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A pilgrim in Loyola

I work with the Jesuits on the prayer website Sacred Space. It is inspired by the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a sixteenth-century Basque, whose insights into God’s working with the human heart have been of great assistance to countless people over the centuries and are found more helpful than ever today. During a recent pilgrimage to Loyola in Spain I had the privilege of learning more about the life of Saint Ignatius.  Ignatius, or Inigo as he was known, was born in Loyola in the year 1491. A soldier who served his king as a courtier until he was thirty, he was in his own words ‘a man given over to the vanities of the world’. In the pursuit of glory, Ignatius was stirred to defend the town of Pamplona in the name of King Ferdinand of Spain from an attacking French army, but in the heat of battle French cannon fire smashed into both his legs leaving him languishing in bed for eight months while he recovered from his injuries.

In Loyola I visited the Chapel of Conversion, the room in the tower house where Ignatius lived and where he experienced an extraordinary conversion during his convalescence. Initially Ignatius spent much of his time of recovery daydreaming and dreamt of worldly things, but this only brought him temporary solace. Then, inspired by the only reading material that was available – The Lives of the Saints – he dreamt of doing great deeds for God, imitating the great saints like Francis and Dominic and walking barefoot to Jerusalem. These dreams left Ignatius feeling contented and joyful and slowly he began to realise that joy and contentment came in the following of Christ. As soon as he recovered, Ignatius left Loyola on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with a determination to serve Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. From then on he lived a simple lifestyle, embracing poverty. His time spent in solitude in a cave in Manresa, a town in the Catalonian region, contributed to the formulation of his ‘Spiritual Exercises’ which are still practiced widely today. Ignatius’ ardent desire to help others recognise the Lord working in the ordinary events of their own lives led him to becoming a priest and gathering a small band of six companions around him, and he founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in 1534.

Visiting the Shrine of Saint Ignatius in Loyola deepened my awareness of his life and the spirituality that underpins the Sacred Space website. Ignatian Spirituality has a valuable contribution to make to Christian life in our world today. The principle of “finding God in all things” which is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality helps people to pay more attention to God and to discern his presence in their lives. Saint Ignatius discovered that the teaching of Jesus and the example of his life bring peace and joy. His life and example challenges Christians today to ‘focus on others’, to give and not to count the cost, and to put Christ at the centre of their lives.