|Church of the Gesu, 30 July 2012
The other day, I came across a new book entitled Just Call Me Lopez.
Thinking it was about Jennifer, I began to read it only to find out it
was a fictional narrative about a 21st century woman named Rachel
meeting Ignacio Lopez de Loyola. As I was about to put the book aside,
it occurred to me it might be a cool thing to meet Ignatius again on
the occasion of his feast.
Particularly in his last three years, death seemed to stalk him.
Sickness afflicted him often, forcing him to be bedridden for a total
of six months. It was not uncommon for him to be unable to do heavy
work in the mornings due to interruptions in his night sleep.
Nevertheless, despite his deteriorating health, he threw himself into
his work. Natural fortitude and Basque stubbornness probably played a
part, but his relentless drive flowed from his inner impulses. He
strove to die to himself, to all that was small and
self-centered, and to anything and everything that did not somehow
speak to him of Christ.
Among the responsibilities he took to heart was the writing of the
Constitutions, whose completion took time due in part to the need to
incorporate the lived experience of the Society. Two months before his
death, for instance, word spread around in Paris that the
Jesuits were accepting infamous criminals and the refuse of society.
Ignatius refrained from publicly refuting the allegations but found a
way so that, in the Constitutions, homicidal types and other deviant
characters were to be denied admission into the Society. Easier said
Well-meaning doctors with their rather peculiar remedies facilitated
It was Ignatius’ misfortune that the medical arts of the time
prescribed for someone sick like him that windows be shut and that
layers of blankets be piled on the patient, even in July when the
weather in Rome was oppressively hot. Profuse perspiration drained
away whatever energy Ignatius gained during his broken rest at night.
It seems so cruel that, along with tears and exuberant joy, a sign for
him of mystical experience was inner heat. Here regrettably was merely
enervating heat and copious sweating under the sheets. Admirably he
remained a patient patient; he never registered a complaint.
Perhaps, he should have. By the time a sensible doctor took away the
blankets and ventilated the room, it was too late. Sometime before
breakfast hour on that fateful day in July, Father Ignatius passed away.
It was not the first time that he was bed-ridden. When a cannonball
shattered his leg and his ambitions as he, a man in his twenties,
defended a Spanish fortification against French attack, he spent
months in bed convalescing. As we know from frequent retelling, amidst
the boredom and restlessness, he discovered he could aspire for even
larger dreams dedicating his courage and energy this time to a King
and causes greater than earthly ones.
He learned too that feelings and moods were movements in his inner
life that could signal whether he was moving away from God or toward
He noticed that dreams about earthly exploits and conquests
intoxicated him with a high quite pleasurable but momentary; but
thoughts about a following of Jesus filled his spirit with enduring
calm and confidence, a sense of well-being and grace.
Interestingly, aside from the stirrings in his inner life, he allowed
other markers to help him decide.
One day, he struck a conversation with a stranger, who casually
mentioned that he thought Mary could not have been a virgin. Ignatius
got enraged ready to kill, but somehow held off. This time he allowed
his mule to decide. After getting back on the road, the two by chance
headed toward the same direction. Up ahead, the road divided into two
at a fork. Ignatius told himself that, if his mule took the same road
taken by the other mule, he would kill the man. Luckily for the man,
Ignatius’ mule took the other road.
In our lives, mules are those thoughtful moments we give ourselves so
as to be able to decide with freedom and insight, with reason and a
sense of shared humanity. It is not always bad to be taken for a ride.
Shortly after dawn on July 31, 1556, Father Ignatius died alone in his
room without companions at his bedside, without the chance of giving
last instructions, without the papal blessing he had requested, and
sadly without even the sacraments administered to
him. The circumstances of his death were not those we would imagine to
be befitting the founder of the Society.
Even more remarkable was Ignatius? own desired end as told to Pedro de
Ribadeneira: “If there is a request I might make to our Lord,” he said
“it is this: that after my death, my body be thrown on waste ground to
be devoured by dogs. For I am such a foul-smelling thing that I
deserve no other fate because of the many shameful things I have
How could a man, who beyond doubt had distinguished himself in the
work of the Lord, consider himself to be of so little worth?
If numbers were any indication, things in fact were going exceedingly
well. By the time of his death, there were 938 Jesuits. Had Ignatius
been able to see ahead, he would have known that in another forty-four
years, there would be 8,272. And in the year 2012, despite seemingly
unrelenting decline, there would still be more than 17,000 all over
But, for Ignatius, the measure was never numbers nor accomplishments,
but neither too declining numbers nor setbacks. For him, the singular
goal and challenge in life was how to align one's impulses and
decisions to those of the Lord.
Thus the matter of real importance was the spiritual journey, which
from Pamplona to Rome, the Lord wished to walk with him. In that
arduous and uncharted pilgrimage, the Lord took Ignatius through a
wrenching experience of denial to self. As Ignatius became less and
less preoccupied with himself, he acquired the sensitivity to feel the
world as God felt it and to see human beings as God saw them and, most
precious of all, the knowledge that the God we seek is a God who
dwells within us.
In a room now called the chapel of conversion in the house at Loyola
where Ignatius was born and raised, a sign reads: Aqui se entrego a
Dios Ignacio de Loyola; here Ignatius of Loyola surrendered all to God.
On this feast, we ask that we too be devoured by God’s fire, so that,
shorn of our attachments and insecurities, we may find freedom to
serve Him with great love.