Today is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola. He was born nine years after Martin Luther, living ten years past him. He was an unlettered Basque knight who at age thirty suffered a severe leg wound that left him lying in a dark room for two years. While nursing his leg, he had turned to readings and prayers that changed him into a different kind of knight, one who was ready to go forth fighting for the cause of Christ.
He then sat in the back of school rooms, studying with children as he slowly prepared himself for admission to the University of Paris. There he drew around him a group of idealistic scholars who under the guidance of Ignatius, formed themselves into the Lord’s militant company. It was their approval by the Holy Father that transformed the Company of Jesus into the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits.
Ignatius had shepherded each of his followers through an intense thirty-day spiritual boot camp, solidifying their determination to fight in God’s army. (At seventeen I passed through thirty silent days in that same Ignatian retreat. I worked my way through the prescribed hour-long meditations four times each day.)
That Company of Jesus, once fully formed, vowed to set out to recover Jerusalem; but after repeatedly failing to find passage, they changed their vow to one of fighting spiritual battles in complete obedience to the popes.
Since the popes back then were also civil rulers of their own country, the early Jesuits became distasteful to monarchs of countries that had interests contrary to those of the popes.
In the last two centuries however the Jesuits of Ignatius have become less political, and more studious. Pope Francis, our first Jesuit pope, is the best example of the marvelous force for good that the followers of Ignatius have become.