The Paradoxical Order

Today the church remembers a 15th Century monk who would form one of the most fiery Roman monastic orders: St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus).

St. Ignatius was born to a Basque family with money and prestige. Because of his high status, he had the privilege (if you want to call it that) of being a page in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, where he spent his days drinking, enjoying lots of carnal pleasures, and really not giving a damn (in a bad way).

This life eventually landed him in some legal trouble. In order to reform his ways he did what so many young persons do to get a grip on life: he joined the military.

In 1521 St. Ignatius was injured in battle while fighting French forces at Pamplona. A cannon ball struck his knee, causing him to limp the rest of his life. While he lay in recovery, he read the life of Christ and hagiographies about the saints, and in those days of recovery he resolved to devote himself in service to the faith.

It’s worth noting that he also loved to read fiction and knight-centered fantasy tales…just to keep it real, ya know?

He took a year off (as only the wealthy can do), and decided to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and enter University in Barcelona, and then eventually in Paris.

He graduated from University at the age of forty-three, proving you’re never too old to get some schooling under your belt. He gathered around him nine companions and took a trip to Rome, calling themselves the Society of Jesus. They offered their services to Pope Paul III in whatever fashion the Bishop of Rome desired.

All ten were ordained into the priesthood, and the Pope Paul III in time approved the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits as they’re commonly known) who organized themselves in the only way Ignatius knew how: military style, with Ignatius as the first Superior General.

Ignatius died July 31st, 1556, having established Jesuit orders throughout Europe, and sending missionaries to Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The Jesuits became known for their self-discipline, adherence to moderation, and frankly a “take no crap” way of being in the world.

The Jesuits today produce some of the most interesting personalities seen in the popular church. Some are militant social justice warriors, with hearts and minds set on bettering humanity, standing up for the poor, and bucking the patriarchy in order to do so. In other cases, some Jesuits strictly toe the doctrinal line, giving no room for error (they were staunchly against the Reformation). How these two types of personalities (and the many that fall between these two poles) find themselves in the same order might cause you to be puzzled…and rightly so. It’s a paradox.

Yet, in this paradoxical way, Saint Ignatius created an order that mirrored his own human existence: having tasted excesses and the strong arm of the law, he had compassion for those who suffer, all the while feeling the need to have safety-rails on his life in order to know how to “stay on track.”

Saint Ignatius is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that it’s never too late to start a movement. Also: when you find yourself within a movement, you might be standing next to someone who joined for a completely different reason…and you have to become OK with that on some level, Beloved.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals and Commemorations

-icon written by Br. Robert Lentz

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