Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola - F. A. Forbes




The Forging of the Weapons

A day's journey inland from Barcelona, where the blue waters of the Mediterranean bathe the sunny coast of Spain, stands a tall and rugged mountain, whose peaks are shaped like the sharp edge of a saw. "Montserrat," or the saw-mountain, it is called by the Spaniards; and on its rocky flanks stands one of the most famous shrines of the Madonna, "Our Lady of Montserrat." The sunset of an early spring evening was tinging the sharp peaks with crimson as a lonely cavalier rode slowly up the steep mountain road that leads to the sanctuary. 'The lonely rider was Ignatius.

Whither was he bound, this young knight-errant? The answer was not yet dear to himself. Dreams of the Holy Land Red his thoughts, for in Spain, even in the times of which we write, "Crusade '' was still a word to make every noble heart leap. Was that his Master's will for him? Ignatius could not tell. Soldier-like he awaited the word of command, ready for whatever was to come.

In the meantime he felt the need of solitude, of penance, and of prayer. That ardent nature was not one to do things by halves. On the mountain road he met a beggar; and, bestowing on him his rich garments of silk and velvet, clothed himself in a long tunic of sackcloth, and girt it round him with a rope. Thus clad, in the dusk of the evening, he hung up his sword and dagger over Our Lady's altar, and like a true knight prepared to keep his vigil of arms. It was the eve of the Annunciation, 1522.

The evening shadows lengthened into night, the moonbeams crept through the tall arched window s of the chapel, making strange patterns on floor and wall, and playing about the motionless figure that knelt with out-stretched arms before the shrine. All through the hours of darkness Ignatius watched in prayer, offering himself to the will of his "liege Lord," promising to he His "man" and to fight His battles for ever. It was the dedication of the new life.

At daybreak, after having heard Mass and received his Lord, he went his way to the little town of Manresa, not far distant. Taking shelter there in the hospital of St. Lucy, he undertook to tend the sick, choosing out the most ill-natured, and those who were suffering from the most loathsome diseases. He would gather the little children of the streets around him and teach them their catechism. All his leisure time was spent in prayer. Under the sackcloth gown he wore a sharp girdle of iron, and a hair-shirt took the place of the fine linen in which he had used to delight.

Men stared and questioned; there was something in the noble bearing of the young stranger, in the mash of his keen dark eyes, altogether out of keeping with the sackcloth gown. "He is a prince in disguise," they whispered. Others jeered at him as a fool. Neither the sackcloth nor the penance came easily to Ignatius. More than once in the hospital his nature revolted against the sights, the smells, the work he had set himself to do; and the temptation to leave it all, to return to the old life where everything had been so pleasant to the senses, came strongly upon him. He met it with the old soldier-spirit, and seeking out those who were suffering from cancer or leprosy or other repulsive diseases, kissed their sores, washing and dressing them with redoubled tenderness.

Thus passed several months, but Ignatius was not yet satisfied. In the rocky hillside near Manresa was a cave, the entrance of which was overgrown with briars and hushes. In this cave he determined to take up his abode. With no bed but the hard ground, with no light but that which filtered through the small opening by which he had entered, he prayed and did penance, asking counsel of God. There he learnt that he was to found an order, and that the order was to be for the saving of men's souls. It was hardly to be expected that the enemy of mankind should leave in peace one who was destined to snatch so many from his grasp. The assaults of the evil one were frequent and strong. Temptations to give up everything and to return to the old life; temptations to despair; temptations to pride; and, worst of all, agonies of scruples, succeeded each other with scarcely a break.

Against each one the brave soldier-spirit fought to the last; and after ten months of sore battle came peace and light. Throughout his life there remained with Ignatius as the fruit of these weeks of suffering, a special gift of helping and consoling those in temptation or in trial. In the cave of Manresa too, in prayer and conflict, was forged that weapon which was to be such a powerful instrument against the enemy of souls—the exercises of St. Ignatius.

The exercises, which, it is said, have won more souls to God than there are letters in the book, consist of a series of meditations, intended originally to extend over a period of four weeks, but which can he shortened at will to a week or even less. Now meditation is a long word which describes a very simple thing, and one which consciously or unconsciously nearly all of us spend a great part of our lives in doing. Ignatius on his sick bed at Loyola would probably have been as much alarmed at the idea of making a meditation as many another young man of his age. Yet, as he lay reading the "Life of Christ," musing afterwards on what he had read, picturing to himself the Master as He went about doing good, humbly asking forgiveness of his sins and grace to serve that Master better, he was making unconsciously a very good meditation indeed.

He who makes the exercises—or a "retreat" as we call it nowadays is required to put away for the time all thought of outside things, and, as far as possible, in silence and solitude, to make the meditations as they are given. The exercises are, to put it shortly, the teaching of the Gospel driven home. In the meditations of the first week, the great truth that God has made man to serve and praise Him, and given him the world and all that is in it for this purpose, is first proposed. Then sin, the certainty of death for all, and the life to come hell or heaven—arc to be considered, together with the infinite mercy of God, and His tenderness to repentant sinners. In the second week the "retreatant" meditates on the life of Our Lord as it is shown in the Gospel.

There, in the stable at Bethlehem, in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth, in the villages and tows of Judea, he learns to love and imitate his Lord who came down from heaven to take our humanity upon Him, and to teach us the way of life. In the meditation on the Kingdom of Christ he asks himself, as Ignatius had asked himself of Loyola, if such a leader and King is not worth the whole-hearted devotion of His subjects, and resolves from henceforth to he His faithful disciple and follower.

In the third week, he meditates on the bitter passion and death of Christ, remembering that they were endured for his salvation. Since his Lord has suffered so much for him, can he not bear in his turn a little of the hardships of life, of self-denial and self-control for Him?" This have I done for thee, what doest thou for Me? '' asks the Christ, and the heart of the weakest takes courage.

The fourth week is occupied with the thought of heaven, and the eternal happiness that awaits those who have followed their Master faithfully on earth. There the retreatant sees how "the sufferings of this earth which are but for a moment, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us," and, confronted by the shining army of the Saints of God who have overcome, he asks their help to persevere in the fight that is before him, that he too may one day rejoice with them in glory.

In the lonely cave at Manresa the stone is still shown on which Ignatius wrote the plan of the exercises, and over which the vision of the Blessed Mother of God is said to have hovered, inspiring and counseling him as he wrote. It is all so simple, and yet so wonderful in its effects, that later on men who saw the changed lives of those who had made the exercises, would ask themselves what sorcery or magic Ignatius and his followers had employed.

"Did they show you devils and witches?" asked the awe-stricken young friend of one who came out of his "retreat" a changed man.

"Much worse," answered he; "they showed me myself."

This is the end and the work of the exercises. "Lord, let me know Thee and know myself, that I may love Thee and hate myself," St. Augustine was used to pray. In these two things lies the seed of holiness.