Born in Spain in 1491, St. Ignatius was known for being a hotheaded, vain soldier. During a battle when he was 26, he was struck in the leg with a cannonball and was concerned with how his leg was going to look after it was healed. To ensure it would appear normal, for the ladies, he underwent many surgeries without anesthetics to shave the bone down. (He walked with a limp for the rest of his life because of these vain surgeries.)
To recover, he went to his cousin’s house and wanted to read books on shivery, knights, and nobel men in battle. To his dismay, his cousin only had a book about the lives of the saints and one on the life of Christ. While he was reading, he got a glimpse to the wonderful achievements the great saints of the church had accomplished, and into the works and teachings of Jesus. These two books would forever change his life and history.
Sometimes he would daydream about his past as a courtier, ladies’s man, and warrior. He would also daydream about living like Christ and the saints. He became aware of his feelings towards each of the daydreams. Referring to himself in third person, he wrote: When he was thinking of those things of the world he took much delight in them, but afterwards, when he was tired and put them aside, he found himself dry and dissatisfied. But when he thought of going to Jerusalem barefoot, and of eating nothing but plain vegetables and of practicing all the other rigors that he saw in the saints, not only was he consoled…but even after putting the thoughts aside, he remained satisfied and joyful.
St. Ignatius realized that God was speaking to him though his feelings. The joy he felt when he imagined begin a follower of Jesus meant that this was the life that would bring him the greatest satisfaction. So when he recovered, he decided to completely change his life around and to live solely for God. He referred to himself as “the pilgrim,” got rid of his wealthy-looking clothes, grew his hair, became a beggar, and walked throughout Europe making friends and talking about Christ.
One of the most important tools St. Ignatius left the world was the Daily Examen, a systematic review of the events of the day to see where God has been present and where He is leading a person. This is helpful in paying attention to the subtle movements of the inner life.
During a time of rest in a remote village about a year after his conversion, he was able to shift his view of God as a judge and lawgiver who was remote and harsh, to a God that is a loving Creator, present in all things, active in the world, engaged with His people personally, and showering them with blessings. St. Ignatius also read the Scriptures intently and paid special attention to Jesus doing things. This image of an active Jesus inspired him to minister to God’s people like Jesus did. He wanted to help people see God’s immense love for them and to help them find their place in Christ’s work of saving and healing the world.
After, he realized he needed to educate himself, so he could evangelize others. He attended a grammar school for children, and needing more, traveled to universities to learn and engage in conversations about spirituality. After he became aware that he was receiving images from the devil and developed rules for the discernment of spirits (to see if the feelings/visions/ideas are from God or the enemy.) He also formed “Spiritual Exercises” to help people renew their dedication to Christ and to make wise decisions about how to serve Him.
At the age of 38, he entered the University of Paris to study and began Spiritual Exercises with a small group of men. They slowly added a few more men and eventually had the group approved as an holy order, Society of Jesus (or Jesuits). St. Ignatius was their first leader and ran it with strict rules, almost military style with strict rules. The goal of starting the Jesuits was not to become a great leader but to help souls. Jesuits is now the largest male order in the Catholic Church (and Pope Francis is a Jesuit Priest.)
“I have no trouble facing Jesus, it’s St. Ignatius I’m worried about” -an older Jesuit priest said referencing the Last Judgment
St. Ignatius was abrasive, vain, and destructive when he was younger, but after being wounded, his heart changed to desiring to living a life for God. He completely changed the way he was living, began to educate himself to help others, and at a university, formed a small group of like-minded men to meditate on the life of Jesus together. He is the patron saint of educators, soldiers, and Jesuits.
“Go forth and set the world on fire.”
-St. Ignatius of Loyola