By Johanna Duncan
Is your life hard? Is life as a Catholic hard? I would be the first one to raise my hand at these questions, and my mom would elbow me and say that I should raise both hands due to all the nagging I do about it. But it’s so true.
The pursuit of Heaven is a battle and as soldiers we require daily training, practice, and growth. All while in school, work, and keeping up the meaningful relationships in our lives. It's quite a deed, but nothing new. Here’s the story of an earthly and heavenly military leader whose intercession and writings are meant to strengthen you.
St Ignatius was not born as a saint. He was born to be a courtier; an accountant to the Spanish Royal family around the same time of the discovery of the New World ($$$). He lived a life of luxury and laxity, he was passionate about romance, heroes, and chivalry. In short he was a man of his time, until while in battle against the French, a cannonball flew between his legs and changed Ignatius’ life.
Bed ridden at the Castle of Loyola, he requested chivalry books to entertain himself. Fortunately for Christian tradition, but unfortunately for bed-ridden-Ignatius, the castle did not hold any of those books; instead, they offered him books on the lives of the saints and “The Life of Christ.” He read them with the same passion and attitude with which he would read the chivalric romances. He came to see the saints as victorious soldiers who had won a battle invisible to the human eye. He admired that. After all, Ignatius was a strong and determined warrior at heart, he could recognize courage, discipline, and heartfelt dedication in others.
These readings made him realize that there is an ongoing battle in the world. It is a battle of good vs. evil and the front line is in the heart and soul of each one of us. As Solzhenysten eloquently put it, “...the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Now this was the war Ignatius was ready to fight. He dedicated his work to this conflict a nd he continues to guide and train all of us eager soldiers. Are you willing to let him train you?
Once he recovered from his leg injury, Ignatius left Loyola for the famous sanctuary of Montserrat. There he made an extensive confession and gave up his weapons. Legend has it, that he laid his sword in front of Our Lady, for she was the Queen, the Maid, the Lady, he was going to fight for. Keep in mind, that it is in the core of chivalry to fight in honor of a woman.
Then everything went great -False! He was mentally disturbed by his own scrupulosity, at times he couldn't handle the weight of his sins, and he met failure continuously. He was imprisoned twice, numerous charges were brought against him, he was even kicked out of the Holy Land by the Turks. Nonetheless, his studies and experiences led him to witness the value of prayer, penance, and study. It was during these years of hardship and inner growth that Ignatius started crafting what was to become his legacy and greatest gift to us, The Examen and Spiritual Exercises.
The Spiritual Exercises are written meditations meant to deepen the relationship with God and consequently improve our capacity for discernment; that being, recognizing good and evil. The medieval theologian Balthazar defined the purpose of The Exercises as: “The conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment." It is a guide through decision making that puts Christ in the center and as a compass for our lives. On the other hand, The Examen is a daily practice. It is a formula for prayer and it calls for recognition of God’s presence in our lives, gratitude, acknowledging our feelings and emotions, reflection, and heartfelt hope for tomorrow.
The pursuit of Heaven is not a simple matter of accumulating good deeds. It goes beyond what’s seen; indeed, it is the betterment of the self, the strengthening of character, the purification of the soul. Through deeds we can strengthen the spirit, but what lies in our hearts is what makes us saints. It is what we love that determines the nobility of our actions and attitudes. So fight for His glory and not yours, knowing that earthly recognition fades but sainthood is eternal.
Ignatiuskeptitsimple:AdmajoremDeigloriam-F ortheGloryofGod.Hebelievedthattherewasno stronger and more proper motivation than the love for God. The positive thinking and #empowerment trends are helpful, but not enough to confront our daily struggles. I am quite certain that God wants you and I to do more than smile all the time, because at the end, that’s not the goal of life. Sanctity is.
The pursuit of sainthood is an intimate battle worth fighting and St. Ignatius of Loyola, the fighter and fearless leader, left us a wealth of training material in his Spiritual Exercises and The Examen. Use them as a true fighter would use them; with chivalry, determination, and honor. Use them for Dei gloriam.