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Soldier Saints: Ignatius of Loyola

Resurrection is counting down to Veteran's Day by featuring Soldier Saints. Logan Isaac created this countdown as a way for churches to support and welcome veterans. The excerpt below is reposted by permission from Logan's book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va.

Today's featured Soldier Saint is Ignatius of Loyola.

Ignatius was born in Spain to a noble family, one year before Christopher Columbus would sail for America from Spain. Inigo, as he was called at birth, would grow to become a knight and fight in many battles for other Spanish nobility, proudly walking through town between campaigns wearing his vest of chain mail and his magnificent armaments. Never far from the faith, Ignatius claimed he was a cleric while he was in court defending himself after a violent feud with another noble family.

During a battle against the French, his legs were seriously injured, leaving him at the mercy of his opponents. Recognizing his honorable conduct in the fight, the French did not ask for ransom as they did others, instead carrying him gently back to a castle where he could be given proper medical attention. Ignatius wrestled with vanity, however, so when surgery left him with a bony lump on his knee, he endured great pain to have the protruding bone chiseled down. The procedure left him with a limp not unlike that of Jacob, who wrestled with God. (1)

While recuperating, all he had to read was a copy of the Gospels a book on the lives of Christian saints. Reading about the Christian life had a profound effect on him; though his physical wounds would heal, the spiritual tumult caused by the lives of which he read would infect him for life.

For some time the young injured knight had wrestled with his call toward faith in God and service to his neighbors. To an extent he was still a young man devoted to martial and flirtatious exploits. But during his period of convalescence, he weighed a future of womanizing and fighting against a future of piety.

When he thought of the life of a playboy, he was filled with excitement and anticipation, but it would fade quickly as he moved on to other thoughts. But when he thought of the life of a disciple, taking the good news to the corners of the earth, his heart flamed long after his lustful and militaristic thoughts fizzled. Heroism never ceased to be an interest for Ignatius; it just took a different form. His new heroes were priests and monks instead of princes and knights.

Traveling by mule after this initial evangelical experience, he encountered another rider, who challenged him on the doctrine concerning the virginity of Mary. Falling slightly behind the man but still aflame with zeal, he longed to slay the man, but Ignatius stayed his hand so that he could obtain a sign from God. Dropping his reins at a fork in the road, he reasoned that if the unguided mule followed the traveler, Ignatius would kill the man. If the mule took its own path, the knight would show mercy. The ass, like Balsams before him, guided the soon-to-be-saint in godly charity. (2)

In 1522 he visited a Benedictine monastery where he wrestled one last time between the life of a knight and the life of a religious man. Before a statue of Mary, Ignatius laid down his sword and shield, never to pick them back up. He went on to form the Company of Jesus, fashioned after a military company; in fact the papal statement granting them legitimacy is translated from Latin as “the governance of the militant” (‘the militant,” presumably, meaning Ignatius and his companions”) (3)

To this day, Jesuits are known as Gods Marines, for they take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, especially to the pope. Just as Marines defend the country, Jesuits “strive especially for … the defense of the faith.” The head of the order is even known as the superior general, suggesting a military rank. Ignatius was elected, against his will like Martin before him, to serve in the high rank as the order’s first superior general.

Like Francis, Ignatius of Loyola was another founding father of an organization within the church. He was a thinking man; appropriately, many Jesuit institutions are educational. Georgetown University and Boston College, and publications like America Magazine and Ignatius Press, grow out of the work of the Jesuits Ignatius, reflecting the discipline of his military background, developed spiritual exercises to help form Christians in the faith.

Among these was the Daily Examen of Conscience: (4)

Become aware of Gods presence.

Review the day with gratitude.

Pay attention to your emotions.

Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.

Look toward tomorrow.

Christian soldiers are called to conduct an examen of their own consciences daily. Our service is to God first, and to country only secondarily. We must constantly search our consciences for those moments and circumstances that violate our conscience, and “obey God rather than [the officers appointed above us]” as needed. (5) Like Ignatius, we may need to lay our weapons down before the altar in answer to our call to discipleship.

Lord of all nations, we give thanks for the life of your servant Ignatius, who by the mercy of your Son overcame his tempestuous life and adopted simplicity and love, guided by your Spirit to study, contemplation, and prayer. We ask for your strength in daily discerning your will for our lives, in examining our consciences in all we do, especially when violence calls our name. May we live in accordance with the witness of this soldier saint, who dedicated his life to structure and discipline, whose love gave those in his company shape and direction. Through Jesus Christ, commander of heaven and earth. Amen.

1. Genesis 32:22-32.

2. Numbers 22:21-32.

3. A “papal bull” is a statement issued by the pope that is sealed with a stamp, which in

Latin is a bulla. The Latin title of the bull in question was regimini militantis ecclesiae, the “Government of the Church Militant.”

4. Loyola Press, the lgnatian publishing house, has a great website on how to familiarize yourself with lgnatian spirituality:

5. Adapted from Acts 5:29, New Revised Standard Version.

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