Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Soldier, Poet, Mystic, Author, Defender of the Faith
and Founder of the Society of Jesus
Saint Ignatius was born in 1491, the year before Christopher Columbus was commissioned by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to go to the New World, in thanksgiving for Spain having been liberated from the yoke of the Saracens. For nearly 700 years, Spaniards could not worship in Catholic Churches; they were deprived from receiving the Sacraments; religious and clergy were exiled, imprisoned or killed; all mention of Jesus was forbidden under the penalty of death. How did the people from whom our Saint comes, preserve their faith with this persecution going on for most of seven centuries?
How did Spain and the Catholic Church raise up such powerful soldiers as the much maligned Catholic Queen Isabella, Saints like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Paschal Baylon and Ignatius of Loyola to mention a few? We believe the answer lies in the stories of Saints and Martyrs, and others not yet proclaimed.
He was an avid reader, his taste leaning toward books on chivalry, knights and ladies of the court, recounting tales of glorious times of valor and honor. So, it is no surprise, we find him, in 1517, at twenty-six years of age, leaving to engage in his first battle, the defense of Navarre of which his uncle was Viceroy. The attack was suppressed by the Spaniards; but the French renewed their offensiveand this time captured Navarre, and laid siege on Pamplona. Ignatius and the other Spanish soldiers were in the garrison, heavily outnumbered. Victory was impossible; but Ignatius was able to convince the others to remain with him and defend the fort.
The walls of the fortress began to crumble beneath the furious battery of cannon balls striking at its ramparts, quickly tearing down the soldiers’ defenses and with that their hope of victory. Knowing the end was near and they would die, Ignatius turned to a good friend and asked him to hear his confession. He fought courageously, right up to the moment a heavy cannon ball pierced the wall where Ignatius was fighting, shattered the bone of his right leg and seriously injured the other. When he fell, the others surrendered and the French soldiers captured the fort. But seeing how bravely he had fought, the French carried him to his rooms in town and had their physicians attend him for close to fifteen days. When they realized they were limited, the French had a litter made to carry the brave little soldier home. His small frame bobbing up and down on the litter (Ignatius was barely 5’2”), his red hair matted by the sweat pouring down his face from the intense pain, Ignatius never let out a cry!
It is not known why the bones did not set properly. Was it that he had been moved too soon or was it the arduous trip back home? Back at the Castle of Loyola, the doctors decided that the bones had to be broken again. Again, brave and noble knight, he asked for no form of anesthetic and went through the operation with his hands and teeth clenched. He grew weaker and weaker. The doctors advised him he was dying. Ignatius called for a priest and asked to receive the Last Rites of the Church. Ignatius would not last the night.
But again, God had another plan. The eve of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, at midnight, Ignatius passed the crisis. Now, he had always had a devotion to St. Peter, and historians all agree that Ignatius had an apparition of St. Peter who told him he would be cured, and he was!
His recovery was slow and arduous. Ignatius had an active mind, but it was locked up inside a body which was betraying him. But he could read! His mind and heart never left the young lady he had left behind. Now, he waited for the time when he would return and tell her how she had occupied his every thought in battle and as he was recuperating. He practiced over and over again what he would wear and what he would say. To prepare himself, he requested books on knighthood and ladies of the court. But (as God would plan it), in the Castle of Loyola there were only books on the life of Jesus and of the Saints!
Soon he found that contemplating things of the world gave him momentary pleasure, which soon faded away in the light of what he was reading about the graces from Above! Through the lives of Jesus and the Saints he was discovering a new world and a new battlefield! The Saints taught him he had to make a choice between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. Their lives became strategic maps revealing the great battles needed to be waged, in order to gain eternal victory. All the vain glory he had sought in the past went up like so much smoke, when he discovered the sweet fragrance that was his to give, the offering he was being called to make to God the Creator. He discovered there was only one true, lasting glory in that which makes the “soul pure and like unto God.”
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