St. Ignatius Loyola ~ Pilgrim and man
Ignatius Loyola (Iñigo Lopez de Loyola,
1491-1556) walked with a slight limp after being injured while
defending the fortress at Pamplona in northern Spain. Slowed
down by a lengthy recovery from that injury, he experienced an
interior conversion that sent him on ever further journeys, a
pilgrim propelled by an abiding devotion to Jesus Christ. He
crisscrossed Europe, walking back and forth through Spain,
France and Italy. He wandered further by boat, sailing from
Venice to the Holy Land. Eventually he took the name Ignatius,
which is how we now refer to him; but in his memoir, he
preferred to call himself simply, "the pilgrim."
Beyond the physical distance and the endless
roads, Ignatius covered a great historical distance. He moved
from the medieval world of a family of minor Basque
nobility—proud of their defense of the king and hostile to the
rising power of the towns—to the flowering of Renaissance
learning in Paris and the rebuilding of Rome under artists like
Michaelangelo and reformers like Charles Borromeo. He lived
during a period of transition shaped by key figures such as
Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, Raphael and El Greco, Luther and
Calvin, Cervantes and Palestrina.
Had he followed his family's plans for
himself, the youngest of 13 children, he would have become a
cleric and settled into a comfortable life with benefices to
support him and privilege to protect him. His own plans for
himself led to one dead end after another.
His first journey set the stage for what
would follow. He left the lush, steep-sided valley of the Urola
River where his family owned the best land in the center of the
valley, in order to journey to the broad plains of the south
where Ferdinand the Catholic, the King of Castile, ruled over a
sophisticated and wealthy world. Ignatius was an ambitious young
man who had no desire to stay at home with older brothers who
had already won honor and some wealth. He wanted to become a
courtier like his mentor, Don Juan Velásquez de Cuéllar, the
royal treasurer who take Ignatius into his household at Arévalo.
For 11 years Ignatius learned skills of administration,
diplomacy, arms and courtly manners that would prepare him for a
career in public administration and political intricacies. He
dreamed of being sent as an emissary of the king or ruling over
a royal town such as Arévalo. However, his mentor's fall from
power for opposing the new king, Carlos I, put an abrupt end to
Next came his service with the Duke of
Nájera, viceroy of the northern part of the Kingdom of Navarre
which bordered on France. After a promising start where his
diplomacy and leadership qualities made him a "gentilhombre"
very useful to the Duke, this second career also came to an
abrupt halt when a French cannon ball badly injured his legs.
After his convalescence and conversion a new
desire to serve Jesus replace his former hopes of glory. His
first efforts in this new service led to a complete reversal of
values as the proud courtier became a poor beggar, imposing
harsh penances upon himself in a literal imitation of the
legends of the saints. He set out from Loyola for the Holy Land,
stopping first at the shrine of the Black Virgin at Montserrat.
A one-night vigil stretched out to an intense year of prayer in
the city of Manresa, not far Montserrat, before he continued his
journey to Rome and Jerusalem. He planned to live in the Holy
Land as a sort of permanent pilgrim, visiting the places where
Jesus lived and talking with people about Jesus. When his
reckless actions threatened the precarious situation of the
Franciscans in charge of the holy places, they forced him to
return to Europe.
Likewise, his initial efforts as a student at
Barcelona, Alcalá and Salamanca were fruitless. Not until he
learned to study in a disciplined manner at the University of
Paris did Ignatius finally realize one of his plans--obtaining
the education necessary to continue his work of conversing with
people about God and spiritual matters.
In Paris other doors started to open for him
as well. He met men who would be true companions and share his
vision, men like Francis Xavier. Their education as Masters of
the University of Paris qualified them for high positions;
instead they set out as pilgrims looking for opportunities to
serve God. Together these companions weathered the failure of
their initial goal of going to the Holy Land; they waited in
vain for an entire year for a ship to sail from Venice to Japha.
With their plans for the Holy Land
frustrated, Ignatius and his companions turned to Rome where
God's plan for them finally became clear. Rome became the center
where the Society of Jesus came into being and then spread
throughout the world. After all the previous journeys, Ignatius
himself spent his last 18 years living in the crowded center of
the city of Rome and working within a few small rooms. His most
important journey continued, however, for it centered on his
search for God and was graced with a profound mystical prayer.
Our most familiar image of Ignatius comes
from this last part of his life. He is usually portrayed as a
dour lawmaker pointing to the book of the Constitutions he wrote
to govern the Society of Jesus. His own self-image remained that
of the Pilgrim, which is how he constantly referred to himself
as he dictated his autobiography towards the end of his life.