Tomorrow, July 31 (or today depending on when you're reading this) is the Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, aka the Jesuits. To celebrate the day, here is a favorite passage from his Autobiography, which marks not only the beginning of the saint's conversion, but also the inauguration of what has come to be known as "Ignatian discernment." In 1521, Inigo de Loyola was recuperating from serious injuries gotten in a battle in Pamplona, Spain, in 1521. Convalescing at the family castle in Loyola, a relative provided him with some reading material. Unfortunately for the patient, there were none of the tales of chivalry and derring-do that Inigo so enjoyed, just a Life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints. Inigo (he would change to the more Latinate Ignatius later) took them up grudgingly.
What happened next would change his life, the lives of every Jesuit after him, the lives of Jesuit colleagues and students, the lives of everyone touched by Ignatian spirituality, and perhaps even your life. Here is Ignatius, on his sick bed, in his own words, describing what happened. St. Ignatius refers to himself, perhaps out of modesty, as either "the pilgrim" or "him."
"While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: "What if I should do what St. Francis did?" "What if I should act like St. Dominic?" He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: "St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it." "St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it."
These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad. But when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practising austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.
This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits. When gradually he recognized the different spirits by which he was moved, one, the spirit of God, the other, the devil, and when he had gained no little spiritual light from the reading of pious books, he began to think more seriously of his past life, and how much penance he should do to expiate his past sins."
Believe it or not, we know where his bedroom was. Today in Loyola Castle it is referred to as the Room of the Conversion. A statue of Ignatius stands in the spot where he convalesced. Above the room inscribed on a beam is the legend, in Spanish, "Here Ignatius of Loyola Surrendered Himself to God." That's the photo above.
Best wishes from the editors and staff of America magazine to all our Jesuit brothers across the world and to all friends of St. Ignatius.
Happy Feast Day!
James Martin, SJ