A message from Father Nick 72

For the greater glory of God

            On the subject of “saints” and “sinners”, we should perhaps note that the distinction is really not so simple – no saint is entirely free from sin. Nevertheless, we admire those men and women who have persevered against the kind of difficulties which can so often defeat us. We recognise that their lives are more in harmony with their gifts.

On 31st July we celebrated the special day of St Ignatius Loyola (pictured above), whose gifts emerged at a time when the Church was facing unprecedented changes: the Protestant Reformation; the age of discovery; the beginning of a modern, interconnected world. Ignatius brought new focus to the Church’s mission.

His baptismal name was Inigo and he came from the Basque country. He was born in the castle of Loyola in 1491, the year before two momentous events: the fall of the last Moorish stronghold in Spain, and Columbus reaching America. As a young man he became a soldier of fortune – brave, vain and ambitious for a life of glory.

However, his leg was broken by a cannon-ball at the siege of Pamplona and then badly set, spoiling the fine contour of his dancer’s leg. Ignatius had the leg broken again so that it could be properly reset, before realising that his courage was worthy of a nobler cause. He began to read the Gospel and the lives of the saints, and these transformed his ambitions.

He first sought out a place of seclusion, where for a year he gave himself to prayer and wrote the first draft of his Spiritual Exercises. After begging his way on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he undertook a course of studies in the universities of Spain. From there he went to Paris, graduating as a master of arts in 1534. While in Paris, he began to gather the little group of six who would become the first members of his Society of Jesus. This was the nucleus of the “Jesuit” order.

Now all Ignatius’ courage, discipline and organisational skill were put at the service of the Church. As well as vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, his Jesuits would be ready to undertake any mission given them by the pope. Unable to pursue their first hope of missionary work in the Holy Land, they made their way to Rome in 1537, where Ignatius – very much against his own wishes – was elected General of the Society of Jesus. He would remain in Rome, directing the Society for the rest of his life.

St Francis Xavier

It is difficult to overstate the influence of the Society of Jesus. Its members have been reviled as Machiavellian figures, but Jesuits have lived with great unselfishness in the most diverse and difficult situations: Francis Xavier, one of Ignatius’ original group of six, exhausted himself preaching the Gospel in India and Japan; Matteo Ricci was honoured as a wise man at the very heart of the Chinese court; Roberto de Nobili, known as the “white Brahman”, did similar work in India; the martyrs Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions suffered terribly and bravely in North America.

Closer to our own time, Fr Pedro Arrupe, then living in Japan, was one of the first to bring aid to Hiroshima after the dropping of the first atom bomb. In 1989 six Jesuits with two women assistants were murdered in the University of Central America, El Salvador, because they spoke for the poor. Such commitment was Ignatius’ hope for his order, and, inspired by his example, its members continue to follow his vision.