St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was a Spanish knight, a priest, a theologian, and the founder of the Society of Jesus. He was converted to the faith after being severely wounded by a canon blast as a knight. During his recovery, he had no other reading material than biographies of the life of Christ and some of the saints. He found himself at peace and satisfied after reading these works, as he never had been before. This was the beginning of his conversion and the beginning of what we now call “spiritual discernment,” which is explained in depth in The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. He joined the priesthood and later founded the Society of Jesus. Members of this order took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and placed themselves at the disposal of the Holy Father to travel wherever he should wish to send them for whatever duties. Ignatius served as Superior General of the Society of Jesus until his death on July 31, 1556 – 457 years ago today.
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the Christian canon. The Exercises are divided into four weeks of reflections and four key meditations – on the Kingdom of God, the Two Standards (of Christ and Satan), the Three Classes of Men, and the Three Modes of Humility – and have been universally recognized as a brilliant and inspired guide to the development of a deeper Christian spirituality ever since St. Ignatius completed them in 1533. Great saints, as well as countless religious and lay people, have been spiritually shaped through their dedicated use.
Don’t miss the Jesuit chapter of our series on religious orders!