Ignatius of Loyola

July 31

Ignatius of Loyola lived from 1491 to 1556. He was a Catholic reformer, mystic, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Ignatius was born into the noble house of Loyola in the Basque area of Spain. In 1517 he did what was expected of one of his class and joined the army. In 1521, during a skirmish with the French, a cannonball shattered his right leg. After two surgeries he spent months convalescing. During this time, he began reading popular romance literature, which inspired daydreams about a chivalrous life of serving his king and his (imaginary) lady. Eventually he was given religious books, including The Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony; The Golden Legend, a collection of lives of the saints by Jacopo de Voragine; and Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. These books inspired more gratifying daydreams of serving Christ the King and emulating the saints.


In 1522 Ignatius made a pilgrimage to Manresa, a small town near the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. There he spent months in a cave, facing temptations and desolation of spirit but also deep and refreshing mystical insights. It was here he composed much of his Spiritual Exercises.


Ignatius spent more than a decade traveling around Europe as an itinerant teacher and preacher. He lived and worked among the poor and outcast, even as he acted as spiritual director for people of all classes. By 1534 he had gathered ten men who were dedicated to following him in his ministry. They formed the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), taking vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience to one another and to the pope. Over the next two and a half years they were all ordained. ...


Before Ignatius, there were two forms of apostolic life: monastic (cloistered, with a rule of life, represented by the Benedictines and Cistercians) and mendicant (often in the world, preaching and practicing poverty, represented by the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Carmelites). Ignatian spirituality was that of contemplatives in the midst of action. Prayer was integrated into daily life, and the world was a subject of prayer. This was a movement away from the world-hating spirituality of the Middle Ages and devotio moderna to more world-affirming piety. Ignatius represented an activist spirituality. Led by the discerned will of God, one performs works of mercy toward orphans, prostitutes, pensioners, prisoners, hospital patients, or those in Jesuit schools or inspired by the Society ’s preaching (instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, and admonishing sinners are all works of mercy).

All of Ignatius ’s spirituality is found in Spiritual Exercises, his highly structured retreat method that includes meditation, contemplation, application of the senses, and examination of conscience (examen). ...


Ignatius, like the Protestant reformers, emphasized the direct experience of God. He contributed to the Catholic counter-Reformation by encouraging every Christian, not just religious professionals, to practice an activist spirituality, beginning with an effort to grow closer to God through meditation and service.


If Ignatius had taken the Spiritual Types Test, he probably would have been a Prophet. Ignatius is remembered on July 31.


[Excerpted with permission from the entry on Ignatius of Loyola by Walt Westbrook, from The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books®. All rights reserved.]


Try out the Ignatian method of prayer.


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Today's Reflection

Ignatius of Loyola