St. Ignatius Of Loyola And The Society Of Jesus
Iñigo Lopez de Loyola was born in 1491. Being a Basque, he was naturally attached to the Catholic faith; but did not avoid sin when the occasion presented itself. In his own words, up until the age of thirty he was a man given over to vanities of the world; with a great and vain desire to win fame. How could God call such a one as Iñigo was? That was up to God.
God’s call came by way of a French cannonball. While defending Pamplona from the invading French, a cannonball hit his leg and shattered it. He was brought to the family castle, the tower house of Loyola to recover from his injuries. There he asked for books of romance and chivalry.
Unfortunately, the house of Loyola had only two books: one on the lives of saints, and the other on the life of Christ. As he read these books, Ignatius converted from a man who craved worldly fame and pleasure to a man who desired to distinguish himself in the service of the Eternal King. He began to see the saints as courageous knights serving the most regal of monarchs: Christ the King. By recovery’s end, Iñigo had resolved not only to follow the examples of the saints, but more so, to outdo them in the service of Christ. He then offered his knightly arms to Our Lady at her shrine in Montserrat.
He was led by God through almost a year of prayer in Manresa where he grew in understanding of God’s will for him and became a new man in Christ. After a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he decided he could serve God best by studying for the priesthood. While at the University of Paris, his manner of life, his religious views, and gift for leadership attracted followers. And later, Iñigo, who by then had taken the name Ignatius, gathered a group of friends who vowed themselves to poverty and chastity and placed themselves at the disposal of the Pope.
The Pope entrusted various missions to their care and soon they were traveling all over Europe, for the defense and propagation of the Faith. Eventually, they decided that it was for God’s greater glory that they unite themselves into a formally constituted organization by the vow of religious obedience to a superior. They drew up a document outlining the characteristics of the religious order they had in mind. The Compañia de Jesus (Companions of Jesus) would be primarily apostolic, not hidden away in some monastery, but out in the world. Besides the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they would also make a separate fourth vow: to go anywhere the Pope would send them.
On Sept. 27, 1540, Pope Paul III approved their petition to form a religious order and also approved their constitution without a single word altered. And so the Society of Jesus was born. Soon, the Jesuits were all over Europe.
In the twilight of life, when asked why he had decided in such and such a way, the reply of Ignatius was always, “Because it was what God wanted.” The love in his stubborn Basque heart, which sought always the will of its Savior, led him on such a physical and spiritual journey—from Iñigo to Ignatius, from Pamplona to Rome, from sinner to saint—that he often referred to himself as a pilgrim.
In 1556, as his many sons generously labored in the Lord’s vineyard throughout the world, the pilgrim Ignatius closed his eyes and was led home.
But even after the death of Ignatius, the Jesuit pilgrimage continued. As early as 1556, Jesuits had already journeyed to distant lands. And the Word of God would eventually be shared in the Imperial courts of China and Japan, among the swamis of India, in the Congo, Ethiopia, and Brazil.
Today there are Jesuits in every continent, striving to fulfill the mission entrusted to them by God through the Holy Father and their superiors: to be apostles who will bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.
Saint Ignatius desired his men to be contemplatives-in-action, people seeking their union with God through active and total service of others. He wanted them to combine a total personal commitment to Christ and His Cross with decisive involvement in the transformation and salvation of the world.
Thus, the Jesuit is an apostle: one sent by the Father through Jesus into the world to spread the Good News. The Jesuit then is a man on a mission, who belongs to a community of friends in the Lord who have pledged to accompany Christ.
As apostles, Jesuits must be “all things to all men”: men ready to go anywhere, live anywhere, do anything, suffer anything, be anything, in order to be instruments of God’s salvation. Thus, the Society has no one particular apostolate: there is literally no work that a Jesuit may not do, if it is for the greater glory of God.
For the greater glory of God: concretely, that means that the Society must direct its apostolates, firstly, towards whatever reaches more people and does more universal good; secondly, to whatever answers urgent needs which cannot be delayed without endangering the people of God; and lastly, to works that are neglected and that few want to do.
Today, the Society of Jesus, considering these criteria of Ignatius, and aware of the needs and hopes of men to today, focuses service of God and humanity on “the service of faith and the promotion of justice”.
The first decree of the 32nd General Congregation Decree “Jesuits Today”, largely the work of Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J. says:
“What is it to be a Jesuit today? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus, as Ignatius was, who begged the Blessed Virgin to place him with her Son, and who then saw the Father Himself ask Jesus, carrying His cross, to take this pilgrim into his company…”
“It is to engage, under the standard of the cross, in the crucial struggle of our time the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes.”