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St. Ignatius of Loyola

July 31st is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Here are some things about him:

According to IgnatianSpirituality.com (a service of Loyola Press), St. Ignatius Loyola was born in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man, Ignatius Loyola was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds.

But in 1521 Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French. While recuperating, Ignatius Loyola experienced a conversion. Reading the lives of Jesus and the saints made Ignatius happy and aroused desires to do great things. Ignatius realized that these feelings were clues to God’s direction for him.

Over the years, Ignatius became expert in the art of spiritual direction . He collected his insights, prayers, and suggestions in his book the Spiritual Exercises , one of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written. With a small group of friends, Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. Ignatius conceived the Jesuits as “contemplatives in action.” This also describes the many Christians who have been touched by Ignatian spirituality.

His holiness was unmistakable; he practiced self-mastery until there seemed to be no difference between God’s will and his own. “Eres en tu casa,” was his wide-armed greeting to anyone who visited him—“You are at home”—and all who talked with him left with the impression that he was kindliness itself: Michelangelo was so affected by Ignatius that he offered to build the Church of the Gesù in Rome for nothing.

Ever a mystic, at times the saint was in the midst of an official transaction when his thoughts would lift up to God and hang there, and his witnesses would shyly shuffle their shoes until he got back to his papers again. But there were also stories of him surprising a melancholic with a jig in order to cheer him up, and his happiness was such that he said he could no longer apply his own rules for discernment of spirits because he was finding consolation in all things—he once said he saw the Holy Trinity in the leaf of an orange tree. Although children threw apples at him when he first preached in the streets of Rome—probably because of his horrid Italian—he soon was as genuinely beloved as the pope. In fact, he was so highly thought of by prelates that in the 1550 conclave at which Julius III was elected pontiff, Ignatius de Loyola received five votes.

It is probably true that the picture of Ignatius that most people have is that of a soldier: stern, iron-willed, practical, showing little emotion - not a very attractive or warm personality. Yet if this picture is exact, it is hard to see how he could have had such a strong influence on those who knew him. Luis Goncalves de Camara, one of his closest associates, wrote, "He (Ignatius) was always rather inclined toward love; moreover, he seemed all love, and because of that he was universally loved by all. There was no one in the Society who did not have great love for him and did not consider himself much loved by him."

He sometimes cried so much at Mass that he could not go on, nor even talk for some time, and he was afraid that his gift of tears might cause him to lose his eyesight. Goncalves de Camara said, "When he did not weep three times during Mass, he considered himself deprived of consolation." We regard a number of saints as great mystics but never think of Ignatius as one of them. We have recounted a few of the many visions and mystical experiences in his life. His holiness, however, did not consist in such, but in the great love that directed his life to do everything A.M.D.G., for the greater glory of God.

-Deacon Carl Toomey