“All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola
What if the things in this world hinder us from the goal of knowing, loving, and serving God more faithfully? Then, St. Ignatius of Loyola would say, we must let them go.
St. Ignatius had a powerful firsthand experience of letting go of a goal of worldly success when he realized that it was impeding his progress toward a greater goal— living for God. From one perspective, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s life is a story of giving up wealth and a military career. The flipside, however, is that St. Ignatius of Loyola gradually gained a relationship with Christ and the mystical body of the Church, leaving a heroic legacy to inspire others toward Heaven. St. Ignatius of Loyola is a prime example of a missionary entrepreneur, a soul yearning for great things and finding greatness in living boldly for God.
St. Ignatius of Loyola the Missionary
While serving in the Spanish army, St. Ignatius of Loyola was wounded in a siege in 1521, and experienced a profound conversion during his recovery, while he read the lives of the saints. Inspired by their extraordinary witness of holiness, St. Ignatius determined to follow in their footsteps, shifting his goal from material glory to heavenly glory. St. Ignatius went on a pilgrimage after his recovery, spending three days confessing his sins, followed by months of intense prayer and penance. After a trip to the Holy Land, St. Ignatius of Loyola studied theology in Spain and France, and eventually founded the Society of Jesus.
The very name, the Society of Jesus, seems to reflect St. Ignatius of Loyola’s character— wanting to cut to the heart of reality and reside there, in close friendship with Jesus! St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us a practical insight into being a missionary when he says, “If you want to make progress in love, speak about love; for holy conversation, like a breeze, fans the flame of charity.”
What More Can I Do?
St. Ignatius of Loyola and his followers strove to live their lives on the road, going wherever the greatest need was for the Gospel. St. Ignatius of Loyola also put his apostolic ministry at the service of the Pope, opening schools and missions according to the Pope’s desires. Since St. Ignatius had once been a competitive soldier, the holy remnants of that strong spirit are included in the Jesuit model of doing all “ad majorem dei gloriam,” or “for the greater glory of God.”
The phrase invites us to ask what greater things Christ might be asking of us. What more can I do for Him? This is a question the missionary persistently asks himself. Consistently pursuing more for Christ, however, does not mean frenetically trying to do more tasks, make more commitments, and meet more deadlines. Rather, it means questioning how our life can more fully praise and revere God: How can I better love him?
St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed, “Give me only your love and grace and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.” The goal of the missionary is union with Christ and the spreading of His good news; His love is our satisfaction.
St. Ignatius of Loyola the Entrepreneur
St. Ignatius’s life holds lessons for us as entrepreneurs as well as for us as missionaries. It was only after overcoming many obstacles and demonstrating great perseverance that St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. St. Ignatius the entrepreneur worked diligently to found the community, despite the challenges, because his mission was God’s will and he was convicted that God wanted this from him. When the order was finally founded, St. Ignatius of Loyola linked his vision to the sturdy mast of the Magisterium. Pope Benedict XVI writes:
Precisely because he was a man of God, Ignatius was a faithful servant of the Church, in which he saw and venerated the Bride of the Lord and the Mother of Christians. And from his desire to serve the Church in the most beneficial way possible, was born the special vow of obedience to the Pope, which he himself describes as “our first and principal foundation.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s authorship of the Spiritual Exercises is another example of his entrepreneurship. Drawing on his own experience and studies, St. Ignatius of Loyola poured his soul’s discoveries into the Spiritual Exercises, a concise and powerful guide for helping others discern God’s will and discover the courage to do His will. The book has had amazing impact on Christians during the last five centuries, becoming one of the most influential spiritual writings of all time.
The clarity and force of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises reveals one of the ways in which the saint demonstrated great leadership. In Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf writes that “A mark of leaders, an attribute that puts them in a position to show the way for others, is that they are better than most at pointing the direction… the leader always knows what it [the goal] is and can articulate it for any who are unsure.”
This is precisely what St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, and his very life as well, does! Reading the Spiritual Exercises, we are filled with a sense of trust; we know that St. Ignatius of Loyola’s judgement and spirit are sincere and oriented to the truth. St. Ignatius of Loyola, like the ideal servant leader who Greenleaf describes, “excites the imagination and challenges people to work for something they do not yet know how to do, something they can be proud of as they move toward it.”
For Us: Respond to What You are Given
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s greatness has to do with a response he made when called by God. Pope Francis compared St. Ignatius of Loyola’s conversion to Saint Paul’s— both were dramatic instances of God making it clear that He had a great desire to call them to His heart and His plan of love.
Yet, God never forces our hands. Both men had free will and might have denied God’s grace. For all we know, others throughout history may have experienced moments of grace just as epic, and walked away without changing their lives. Pope Francis explains:
For Paul it happened on the road to Damascus, for St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Loyola family home, but they have in common a fundamental point: they both let Christ make them His own. I seek Jesus, I serve Jesus because He sought me first, because I was won over by Him: and this is the heart of our experience. However, He goes first, always.
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s conversion story is a reminder that God calls first, and our lives are fundamentally a response to Him. He isn’t asking us to do great things all by ourselves, but merely to respond to His love!
For Us: Creativity in Drawing to the Center
Even as we unite ourselves to the heart of the Church, as St. Ignatius of Loyola did in his obedience and commitment to the Magisterium, we are called to creatively work as missionary evangelizers to share the Gospel message. For St. Ignatius of Loyola, this meant founding a new religious community. He did not merely think, “Enough communities already exist,” or “I don’t have anything to offer that someone else can’t already offer.” Rather, he founded the Society of Jesus, which has now spread exponentially across nations, to more than 16,000 members!
In some ways, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s own breadth of character reflects the diversity of charisms for which the Church has room. St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man of both passion and discipline, an intense desire for glory as well as an intense desire for humility. This was possible because the Church has room for all these things!
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Intercession
As we strive to become missionary entrepreneurs, St. Ignatius of Loyola models for us discipline in spiritual commitment, in putting our friendship with Jesus first. We maintain this relationship by questioning ourselves, every day, how can I better love Him? With this great goal, we can begin to live Heaven on earth, better bringing the joy of the Gospel to all those in need. As St. Ignatius of Loyola put it, “He who carries God in his heart bears Heaven with him wherever he goes.”