ignatius had to flee the town. When finally brought to justice, he claimed clerical immunity using the defense that he had received the tonsure as a boy, and was therefore exempt from civil prosecution.
Ignatius had been living a carefree life when, at the age of 30 in 1521, things began to change for him.
As an officer defending the fortress of Pamplona against the French, Ignatius was gravely injured when he was hit by a cannonball that shattered his right leg.
He underwent several surgical operations. But in the end, the surgeries left his right leg shorter than his left. He ended up limping for the rest of his life. His physical limitation ended his distinguished military career.
Feeling desperate as he was recovering from his injury, Ignatius started reading the lives of the saints and that of Christ. The experience brought him inner peace and consolation that his dreams of fame, glory, and winning the love of “a noble lady” gave way to a deep sense of reflection, discernment and finally his spiritual conversion.
Once Ignatius saw the light, he was determined to change his ways. Nothing could stop him.
Ignatius started to pray more. Convinced that there was another way for him to serve a different King, he visited the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat in Spain. Following the rites of chivalry, he laid down his sword and dagger at the altar, made a general confession, gave his fine clothes to the poor and started wearing a “garment of sack-cloth.”
With his newly-found direction in life, he left home and stayed in a cave in Manresa for almost ten months. He spent most of his days in prayer and working in a hospice.
It was during his stay in Manresa that Ignatius developed methods of prayers that became the core of the Spiritual Exercises that all Jesuits have to take in complete silence for 30 days during novitiate and repeated at the end of their training during tertianship.
Ignatius continued to travel to Barcelona, the Holy Land, Paris, and Rome. Along the way, he met Peter Faber, Francis Xavier, James Lainez, Nicholas Bobadilla, Alfonso Salmeron, Simon Rodriguez, individuals who felt the same way as he did. Together, they made a promise to serve God and made a special vow of obedience to the pope. And the Society of Jesus was born in 1534, during the Feast of the Assumption.
There are more than 16,000 Jesuits in the world today. They are in various fields: education, hospital and parish work, scientific research, social and environmental apostolate, giving retreats, missionary work, etc.
It all began because of St. Ignatius, the who man who did not waiver to change the course of his life and had built himself a juggernaut of a Company – the Society of Jesus.