The 16th century was a tumultuous time in the history of the Church – the era of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic response to the Reformation, and the Spanish Inquisition. It was the time when the explorers and conquistadors were exploring the Americas, accompanied by many priests and Catholic missionaries who founded many Catholic missions. The list of saints to come out of the country of Spain in this era is impressive as well: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis Xavier, John of Avila, John of God, and Juan de Ribera. Three of these saints are included on the list of the 36 doctors of the Church - quite an impressive showing.
Today we celebrate one of these Spanish saints – Ignatius of Loyola. Even though Ignatius has not yet been named a Doctor of the Church, his influence in his own day and today is remarkable and wide-spread. Ignatius was a knight and a nobleman from the Basque country in Spain when he was bedridden with an injury. He read some books of the lives of the saints while convalescing, from which he felt a call to search for God in his life, a life in which God and the Catholic Church previously had not been very important. Ignatius visited the shire of Our Lady of Montserrat in Catalonia in Spain as a part of this spiritual quest. He placed his sword in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother there at Montserrat – he knew that he was giving up his life as a soldier for the state and instead was dedicating his life to being a solider for God. His observations and reflections about his search for God became the basis of his spiritual exercises. Ignatius went on to become a priest and the founder of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits continue to be a great influence in our world today. The spirit of Ignatius lives on in so many ways, including in the bold messages from our first Jesuit pope, Pope Francis. As we hear about Jesus being questioned and doubted in his preaching in his hometown synagogue, we can imagine that Ignatius was also met with doubts and incredulity when he changed his life and starting preaching the Gospel to others. Even though the Jesuits were officially approved by the Church under Pope Paul III in 1540, even though they were instrumental in setting up the missions in the Americas in the 16th century, many modern Catholics forget how the Jesuits were dissolved as a Catholic religious congregation by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, and remained dissolved until 1814. Sometimes the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus has a very rocky reception and a very difficult path with a lot of twists and turns. Yet, we trust in the Lord and we never give up. May Ignatius of Loyola and his witness to the Gospel inspire us to be modern evangelizers of Christ’s Good News in the world.