This is the eighth post of ten for my #10saints10days series, counting down from the Feast of All Saints to Veterans Day. Check back in every day until November 11th for a new saint, their story, and a prayer to guide us into the way of peace.
Ignatius of Loyola – Obey (God)
Ignatius begins our top three soldier saints for our countdown, and with good reason. A very popular saint who founded the Jesuits in 1539 and inspired innumerable Christians, Ignatius’ military service is often overlooked or downplayed. However, it fundamentally shaped the character of his order as well as the values he held in his life and in his faith. On the one hand, abandoning his military vestments and weapons at a Spanish monastery in the 1520’s can and should be seen as a penitential gesture, but on the other, his was the first religious order to specifically name a particularly martial virtue, obedience, as integral to their expression of faith. Like the other soldiers we have profiled, Ignatius confounds our modern instinct to put him in one camp or another in theological debates about peace and war, thanks be to God.
Born in Spain to a noble family, Ignatius grew up desiring a life of glory, which for millennia was thought to be gained almost exclusively on the battlefield. His becoming a knight was a fulfillment of a lifelong desire informed by the fables about King Arthur and Camelot. Known as having a temper and dueling frequently, many biographers remark that he reveled in the limelight. He was so vain, in fact, that when a cannon ball broke one leg and seriously wounded the other, he insisted on superfluous surgery (when there was no such thing as anesthesia), for he could not bear the thought of living without the use, and impeccable appearance, of his legs. But during his recovery, he read a different kind of fable than the ones forged in battle, this time about the Life of Christ. Inspired by this very different kind of hero, who endured every hardship and who never raised a sword to prove himself, Ignatius knew his choice was clear; the vainglorious life of a chivalrous knight, or the eternal glory promised by the Prince of Peace. His choice made history, and his “Company” of Jesus (the name his order took) reflects it’s inspiration from many other martial companies like it, and evokes the “companies” of Israel whose campaign in the Book of Joshua is overtly militaristic. But the order could not have been until his sword and armor had been given up.
All too often, some dismiss “the military” wholesale, insisting it is itself inherently violent. Ignatius, however, seemed to find something of value in the martial life he once led. Obedience itself is not wrong if properly directed, and the Jesuits to this day are referred to as God’s Marines. However, unlike the Marines of our day, Ignatius turned from the adventurous life of ‘the few and the proud’ toward a humble life given on behalf of the many. Whereas armies might sell themselves as providing Fun, Travel, and Adventure, Ignatius’ life reflects the faith of a man who recognized that the glory of the world is fleeting and vain. But the glory of God, which we may reflect in following his Son, Jesus Christ, lasts forever. Ignatius’ spiritual exercise, called the Examen of Conscience, was conceived in prayer while living in a cave, the very place in Spain where he lay down his sword in obedience to Christ. His feast is celebrated every year on July 31st.
Lord of all nations, we give thanks for the life of your servant Ignatius, who by the mercy of your Son overcame his tempestuous life and adopted simplicity and love, guided by your Spirit to study, contemplation, and prayer. We ask for your strength in daily discerning your will for our lives, in examining our consciences in all we do, especially when violence calls our name. May we live in accordance with the witness of this soldier saint, who dedicated his life to structure and discipline, whose love gave those in his company shape and direction. Through Jesus Christ, the only commander of heaven and earth. Amen.
Follow me on Twitter to get updates each day as the series unfolds, or start by reading the series intro. Learn about Ignatius and more than 45 other #SoldierSaints in my book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. Prayer reprinted by permission.
Are you, or do you know, a #SoldierSaint wrestling between faith and service? Get in touch through my contact page!