Followers of St. Ignatius
St Ignatius' life - source of encouragement
If you are asking yourself the question ‘what should I do with my life?’, then there is a good chance you will find the life of St. Ignatius a great source of encouragement, and if you are asking yourself the question, ‘Am I called to be a Jesuit?’ then you will find in him the very heart of what makes Jesuits who they are.
Many people know that St. Ignatius underwent a major change of direction in life after the battle of Pamplona in 1521. He was 30 years of age, set on a glorious career as a courtier and a soldier, when his dream was put in jeopardy his legs being shattered by a French cannonball during the siege of the city. His conversion came about during his convalescence, whilst, for lack of any romantic novels, he read the lives of the saints and the life of Christ.
A Pilgrim's story
But this was just the beginning. Ignatius came to refer to himself as the Pilgrim, and the next 20 years of his life was to see him on the move, for a time literally a pilgrim as he travelled out to the Holy Land, but a pilgrim in spirit too as he was constantly asking himself the questions, ‘where is God leading me’. As Jerome Nadal was to remark, ‘Ignatius was following the spirit, he was not running ahead of it. And yet he was being led gently, whither he didn’t know. He was not intending at that time to found the order. Little by little, though, the road was opening up before him and he was moving along it, wisely ignorant, with his heart placed very simply in Christ’.
Seeking the will of God
This openness to seek God’s will is something perhaps that you share with St. Ignatius. Perhaps too, like the author of this piece, you have told God that you want to do his will, but have also wondered how you will know what his will is. Ignatius offers us his own answer to this conundrum: his life story shows how he came to be set free from desires that led him away from the path of his vocation, and began to trust those desires that made possible the next step in his life.
In the period after his conversion he began to see more and more clearly that God was teaching him through his experience what path he should take to serve God more fully. He noticed that there were times when he felt particularly close to God, was encouraged and hopeful, a state he referred to as ‘consolation’. The desires that he then experienced were ones that he was inclined to trust, because he came to see through his experience that it was in consolation that God showed him the way forward. He also recognised that there were times when he felt discouraged, distant from God, a state he called ‘desolation’, and when in that state, once again through his experience, he began to see that he had to be cautious in response to what his desires might then be inclining him to do. He used to advise others, when you find yourself in desolation don’t go back on a decision made in consolation.
A moment from his life story helps to illustrate all of this. Most of the year after his conversion he spent in a place called Manresa, near to the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat. It was a period when he generously dedicated himself to long hours of prayer, to a life of austerities, with fasting and other bodily mortification, and to helping some of the poor. After a time the consolation that had been with him since his conversion, left him, and he found himself assailed with doubts and facing the temptation to give up on the life that he had chosen for himself whilst experiencing consolation. He recognised that this inclination to change his life was not of God, and so he resisted it. Interestingly, not long after he did make changes to his life, and stopped some of the more extreme aspects of his self-denial. But it wasn’t the result of the temptation experienced in desolation that prompted these changes, rather it was a moment of unexpected and powerful consolation in which God enabled him to see things anew, to see how God’s love permeated all of creation.
Trusting new desires
A fresh desire was born in that moment. Whilst before he had been intent on proving his love of Christ by undertaking hardships and austerities, now he desires to serve the Lord in gratitude for all that the Lord had done for him. It is that desire that carries him forward to fulfil a long held ambition to go to Jerusalem, but also carries him on to the next stage of his life when it becomes clear that he cannot stay in Jerusalem. As he journeys back to Spain he finds that there is an inclination within him to study so that he might be better able to ‘help souls’, and it is through this desire that the Lord leads him on to Paris and to his encounter with the men with whom he will found the Society of Jesus.
Where might your own desires be inclining you? Like Ignatius are you willing to let the Lord reveal to you whether those desires are truly directed to His service and praise? Are you willing to ask the Lord to move your heart to desire whatever might most allow you to love and serve him more?