Today we visited the very large and impressive Sanctuary (or Basilica) of Loyola in the municipality of Azpeitia, where we will visit the remains of the actual castle in which St. Ignatius was born and where he grew up. Ignatius was born in Loyola in 1491, the youngest of 13 children. His mother died soon after he was born and he was nursed by the wife of the local blacksmith. When Ignatius was 16 years of age, his father sent him to be a page at the court of the King’s Head Treasurer and he stayed there until he was 26. He then went to work at the court of the Duke of Navarra. In 1521, the French army invaded Navarra and Ignatius, along with one of his brothers, rushed to Pamplona to defend the city. There, he was badly wounded and was brought back to the family home at Loyola to recuperate. He was 30 years old.
The interior of the building has been restored to approximate the rooms that he actually knew in his lifetime. We celebrated Mass together in the room where, during the long recovery from the injuries to his leg, Ignatius had a conversion experience and experienced a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. For him, it was an awakening to a new way of life. We also visited the Hermitage of Our Lady of Olatz that Ignatius probably visited often in his childhood.
Many years later, in 1535, Ignatius returned to Loyola for a few months from Paris because his doctors advised him that the native air would be good for his health. He chose not to stay with his family because he wanted to do public penance for his bad example as a younger man. He sojourned instead at the Hospital de la Magdelana, where he cared for the sick. — Matt Malone, S.J.
From the “Autobiography” of Saint Ignatius[during his convalescence] When he was thinking about the things of the world, he took much delight in them, but afterwards, when he was tired and put them aside, he found that he was dry and discontented. But when he thought of going to Jerusalem barefoot and eating nothing but herbs and undergoing all the other rigors that he saw the saints had endured, not only was he consoled when he had these thoughts, but even after putting them aside, he remained content and happy…. Little by little he came to recognize the difference between the spirits that agitated him, one from the demon, and the other from God.
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Reflection by pilgrim Elaine Bird
Prior to coming on this trip I wondered what it would be like, would I be moved by it, would I feel I was getting anything spiritually from it?
Before leaving, Father Matt and Father Ed sent us a letter asking us not to have any expectations for our pilgrimage. But I felt I still needed to pray for the grace of a personal issue and mostly to ask God and St. Ignatius to open my heart and my soul to whatever it was that they wanted me to know or to experience or to feel. I knew I had to trust God in this, no matter how difficult that may be for me.
Today was our first day of touring and we went to Loyola and visited several sites. While we were in the second floor of the hospital where St. Ignatius stayed I looked out the window. It was a window I am sure St. Ignatius looked out many times, and I realized, for the first time, that here we are 500 years later visiting a room that has basically stayed the same except for minor renovations. This room and building remain because of him and his work. And because of this we are all affected by him. If we know a Jesuit, it’s because of St Ignatius. If they have helped us in any way, it is because of St Ignatius. If any priest has helped or influenced us, there is probably some Ignition spirituality involved, since most are trained in his teaching.
We are fortunate to be traveling with two fine Jesuits, Fathers Matt and Ed, who show us each day how happy they are to be Jesuits and I am so grateful to know them and to learn from them.
St. Ignatius touched my heart today by allowing me to see the impact he has had on the church. Before coming on this trip I knew St Ignatius’s story, but I didn’t really know him. Our Lord opened my heart and my mind so that I can see and experience what Ignatian spirituality really means.
I shared this with our group leader Dan, and said I wouldn’t be sharing this at our faith sharing later. But while I sat there and listened to others share their experiences, I realized it wasn’t fair to only listen and take in what they said and not participate in the group. While this was difficult for me, I shared it. Then on the way back to the hotel I remembered what Father Matt said last night during his talk. He spoke about the people who weren’t able to come on this trip, who asked for prayers and he invited us to pray for them and to share our experience with them.
I remembered these words having an impact on me and reminding me how fortunate I am to be on this trip and maybe my experience isn’t only mine, maybe it is not my experience to keep locked up inside of me and only share with a few.
I prayed to know God better and to know St. Ignatius better, I asked to have my heart opened not only to forgive where it is needed, but to know and love God more. Today my heart was opened and I saw my prayers answered in many ways. I also know that God doesn’t open our hearts to Him so that we can keep Him locked inside. He opens our hearts so we can tell others how He opened our hearts.
If this is all I experience on this trip, I know I have been given more than I could have asked for. I know God better and I now have a new friend who I’m sure will influence me in the future and his name is St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Pray: Can you allow Jesus to ask you: what are you looking for? Think back to the moments of awakening in your life: when you realized a deep desire, or that something was not quite right, or that you wanted some change. Can you talk with God about that?
“I came on this pilgrimage for gratitude, in thanksgiving to the saint, Ignatius, who changed my life. He taught me how to pray. He drew me closer to the embrace of God. And lately I have felt an interior freedom that was unexpected but real. For these gifts and many more, I bow before the saint who continues to inspire me. To the greater glory of God.” — Julia McGee (pilgrim)
An excerpt from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by James Martin, S.J., on St. Ignatius’s injury during the siege of a castle by the French military in Pamplona and subsequent recovery:
…. During his subsequent convalescence, Ignatius was unable to find books on what he most enjoyed reading: adventure stories and tales of chivalry. The only things available were a life of Jesus and the lives of the saints. To his surprise, he found that he enjoyed the tales of the saints. Thinking about what the saints had done filled him with a sense that they would be “easy to accomplish.” Keep reading here.