Tilling the soil
Imagine this: A 20-something man comes home from war. Shot in the leg, he has a shattered femur. Confined to bed for months, he has little to do. He wants to read tales of knights and war, but only two books are available: one about the lives of the saints and a book on the life of Christ. He begins to imagine himself in the scenes he reads. Like saints Dominic and Francis and Jesus, he sees himself caring for the poor, talking about God with companions, giving people hope.
Filled with deep consoling feelings, this young man’s life takes a sharp turn. Sort of a party guy before, he makes a conscious effort to become other-centered rather than self-centered. He gradually comes to realize how God has gifted him with life. Filled with gratitude, he decides to devote the rest of his life to serving God. But how to do that remains elusive.
This is the story of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
The road was not always easy. At the small town of Montserrat in a chapel dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, Ignatius prayed and gave up his sword. Then he spent nearly a year in a small Spanish town named Manresa in prayer and fasting and serving the poor. His deepest desires surfaced: speaking about God with others, caring for the poor, helping souls, but all these required more intense education, even going back to the beginning.
Ignatius returned to school and college to learn everything he could. He discovered gifts of attention and imagination and a zeal for spreading the word of God to the far corners of the world. With his college companions, the now-30-something man founded a new religious order of men dedicated to helping souls discover their gifts. He trained those early Jesuits to have deep conversations with others, using his own Spiritual Exercises to reflect on their lives and God’s work in their day-to-day experience. The Spiritual Exercises mirrored his own experience of prayer during those days in the castle while healing, when he used his imagination to place himself in the stories of Jesus in the Gospel.
On July 31 we celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the man whose spiritual and pedagogical legacy has touched millions of people during five centuries and continues to touch the thousands of students, alumni, faculty and staff working and studying and worshipping at Jesuit institutions worldwide. We believe the world benefits every day from his gifts and the gifts of those who have been educated and touched by this spiritual journey.
Dr. Susan Mountin, Jour ’71, Grad ’94, director of Manresa for Faculty, helps us till the soil of faith in a quarterly column on Ignatian values.