For the next months we will be sharing a new blog series “Saint Ignatius of Loyola. A Convert’s Story”. This is a booklet written by Patrick Corkery SJ where he shows another side to Ignatius, one which might not be well known to many readers.
This is not meant to be a definitive life of St. Ignatius, a little book like this cannot claim to be. Instead, I hope that it will give the reader a glimpse into St. Ignatius’s life and hopefully encourage you to read more widely on the subject. I am convinced that each of us has something they can learn from St. Ignatius and his life. On the Five Hundredth Anniversary of his “accident” at Pamplona, perhaps it is now an appropriate time to revisit Ignatius’s life.” Patrick Corkery SJ (Saint Ignatius of Loyola. A Convert’s Story)
My Novice Master used to tell the following story about St. Ignatius: when investigations were taking place to canonize him, a beggar in Rome was consulted. The man was most likely not well known to the great and good within Roman Society but was someone that Ignatius had made an impression upon, and he described Ignatius as: “the small Spaniard with a limp, who smiled a lot.” Our vision of St. Ignatius is often obscured by the image of the “Soldier Saint.” While this interpretation can have some merit, I think it obscures the warmth, which I believe was very much part of Ignatius’ life and character.
In this booklet, I hope to show another side to Ignatius, one which might not be well known to many readers. This is not meant to be a definitive life of St. Ignatius, a little book like this cannot claim to be. Instead, I hope that it will give the reader a glimpse into St. Ignatius’s life and hopefully encourage you to read more widely on the subject. I am convinced that each of us has something they can learn from St. Ignatius and his life. On the Five Hundredth Anniversary of his “accident” at Pamplona, perhaps it is now an appropriate time to revisit Ignatius’s life.
Arturo Sosa, the current Superior General of the Jesuits, has written in anticipation of this anniversary saying:
“In 1521, while Ignatius was convalescing at his family home in Loyola from the wound that damaged his leg at the battle of Pamplona, God brought about his conversion and put him on the road that led to Manresa. Together with our friends and the whole Church, the universal Society wants to remember that privileged moment when the Holy Spirit inspired Ignatius of Loyola in his decision to follow Christ, and to deepen our understanding of this pilgrim way in order to ‘draw fruit’ from it.”
I hope that by reading this booklet, you may ‘draw fruit’ from Ignatius’s life and grow closer to God. For Ignatius, closeness to God was at the core of his being. It motivated every aspect of his life. Perhaps the right place to begin is with a prayer composed by Ignatius, which outlines God’s centrality for him, I hope that you will find this prayer helpful in your reflections throughout this booklet:
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.”
Chapter 1. Ignatius’ World (1491- 1521)
Historians tend to agree that Ignatius was born in 1491 in the Basque region of Spain, the year before Columbus made his voyage to the Americas. The European arrival into territory they knew nothing of inhabited with people they didn’t know existed was an earthshattering event. It was the dawn of a new age in Europe when new artistic techniques and reacquaintance with classical civilizations were sparking the emergence of what we now call the Renaissance. In many ways, these changes were in marked contrast to the world Ignatius grew up in, which owed more to the Middle Ages than what was happening elsewhere in Europe.
Ignatius’ world was that of the court, with kings, princesses, and chivalry. Even the religious debates which were going to shatter the unity of the Western Church were not part of Ignatius’ early life. The Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, embarked on a series of reforms within the Spanish Church, many of which would later be adopted by the Council of Trent. Their reforms were to become the norms for what was to be called the Counter-Reformation. Therefore, it is worth noting that there was a good deal of stability in the early life of Ignatius and one that would not be challenged for the first two decades of his life.
When we are comfortable, we are inclined not to question our surroundings too much, which was very true for Ignatius. In his memoirs, which he dictated to one of his companions, Ignatius said about his early life: “Up to his twenty-sixth year he was a man given to worldly vanities, and having a vain and overpowering desire to gain renown.” In our lives, we can think of times when we are preoccupied with things that draw us into ourselves and concentrate us exclusively on personal gain. For Ignatius, this took the shape of being fêted with his courtly world. In our time, it might be a promotion at work, a new car, or a holiday home in Spain, something that might give exterior satisfaction, but may not produce inner fulfilment.
Ignatius was an outward-looking young man who seems to have given little attention to his relationship with God. Given the nature of religious practice at the time, we can assume he practiced his faith in a superficial way expected of people within the courtly world. Religious observance was part of his life, but we do not know what kind of relationship he had with God before his conversion. Given Ignatius’ preoccupation with his quest for fame, it is likely that God did not get much attention from him, except perhaps Ignatius might have prayed that he would be showered with glory and prestige. Each of us can probably relate to moments in our lives when we focused on what God can do for us, rather than we can do for God.
Time to Reflect
Looking at Ignatius’s life during his early period might help us to reflect on where we are at right now in our lives. Perhaps this is a good point to ask ourselves some questions:
1. How do I relate to God? If I practice my faith, do I do so because I think it is expected of me, or do I desire to have a more personal encounter with God?
2. Am I preoccupied with bettering myself materially? When I pray, what do I pray for most often? Do I focus on what I want from God, or do I ask God to be shown what I can do to serve others?
3. What about the early life of Ignatius matches up with where I am in life? Is this a bad thing or a good thing?
Feel free to leave your thoughts, reflections, comments below.
Watch this space! Coming up: The Battle of Pamplona (May 1521)
 This prayer is known as the Suscipe, which is the Latin word for receive. The prayer appears in the text of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.
 Ignatius was known as íñigo at the time of his birth and only went by Ignatius/Ignacio later in life.
 Ignatius’ conversion story is charted in what is called the Autobiography, in which Ignatius refers to himself in the third person.
About the Author
Patrick Corkery SJ is a member of the Society of Jesus. Originally from County Cork, he has spent time since 2015 in the United Kingdom and the United States studying to become a Jesuit priest.
This text is republished with the permission of Messenger Publications, Ireland. To buy a hard copy of the book click here.