July 31st celebrates a significant feast for the life of our Diocese, that of Saint Ignatius Loyola. Our Cathedral Church is named in honor of St. Ignatius and so we have a particular affinity with this great man of the Church who is also our secondary patroness after Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles. The Jesuits, founded by Saint Ignatius, are celebrating this year as an Ignatian Year, since May 20, 2021 is the five hundredth anniversary of his conversion. It was on this day in 1521 that Saint Ignatius, the soldier, was struck by a cannonball, which began his transformation in faith. The year will extend until July 31, 2022, and it is fitting that a new statue of Saint Ignatius will be installed in our Cathedral during this Ignatian Year.
Ignatius was born on October 23, 1491, in the municipality of Azpeitia at the Castle of Loyola in what is today the Basque Country of Spain. He died at the age of sixty-five in Rome on July 31, 1556. The youngest of thirteen children and part of an aristocratic family, he was very much attracted to the military life and was taken by a great love for martial exercises and a desire for fame. Ignatius was seriously injured in 1521 by a cannonball which broke one of his legs and wounded the other. During his convalescence, because there were no novels on hand, he spent his time reading a life of Christ as well as those of the saints. He began to find great peace in this and his conversion to Christ began. In 1534, at the age of forty-three, he and six others committed themselves to a religious manner of living and four years later founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, which was approved by Pope Paul III. Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general.
Based on the foresight of St. Ignatius, the Jesuits became a missionary group with great apostolic zeal. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius became the foundation for Jesuit spirituality with the discernment of spirits as an important part of its method. The motto of the Jesuits became Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, a Latin phrase translated as, “For the greater glory of God.” The monogram, IHS, an abbreviation for the name of Jesus in Greek, became the center of its coat of arms. The spirituality of the Jesuits is a rigorous one centered on Christ, the Trinity and the Eucharist. St. Ignatius was a man of God who put Christ before all else and for whom the daily celebration of the Eucharist was the heart and crowning point of his day. He gave to his congregation a precious spiritual legacy meant for the service of the entire Church.
Much in spirit with the missionary zeal of St. Ignatius, the Jesuits also have a great commitment to the intellectual life of the Church which has been prominent in so many of its members. The basis for this commitment is found in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with its very careful analysis of decision making in regard to God's will. It is also very evident in the Jesuit tradition of the examination of conscience in a very careful and precise manner.
On the opening of the Ignatian Year, members of the worldwide Ignatian family, both Jesuits and lay collaborators, joined together in a virtual prayer celebration to open the year. At this celebration was a very prominent Jesuit, our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Pope Francis’ Jesuit vocation is quite obvious in his papacy from the IHS monogram on the center of his coat of arms to his methodical prayerful discernment of matters as articulated in the Spiritual Exercises.
Pope Francis addressed the members of the virtual meeting with a powerful message so intertwined with his own spirituality. He stated, “In Pamplona, 500 years ago, all Ignatius’ worldly dreams were shattered in an instant. The cannonball that wounded him changed the course of his life and the course of the world. … That cannonball also meant Ignatius failed in the dream he had for his life. But God had a bigger dream for him. God’s dream for Ignatius was not about Ignatius. It was about helping souls. It was a dream of redemption, a dream of going out into the world, accompanied by Jesus, humble and poor.”
Here once again, Pope Francis makes use of the image of dreams in speaking of both God and Ignatius. God’s dream for Ignatius was about the true meaning of life as found in Him. Ignatius’ dream of only living for himself and his own prestige now became the dream of God, which brought Ignatius a peace and happiness he always sought but never experienced. It is fitting to reflect upon a vision which Saint Ignatius had some years, after his conversion but before the establishment of the Jesuits. He and some companions were on a journey to Rome when he went to pray in a church at La Storta, a little town outside of Rome. During his prayer, he experienced a vision of God the Father, who turned to His Son carrying the Cross upon His shoulders. Christ looked at Ignatius with great love and compassion uttering the words, “I wish you to serve us.” God the Father added, “I will be propitious to you in Rome.” Saint Ignatius was greatly comforted and strengthened by this vision, which was for him a sign that he would always face the troubles ahead of him with the strength of the Cross. He was inspired to name his future congregation as the Society of Jesus, with Christ always at the center. We can say that in this vision, God’s dream and Saint Ignatius’ dream became one.
In his message to the Jesuits at the beginning of the Ignation Year, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of continuing conversion as experienced by Saint Ignatius. He expressed that Saint Ignatius, “converted throughout his life, day after day. And this means that throughout his life he put Christ at the center.” The Pope emphasized that it is important for all of us to follow the example of Saint Ignatius through discernment and in union with others in our lives. He referred to the nature of life as a journey and the importance of navigating the journey always with Christ at the center.
As we celebrate Saint Ignatius in a very special way within our Diocese, we ask that, like him, we may always be open to the dream of God for each of us as the only dream that really matters. The Jesuits have composed a prayer for this Ignatian Year which is a good one to reflect upon:
God of all people, You were there when the cannonball shattered the leg of Saint Ignatius, shattered his dreams, and shattered what he assumed his life would be. Even in a moment of pain and uncertainty, doubt, and darkness, you spoke to Ignatius a word of peace and light. You showed him the path to you and the person he might become. We may not be soldiers, standing in the path of a literal cannonball. And yet, we have been hit all the same. Cannonballs shatter our own hopes and dreams and expectations. Like Saint Ignatius, may we hear the compassionate voice of your Son in the aftermath of these cannonball blasts. May we seek the face of Christ even when our dreams are shattered. May we turn and follow Jesus with the courage it takes to change and grow. As we journey through this Ignatian Year, may we be shown the path to you, God of all people, and live out our vocation, becoming the person you have invited us to be. Give us the grace to work for reconciliation every day: with you, with others and with your creation. Open our eyes so we might see all things new in Christ. Amen.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 30, 2021