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This is the first of a four-part series on the Ignatian Year, which began May 20, 2021 and will conclude in July 2022.

Catholics who feel especially connected to St. Ignatius of Loyola began to honor his legacy on May 20. That day marked the 500th anniversary of an event that signaled a turning point for the 26-year-old young man. While defending the fortress of Pamplona, he suffered a serious injury from a cannonball which kept him convalescing for eight months in his family home on the outskirts of Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa, Spain.

During those months of forced idleness, the reading of the De Vita Christi (Life of Christ), written by Ludolph of Saxony, and a collection of short hagiographies by the Dominican friar Jacobus de Voragine, led him to reassess his life in the presence of God and to experience a radical conversion that would make him renounce everything to go and live in the Holy Land.

His original name was Iñigo, and he began to call himself "the pilgrim." The first stage of his pilgrimage took him to the sanctuary of Montserrat and then to the town of Manresa, where he spent the rest of 1522. There he had strong mystical experiences and wrote the core of the book called Spiritual Exercises.

It should be noted that this practical manual for spiritual retreats was written by a fervent layman. The book does not belong to any particular theological school, and is addressed to all who want to retire in prayer to seek God's will for their lives. It comes from the spiritual experiences of the author and his contact with the New Testament as well as with Thomas of Kempis' Imitation of Christ and Garcia de Cisneros' Ejercitatorio (i.e. "Exercises for the Spiritual Life").

We must clearly state that the Exercises of St. Ignatius precede the foundation of the Society of Jesus. They do not belong to the Jesuits, but to all the people of God. When the definitive version was published, it was widely accepted by religious communities as diverse as the Carthusians and the Dominicans, as well as among diocesan priests and lay people in general. In the Exercises, one seeks to be what God wants each one to be. In the words of its author, "Spiritual Exercises to overcome oneself, and to order one’s life, without reaching a decision through some disordered affection" (EE. 21).

The pilgrim's plans to live permanently in the Holy Land did not prosper. Since the laity had little role in the pastoral work of the Church in those times, the pilgrim opted to study for the priesthood. During his years of study, he was approached by other young men with a desire for perfection and ministry, with whom he founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. Around that time, the pilgrim Iñigo would definitively adopt his name of Ignatius.

Ignatius and his companions took on the task of writing texts for the Jesuits, especially the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius would also write instructions for Jesuits on special missions. He also dictated his Autobiography, which has foundational value for the Jesuits.

The Constitutions contain original elements from St. Ignatius, but the influence of other ancient religious institutes is also noticeable in the text. These Constitutions later served as inspiration for the founders and foundresses of other religious institutes.

We have already established that the spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises is open to all the children of the Church. We add that the spirituality of the Jesuits is spelled out in the documents that St. Ignatius wrote with the help of his companions after the founding of the Society of Jesus. We have just used an anachronistic word here; in the times of St. Ignatius, the word "spirituality" did not yet exist. The French coined it a century later, "spiritualité". In the absence of this term, St. Ignatius referred to the Jesuit charism with the expression "our way of proceeding."

This blog was originally published as a column in the October edition of La Voz Católica.

Comments from readers

Efraín Zabala - 11/29/2021 10:40 AM
¡Excelentísimo articulo, p. Barrios! Muchas gracias.
Rafael María Calvo Forte - 11/29/2021 10:18 AM
Les sigo la pista desde la Cuaresma de 1960 en El Calvario, casa de Ejercicios adjunta al juniorado. La tanda la dio el P. Arnaiz, obispo en Rep. Dominicana. Me marcó Las Dos Banderas y, a pesar de mí mismo, trato de seguir a Jesús y llevarlo a los demás. Gracias por su comentario. Rezo por el Papa y pido a Dios, le dé sabiduría, discernimiento y fortaleza para arremeter con lo que le queda por hacer.

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