For the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Illness and extra work have left me with little time for blogging. One of the things I have had to finish is the translations for the upcoming issue of Humilitas, the quarterly newsletter for John Paul I.

Among other things, I happily translated one of Luciani’s earliest writings, from his time in Belluno. It was written for the Amici del Seminario Gregoriano, a little newsletter Don Albino himself had founded to encourage vocations in the diocese. He did it by writing a series of articles called “The Great Vocations,” recounting the moments of decision in the lives of some well-known priests, including some saints. He had a real knack for making the choice for the priesthood look like a noble and exciting adventure — something to be undertaken by the bold and daring. Here he tackles the story of one of the greatest vocations of all time: St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Don Albino had a predilection for Ignatius’ life story, for early on while in the seminary, he had planned to join the Jesuits, though he was dissuaded from his bishop, because of the need for diocesan priests.

As I was finishing the translation last night, I thought to myself: “Wait a minute: isn’t St. Ignatius’s feast day sometime in July?” I looked it up — and it is in fact today! Reason enough to put up this delightful little piece.

If you are interested in learning more about John Paul I, you can receive Humilitas free of charge by writing to Ray and Lauretta Seabeck, The Missionary Servants of John Paul I, 22 Boyd Hill Rd., Gilford, NH, 03249.

IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA

The Fray

The French artillery had taken delight in hammering the old walls of Pamplona. Under the precise, sure and vigorous blows, the defenders took flight and retreated.

There was still the citadel; a fortress where around a thousand men now had to consider this dilemma: either surrender or condemn themselves to a long, hard siege without hope of victory.

The conditions were harsh; the alcade (mayor) seemed to be wavering. But a young captain decided him. His name was Ignatius of Loyola; he was small, elegant, but all movement and full of fire. He said it was not possible to surrender; that the Spanish were acquainted with death, but not life with dishonor: better to be buried under the rubble than to accept ignominious conditions. And his eyes and works seemed like flame. He succeeded in communicating his enthusiasm to the alcade and his companions; they re-entered the fortress ready for anything.

The siege began. But it was understood from the beginning that it was not to last for long: the enemy was too superior, too well furnished with artillery. The balls came like waves in a storm: the parapets fell. Ignatius performed prodigies of valor: careless of the danger, he appeared everywhere, his voice was heard among the sound of the blows and the collapsing rubble: he tried to keep up the soldiers’ courage. In vain . . . a mortar ball hit him, passing between his legs; the left one was little more than scratched, but the right was shattered. He fell and then the fortress surrendered.

When the French entered, they found him covered with rubble and having lost half his blood: the treated him as they treated the brave, and as soon as possible they had him carried to his father’s castle.

They had discovered in that young man the stuff of a hero.

The Discovery

On the other hand, no one had yet seen in him the stuff of a priest. His parents had already proposed an ecclesiastical career to him, but he had answered with a curt “no.”

He was dreaming of something better! And he entered the following of a gentleman of the court as a page.

Later he had embraced a military career, putting all his passion and courage into it; he had made a name for himself by brilliant feats of arms, and like ancient knights, he now dreamed of only two things: performing great deeds and serving noble ladies.

For this reason, once the first very painful days of illness had passed, and he had entered convalescence, he asked for some romances of chivalry. He wanted to relieve his golden dreams in his imagination, immerse himself in the world he had longed for so much, while he awaited the time he could leave again.

But none of the books he wanted were in the house; his brothers were only able to make available to him a Life of Christ written by Ludolf of Saxony and the Legends of the Saints.

He yawned on opening them; perhaps he thought that numerous other yawns would follow, but there was nothing to do but to make the best of it.

He read, and as he read, he was astonished: This too is chivalry! Here too there are war leaders and captains and ladies!

Other leaders, of course, other soldiers, Christ, Dominic, Francis and the martyrs; but no less gallant and generous and splendid than Amadis of Gaul and Roland; stronger than them, infinitely more powerful, so much so that they revolutionized heaven and earth and changed the face of the world. And what ladies! Virgins who kept faith with their heavenly spouse at the price of any kind of martyrdom; with a smile on their lips, with light in their eyes, they offered their heads to the executioner!

By Jove! It was interesting and he had never thought about it! He immersed himself in reading. He admired the new world, the new heroes. A little at a time, he began to desire to enter and become a part of it.

But then he needed to say farewell to the old world. Here is a divided heart! Half is still wrapped up in the castles, the ladies, the glittering of the halls and the swords; half is subjugated by the fascination of the cross, the sufferings, the souls.

Now, there is one thing that is more interesting than anything else: to choose!

The Decision

One morning in winter, he left home, riding on a good-hearted mule.

He directed the beast to the famous sanctuary of Monserrat. Here he made a last gesture as a knight by spending the night in a vigil of arms in front of the statue of Our Lady, now the only lady of his thoughts. The next day he donated the mule to the convent, gave his soft fur garment to a poor man, put on a poor habit and began his new life.

The choice had been made!

Fifteen years later, in Venice, he was ordained a priest.

And in a short time, he filled the countries of Europe, the Indies and the Americas, with priests; all people in whom he had first transfused his marvelous love for Christ; his enthusiasm, his passion for conquests and great deeds; his combative ardor; people who astonished the word with deeds and miracles that recalled the apostles, along with the sacrifices of the martyrs and the writings of the doctors of the Church; something that was and still is today, one of the most beautiful affirmations of the Catholic priesthood.

Amici del Seminario Gregoriano, September 1942, p. 4 (Albino Luciani, Opera Omnia 9:377-78).


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