by Vic Kevin Ferrer
Talk about childhood superheroes and most probably a character comes to mind from your favorite TV show or movie. You probably even have memories of you donning superhero costumes and props made of just about anything you find at home. For most of us, part of our childhood involved dreaming about having superpowers, becoming Goku or one of the Power Rangers but never the villain. Who didn’t want to become superman or batman? I’m sure girls too dreamed of becoming heroes and not just pretty princesses.
Some 500 years ago, the young Ignatius of Loyola was an avid fan of fiction stories particularly those about chivalry -- knights in shining armor and heroes of the Crusades. He admired the heroes of those stories and he dreamed of becoming like them, a hero in real life.
Born in 1491 to a privileged family in Spain’s Basque region, he was baptized with the name Iñigo. It was not known exactly when he started to use the name Ignacio, but that is the name that is most recognizable to this day. Growing up, there was nothing extraordinary about his spiritual life. He was Catholic and he went to Mass on Sundays.
Pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a hero knight, Ignatius became a soldier. Then one day in May 1521, around the same time Magellan was island hopping in what is now the Philippines, French forces attacked Pamplona and a cannonball hit Ignatius in the leg, giving him a very bad injury. He was brought back to his family home with his broken leg and he underwent several surgeries to fix his bones at a time when anesthesia has not yet been discovered. You can just imagine the pain he went through.
It took him a very long time to recover and he was partially disabled. This terrible fate he met was about to become the single most life-changing event of his entire life. When he felt he was getting better he requested for books. The problem was there were only two books available where he was and none of it were about his hero knights. The two given to him were about the life of Christ and another on the lives of the saints. Leaving him without choice, he read them and this brought about his spiritual conversion.
His worldly heroes were replaced by Christ and the saints. He was so inspired by the lives of the saints he asked himself: “What if I should do what St. Francis and St. Dominic did?” The saints became his heroes and he imagined himself in their shoes. Soon the inspiration grew so strong he began to pray. This time he was only dreaming of how he could be of service to the Lord Jesus Christ his King and the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen. When he recovered he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, did acts of penance, gave to the poor and went on a retreat where he began formulating his famous Spiritual Exercises. This is the 30-day retreat that most seminarians and religious are required to undertake before ordination or profession of solemn vows.
Ignatius pursued studies in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Paris. There he found new friends, among them St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter Faber. They would become, along with St. Ignatius, the founding members of the new Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits, which was approved by the Pope in 1540. St. Ignatius became the first Superior General and in a short period of time the society grew. They took a special vow of total obedience to the Pope and they embarked on diverse missions wherever they were needed. St. Ignatius and the Jesuits became real heroes for the Church at a time when many were falling into heresy in the West and evangelization was starting to progress in the Far East and the New World.
He died in Rome on July 31, 1556 as a result of an epidemic known as the Roman Fever. In the year 1622, St. Ignatius of Loyola was canonized a saint together with St. Francis Xavier and three others.
Here are some lessons on holiness we can all take from St. Ignatius of Loyola:
First, the saints are our heroes in the faith. We look up to them as role models to follow. Let us find time to read the stories of saints and ask God for the grace to inspire us to strive to imitate them. Saints, unlike the heroes of the world, do not seek glory for themselves. They seek only the glory of God.
Second, it is important to study the faith. Ours is a faith that should always seek to understand. One doesn’t have to enroll in a seminary for this. When you have questions about the faith, ask a priest or a catechist. It would also be great if you can join a catechism study group or organize one among your friends.
Third, take friends with you in your journey towards God. Remember that no one becomes a saint alone. St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier give us a truly inspiring story of friendship. Let us bring our friendships to the service of God and God Himself will call us His friends.
Fourth, find God in all things. This is one of the rallying cries of the Jesuits. Doing the Examination of Conscience (examen) will greatly help us with this. Spend a few minutes at the end of each day to look back at what happened the whole day. Recall all the works, joys, and sufferings of the day, all your experiences and encounters, and try to make sense of it one by one asking whether or not it was pleasing to God. Ask yourself further, where is God in all these? Remember that He can be found not just in ‘feel good’ and extraordinary experiences but even in the most ordinary and not so good ones.
Finally, always keep in mind what St. Ignatius calls the First Principle and Foundation. Here I would like to quote a contemporary translation by Fr. David Fleming, SJ: “The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit. All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.”
Once just a fan of heroes dreaming to be one someday, St. Ignatius was a dreamer who found his way to God through unexpected circumstances.
When we desire to love God and live with Him forever, we realize that we just have to let go of our childhood superheroes and dreams. Thus we give way for God to realize His dreams for us and make of us true heroes who will bring greater glory to His name.
Let us pray.
You gave St. Ignatius of Loyola
to Your Church
to bring greater glory to your name.
May we follow his example on Earth
and share the crown of life in heaven.
We ask this through our Lord
Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
and the holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
St. Ignatius of Loyola,
pray for us!
**Vic Ferrer is a Theology 4 seminarian of San Carlos Seminary. He is from the diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija.