St. Ignatius of Loyola

Homily during a Pilgrimage to Loyola, Spain

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Inside the outer walls of the Jesuit house in Loyola you can see the original walls of the castle of St. Ignatius’ family. Upstairs you may visit the Chapel of Conversion, where Ignatius converted while convalescing after injury in battle. I am not sure what source I used for the following.

Ignatius was born, probably in 1491 at the castle of the Loyola’s. He was baptized Eneco in honor of the eleventh century abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Ona. He had five sisters and seven brothers and grew up in a noble Catholic family that prided itself on its military past and its fidelity to the king.

In 1515 Ignatius and his brother Pedro Lopez were arrested and prosecuted for nocturnal misdemeanors that were outrageous. Ignatius says that up to his twenty-sixth year he was given to worldly vanities. He was proud, sensuous, and driven by violent and powerful impulses, he demanded adventure and glory. Once Ignatius had set his mind to a task he could not capitulate.

He was injured during battle in Pamplona, both legs were damaged by canon shot. He attributed his recovery to St. Peter to whom he had a special devotion. His leg was poorly set in Pamplona so he needed another operation. This left his wounded leg shorter and a bone protruding. Ignatius called it butchery and demanded another operation. During his long boring convalescence at Loyola he spent many long hours daydreaming of courtly love. Finally because there were no other books available he read the Life of Christ and the Golden Legends which depicts the saints as knights of God dedicated to their eternal Lord Jesus Christ. His daydreaming about worldly matters finished and he noticed that daydreaming about the saints made him happy. He began to perceive different spirits moving within him, one from the devil and the other from God. In this way he came to realize that joy was a sign of God, and sadness a sign of the devil. From this seed grew his famous rules for the discernment of spirits.

During this time God sensitized Ignatius to the evils he had done. He began to experience visions; Our Lady holding the child Jesus appeared to him and purified him of much of his past. He said that he felt so great a loathsomeness for all his past life, especially for the deeds of the flesh, and that it now seemed to him that all the images previously imprinted on his mind were now erased. That vision had lasting effects. He never again consented, not even in the least matter, to the motions of the flesh. At Loyola he began to speak to members of the household about the things of God and realized that he brought much profit to their souls. He jotted down for future reference things about the life of Christ and the saints, things that deeply impressed him. Thus his Spiritual Exercises began to emerge. Early 1922 he set out on a journey. He made a detour to Manresa, a quiet place, intending to spend a few days there but stayed almost a year and was radically transformed. Some Jesuit houses are called after Manresa, e.g. one house in Dublin.

Important changes took place in his soul. Periods of great depression, doubts, temptations, disgust, and scruples alternated with periods of great spiritual joys. He discovered the root of his scruples and decided never again to confess past sins and from that day forward he was free of scruples and held it as certain that Jesus desired his to be free. At Manresa God treated Ignatius as a schoolboy and stamped indelible mystical visions of the Trinity and Jesus’ humanity and Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist into Ignatius. One day by the banks of the river Cardoner he received great understanding and came to know many spiritual matters and matters pertaining to the faith. Almost everything appeared to him to be something new. This transformed him into a new person who encountered God in nearness and grace.

Along with severe penance and long hours of prayer he worked at St. Lucy’s hospital. He spent part of 1523 and 1524 in the Holy Land. He had to leave it sooner than he hoped due to the difficult political situation. After returning from the Holy Land he found himself in Alcalá. Here he not only gave his spiritual exercises but also explained Christian doctrine. Here he used the expression “Spiritual Exercises” for the first time. During this time he attracted large crowds wherever he went and a few of his listeners became his companions. He and his companions were jailed by the Inquisition for almost two months under suspicion of being Alumbrados, members of movements who claimed direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Inquisition found no errors in what they taught but ordered them not to wear their pilgrims’ robes and not to teach on matters of faith and morals until they had completed their studies. They continued onto Salamanca to study where they were again imprisoned. Their notes were examined, these notes would eventually become The Spiritual Exercises. Again they were acquitted. Ignatius went to Paris to study. During these student days Ignatius gathered a body of mystical men around him who were united by love of Christ and each other. On August 15th 1534 in Paris, Ignatius and his first companions took private vows of poverty and chastity. Due to the pressure of his studies there is discussion among commentators about whether or not his mysticism died somewhat. Certainly it was not a time as rich in divine favors as Manresa or later in Rome. Ignatius says he prayed for shorter periods during his student days but he prayed seven hours a day at Manresa so it is not known what he means by shorter periods. Due to health problems he returned to Spain in April 1535. On June 24th 1537 Ignatius and other companions were ordained though they did not celebrate their First Mass for a long time afterwards. During his time preparing for priesthood he received many spiritual visions and supernatural visitations and deep assurances from God about certain matters. It was similar to what he experienced in Manresa.

He had intended going to the Holy Land but due to war between Venice and the Turks he went to Rome instead. In the chapel of La Storta north of Rome he felt a great change in his soul and he so clearly saw God the Father place him with Christ that he had no doubts that God the Father did place him with his Son. Commentators say that this experience was as important as what happened to him in Manresa and Jerusalem. In the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome during Christmas 1538 he celebrated his First Mass. In Rome he taught the Spiritual Exercises. During his time in Rome his mystical life reached its maturity.

By the end of June 1539 he had written the part of the future Constitution of the Company of Jesus, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). On September 27th 1540, Pope Paul III approved the formation of the Jesuits. On July 21st 1550 Pope Julius III solemnly established the order. Ignatius established a college in Rome for young men entering the order and set up colleges in Jerusalem, Cyprus and Constantinople. He died the last day of July 1556. At his death the Society of Jesus had 1000 members with 100 houses throughout the world. He was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12th 1622.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was Spiritual Director during a pilgrimage while engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Below: Chapel of the conversion of St Ignatius with an image of St Ignatius on the right.

Chapel of the Conversion of St. Ignatius