This soldier turned mystic, Spanish nobleman turned poor pilgrim, of the 16th century, has left one of the most enduring legacies of all Catholic Saints. The order of priests that he founded, The Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, have left remarkable footprints all over the world and even beyond (35 lunar craters are named after Jesuits!).
Their work in education is well known – currently only the Chinese Government educate more people than the Jesuits, their global network of schools and universities have been transformative in many countries – with hundreds of thousands of Alumni, Catholic and non Catholic very grateful for their Jesuit education.
So how can we explain the remarkable legacy of this man, Ignatius?
Íñigo López de Loyola lived a life of profound ‘interiority‘. His conversion from the dissolute life of a soldier and courtier to a ‘Soldier for Christ‘ is recorded in his Autobiography which was reluctantly dictated to his secretary Father Goncalves da Camara towards the end of his life. This primary source is different in tone to much of the hagiographical works recounting the lives of saints, typical of the time. Ignatius said that the goal of the book was to show how God had been patiently teaching him like a child, through his mistakes.
For me this is the genius of Ignatius, this desire to guide others in how the creator will deal directly with the soul, if the right conditions are put in place to allow this encounter to happen.
So we are left after his death with two great works. Firstly the famous Spiritual Exercises – which provide a map for this encounter to take place and to understand the dynamic of consolation and desolation in which God reveals to us our deepest desires and how we can respond to him through them.
Secondly, the Constitutions which is the Manual in setting up and running his religious order, which accounts for nearly 18,000 men and uniquely amongst the great orders has never splintered in attempted to rediscover the original charism of the founder.
The fruits of these two works are millions of men and women whose lives have been changed to allow them to build God’s kingdom, and an order that claims over 50 canonised saints, as well as many other congregations that have adapted the Ignatian Constitutions.
All of this has flowed from an incredible inner freedom and devotion to God that allowed him to seek God’s glory above all else.
Fr Tim Byron (@) is a Jesuit priest, currently working in Manchester, UK as Catholic Chaplain to the Universities of Manchester and also in the city-centre church of the Holy Name. Here you can read more by him, on his blog Schola Affectus.