The journey to faith for St. Ignatius of Loyola

A few days ago, on May 20, the Ignatian Year began.

That date marked the 500th anniversary of a cannonball shattering the right knee of a young man named Inigo Lopez de Loyola. For all of you who, like me, have had knee transplants or surgery, that sentence makes you squirm. For the young man Inigo, it was the beginning of a lifelong limp and a transformation that led to his being revered as one of history’s great saints, Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

But it’s important to look at Inigo before the cannonball, before we cast him in plaster with heavenly rays beaming down. He was more than a holy card.

He was a vain, ambitious guy, according to every biography. Ignatius was a member of minor nobility, intrigued by the hope of military glory, wealth, fame, and chivalry. He was rowdy and quite the ladies’ man.

According to a brief sketch of his life by Fordham University, when he was 24, a criminal charge of “nocturnal misdemeanors” was leveled against Inigo and his brother Pedro, landing both of them in jail.

“In short,” continues the Fordham piece, “Inigo was an experienced sinner before an inexperienced saint.”

He led some men in a battle against the French in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona when the cannonball got him. According to a movie about Inigo, he may have been risking some lives by a bull-headed, foolish quest for victory that day. I wondered if later, in his long recuperation, that was one of the sins he considered.

Inigo was shipped home to spend long days in bed. Considering how much knee surgery hurts today, with all the drugs and fancy little ice machines we have, we can imagine what he went through. And the boredom and disappointment of that long convalescence must have been excruciating. No Internet scrolling for Inigo, and the castle was even out of romantic novels.

So, that was the beginning of Ignatius’s profound journey to God, a deep conversion of heart. Those kinds of things don’t happen without the Spirit.

During his later pilgrimages around Spain, he eventually formulated the Spiritual Exercises that have changed countless lives. At first, he and his band of followers remained laymen. But realizing he could have more impact as a priest, he studied for ordination, and his group became the Society of Jesus. This, to me, seems like inspired audacity – other religious orders are often identified by their founders – Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans. But Inigo went right to the top.

The Ignatian year will last until the feast of Ignatius on July 31, 2022.

The last year has been tough, metaphorical cannonballs all around. Pandemic, plenty of Church problems and politics, insurrection and the Big Lie. As I write, the chaos in the Holy Land continues. So many people are discerning whether they will return to Church or how they will direct their spirituality. So many younger people have thrown in the towel, but haven’t found an alternative to the faith of their youth.

When Jesus asked the apostles if they wanted to leave him as many disciples had, Peter asked that timeless question. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

The times seem ripe for an Ignatian year. Want some discernment? Find God in all things? Become a contemplative in action? Even though Jesuits are pretty scarce in Alaska, the internet is overflowing with Ignatian spirituality sites. Books about Ignatius or by Jesuits abound. Ignatianspirituality.com is a good starting point, and the Irish Jesuits have a great website. To whom shall we go? Ask Ignatius.


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