Faithful Through the Ages

Faithful Through the Ages

Ignatius Loyola
“Let me look at the foulness and ugliness of my body. Let me see myself
as an
ulcerous sore running with every horrible and disgusting poison.”

A small boy when Columbus first set sail, Ignatius Loyola (1491 –
1556) grew
up in a world filled with possibility and exploding with
geographical and
mechanical discoveries. As the founder of the Society of
Jesus—known simply as
the Jesuits—he formed a militaristic missionary
organization demanding strict
discipline and loyalty. He set the pace for
Catholic outreach worldwide, and
before he died there were Jesuits scattered
across Europe and serving in
outposts as remote as India, Japan, and

Born into nobility in the Basque country of Spain, Loyola is
schooled in the
Spanish court and steeped in military training and the art of
chivalry. But
the excitement of training soon turns into the horrors of a war
in which his
shin is shattered by a cannonball. He endures excruciating
primitive surgery
with no anesthetic, leaving him with constant pain and a
lifelong limp.

In his early thirties, while recuperating, he reads
biographies, including
Stories of the Saints and Life of Christ. He is
particularly impressed by the
lives of two monastic leaders, Francis and
Dominic, who founded religious
orders. He vows to become a soldier of Christ,
living a life of holy chivalry
devoted to the Virgin Mary. To confirm his
calling, he takes a pilgrimage to
religious shrines that end in a remote
village. There he lives in
seclusion—tempted, as he later relates, to take
his own life. Yet he continues
to seek God, retiring to a cave where he prays
for hours and experiences
visions that reassure him in his faith.

fame spreads through his writing, particularly his
Spiritual Exercises. Here he lays out a path to piety,
reflecting on his own
spiritual life and the necessity of absolute obedience
to Christ. Spiritual
Exercises does not offer a warm and fuzzy spirituality;
its purpose is to lay
the groundwork for devout and disciplined discipleship.
The subject matter is
designed to fit a four-week retreat, focusing first on
sin, followed by
Christ’s earthly kingship, his passion, and his reign as
risen Lord. The
exercises are designed not only for those who would become
Jesuits but also
for lay people.

In the following years he travels and
studies theology at various
universities. Collecting a band of followers, he
stirs suspicions and is
questioned by the Inquisition. In fact, he is twice
briefly imprisoned. In
1534 he and six companions unite together and take
vows of poverty, chastity,
and obedience to the pope.

In 1539 they
travel to Rome and receive the blessing of the Pope Paul III, who
sanctions the Society of Jesus. Their absolute obedience to the
pope comes in
a “special vow” that Jesuits, unlike other orders, are required
obey—vowing to “take upon ourselves, beyond the bond common to all
faithful, a special vow . . . meant so to bind that whatsoever the
Roman Pontiff and his successors may command us concerning the
advancement of
souls and the spreading of the faith, we shall be obliged to
obey instantly.”

Distinct from most other religious orders, the Jesuits
do not require a monk’s
cowl or any other religious uniform, nor are daily
liturgies or fasting or
penance part of the religious routine. They follow
the Spiritual Exercises,
with its focus on an intense period of prayer and
meditation. Though Loyola
does not establish an order for women, he does
donate money for the
establishment of the House of St. Martha, which helps
prostitutes leave their
profession and reunite with their families or join in
the ministry.

Missionary outreach becomes the hallmark of the Jesuits as
they spread out
across the globe from India and Japan to South America,
Africa, and French
Canada. Loyola serves as Superior General, heading up the
vast administrative
duties from his office in Rome. Before he dies, he drafts
the Constitutions, a
lengthy and detailed rulebook that clearly
differentiates Jesuits from the
other monastic orders that require a strict
ascetic life style. Mobility is
the key to Jesuit effectiveness. As the
church militant, cloistered
monasticism simply is not their way of serving
Jesus. By the time of his death
in 1556, there are more than a thousand
Jesuits, and within decades the
membership exceeds ten thousand.

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