Not many people have interesting stories that include cannonballs. They usually spell disaster, as cannonball wounds are hard to recover from. However, getting struck by one was the event that God used to wrench St. Ignatius of Loyola out of a grand military career, and to call him into His holy service. CCO, and especially our founders, have a great love for St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits he founded, and their zeal for proclaiming the Gospel. On a recent visit to the Church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome with her family, Angèle Regnier (Co-founder) was impressed by the ceiling frescoes depicting Ignatius’ heart going out to the four corners of the earth. With CCO distributing our Ultimate Relationship booklet to World Youth Day participants from the four corners of the world, this is a beautiful and appropriate reflection!
In times of great need – not unlike today – God raises up saints to be a light in the midst of darkness. This was especially true of St. Ignatius. Significantly, the year he had his conversion (1521) was the year Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Revolution against the Catholic Church, was excommunicated, formalizing his break with the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola would later found the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order) that effectively neutralized the rapid spread of the heresy. The Society’s members were key participants in the true Catholic Reformation, and in the great missionary effort that the Church undertook.
Here’s the back-story:
Famously, the great voyage of Christopher Columbus began from Spain in 1492, ten months after St. Ignatius was born in the Spanish village of Loyola. By the age of 18, Ignatius, seeking fame and glory in the military, took up arms. For many years he was an asset to the Duke he fought for, until 1521, when his leg was wounded by a cannonball. The injury laid him up in bed, unable to do anything but read, which he did. He read a work on the Life of Christ, and stories of the lives of the Saints, which revolutionized his life. The heroic, virtuous, and sacrificial deeds of Christ and His Saints redirected his desire for fame and glory. He now wanted to be a saint for Christ.
When he was able to leave his bed, he visited a Benedictine monastery and laid his military gear before an image of the Black Madonna, and gave his clothes to a poor man. He practiced asceticism – that is various forms of difficult fasting, and prayer – and he suffered greatly. This experience helped Ignatius realize exactly what God was calling him to: spreading the true faith. Further, it helped him develop his book, the Spiritual Exercises, on spiritual discipline. He used his military training and teachings from the influential book The Life of Christ which he had read.
At age 38, Ignatius went to school to receive a formal education. He completed his Master’s degree at age 44, and met men there who would take up his Spiritual Exercises, and join him in the Society of Jesus. The group was officially accepted by Pope Paul III in 1540, and by the time of St. Ignatius’ death in 1556, they had founded 35 schools and had 1,000 members.
We can learn so much from St. Ignatius, including forming our Christian walk by the life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints, and engaging our missionary identity.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!
by Scott Roy
Below I’ve included some pictures I took when I was in Rome with CCO for the canonization of St. André Bessette of Montréal in 2010. We visited the Jesuit College there and were blessed to have Mass in St. Ignatius’ private quarters. The images are of some of St. Ignatius’ personal items.
The last (fifth) image is of the ceiling fresco in Sant’Ignazio (St. Ignatius) Church in Rome.
The (fourth) image of the IHS was discovered while a team was cleaning the white-wash from the room, and uncovered this art from the 16th century.
***The IHS refers to the Holy Name of Jesus and is a strong devotion in the Society of Jesus – some claim it stands for ‘In Hoc Signe’ (Stands for: ‘In This Sign’, that is, the cross); or the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek; or the Latin ‘Iesus Hominem Salvatore’ (Jesus, Savior of all men).