St Ignatius and me
by Marvic Sammut
‘For Nadal firmly believed, and strongly affirmed, that God deals with the followers of Ignatius as he dealt with Ignatius himself, and they must respond as he did.’ (Autobiography, Pg. 2, Paragraph 4).
I recently read the Autobiography of St Ignatius of Loyola. Although I have been acquainted with this saint for a good number of years, I was, once again, very deeply touched by Ignatius’ life and found myself drawing much wisdom for my life. Here are a few thoughts I would like to share.
Up to twenty-six years of age, ‘he (Ignatius) was a man given to the follies of the world.’ But a cannon ball, which hit Ignatius while he was defending a fortress in Pamplona, shattered not only his legs but also his life’s dreams…
As Ignatius lay on his convalescence bed, back in the family home in Loyola, his conversion started to unfold. There is a stark contrast between the violence and confusion of battle and the silence and gentleness of God’s spirit stirring within Ignatius. There is also a touch of Divine humour; when, to while away the hours, Ignatius asked for books on chivalry, no such books were to be found in the house. He was, instead, given a Life of Christ and a book of the lives of the saints!
As Ignatius’ thoughts alternated between thinking about the feats he would do in the service of a certain lady and thinking about what he had read, ‘little by little’ he started to discern his interior feelings. Whilst the thoughts of worldly accomplishments delighted him, they left him ‘dry and dissatisfied’ afterwards. On the contrary, when he thought of going to Jerusalem barefoot and practising rigours which had been practised by saints, ‘he remained satisfied and joyful’, even after putting these thoughts aside. Ignatius was discerning the spirits, the good spirit, coming from God and the bad spirit, coming from the evil one.
… Ignatius’ shattered life’s dreams had given way to new dreams. They had changed from dreams of serving a worldly king to dreams of serving the Divine One.
Ignatius left his family home, ‘alone and on foot’, heading for Jerusalem. As this Pilgrim’s outer journey took him from country to country, his inner journey became more and more profound. The beginning of Ignatius’ travels shows him indignant and considering slaying a Moor, who he met on his way to Montserrat, after this Moor insisted on refuting Our Lady’s virginity after Jesus’s birth. Thankfully, the mule, in whose hoofs Ignatius decided to leave the Moor’s fate, took a different fork on the road to the one the Moor had followed.
The Ignatius praying at La Storta chapel, as he and his first companions headed to Rome to present themselves to the Pope, ‘so that he could make use of them wherever he thought it would be more for the glory of God and the good of souls’, was a man for God and for others.
What happened between these 'bookends'? Ignatius increasingly abandoned himself to God’s love. His life was particularly marked by his deep spiritual experiences in Manresa, which were the foundation of the Spiritual Exercises. From all this flowed Ignatius’s response: ‘Everything is yours; do with it what you will.’
As I read the Autobiography, I reflected on how Ignatian spirituality, which accompanies us to the God of love and then invites us to find God in all things, has blessed my life with unfathomable depth and richness and many friends too. Through the Society of Jesus and Ignatian spirituality, Ignatius continues to work in the world today.
Ignatius’ words invite us too, to abandon ourselves to God’s love and allow Him to transform us for His greater glory:
‘Few souls understand what God would effect in them if they should give themselves entirely into his hands and allow his grace to act.’ (St Ignatius of Loyola)