How do you nurture your spiritual life moment by moment? A 16th century Roman Catholic has something surprising to offer to Christians of different traditions, even today.
“Who was Ignatius Loyola, and why should I care anyway?
“My life is busy, my church commitments take up every spare moment, and I hardly have time to breathe, let alone think about some obscure historical figure. I really don’t have time for this.”
But maybe Loyola can help in getting us out of the rat-race of busyness which afflicts so many of us. Work with me here. How do you nurture your spiritual life moment by moment?
If Ignatius Loyola enters our awareness at all, it is likely as head of the Pope’s anti-Reformation shock troops in the 16th century. Like most one-line characterizations, however, that is a caricature.
Ignatius (1491-1556) was certainly the founder of the Jesuits, perhaps the most powerful Roman Catholic missionary movement ever. There were certainly Jesuits at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which set out to combat Protestant “heresies.” And, equally true, we do know that at least once Loyola engaged in debate with Protestants.
But if that were all, we might be forgiven for forgetting the name. His legacy, however, is actually deeper and wider than that, whether we consider ourselves Catholics, Protestants —or Anglicans.
“Maybe Ignatius Loyola can help in getting us out of the rat-race of busyness which afflicts so many of us.”
The story is this. Having grown up in Spain, at the age of 30 Ignatius was wounded in battle against the French. While recovering, there being nothing more interesting to read, he read a life of Christ and a book about the saints — and, somewhat like one of his heroes, St. Francis, had a mystical conversion experience. As C.S.Lewis complained, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.” Loyola’s life was never the same again. The year was 1531.
Quite soon, he found that people started coming to him for spiritual advice and direction and discovered that he had a gift in this area. Over time, his direction evolved into a more or less standard form now known as the “Spiritual Exercises” of Ignatius Loyola, based on how he had experienced God’s work in his own life.
Gradually, some friends to whom he had given the Exercises, and who had been dramatically affected by them, grew into a group of between six and ten men (yes, they were all men) who lived together and engaged in a ministry of preaching, catechism and care for the poor.
In 1537, this group decided to call themselves the Companions of Jesus. In 1540, the Society of Jesus was given the Pope’s official approval, and (not surprisingly) Loyola was elected Superior.
Not that all was straightforward, however: twice, Loyola was imprisoned and brought before the Inquisition, who were suspicious of his teaching. Both times he was acquitted.
The Jesuits were often a thorn in the church’s side, because while they wanted to stay within the Catholic box, they also insisted on stretching it to its limits. (Need I mention that Pope Francis is a Jesuit?)
Loyola died in 1556 and was canonized in 1609, by which time the Jesuits numbered around 15,000 and were at work in countries as widespread as China, Peru and Ethiopia.
These days, much of the old suspicion between Roman Catholics and Protestants has evaporated, thank God, and we are at least more understanding of our differences. Anglican students at Wycliffe and Trinity often take courses at Regis, TST’s Jesuit College, and Jesuit students have been known to take courses at the Anglican colleges.
John Bowen is a retired professor from Wycliffe College, where he taught evangelism from 1997 till 2013. He and his wife Deborah have been members of St John the Evangelist in Hamilton since 1997.
(Next month, in the second of this three-part series, John examines how Ignatius’ Exercises can help develop our own spirituality by exploring two of the four areas about which he believes Ignatius can speak to us today.)